The Critérium de la Première Neige a premiere ski competition held in Val d'Isère, the skiing capital of France. Founded by the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS), it is a fast-paced ski race held in mid-December. It is one of the most prestigious skiing events in France and draws crowds of spectators for miles around.
Whenever there is a Critérium scheduled, Val d'Isère ski chalets fill with tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the top athletes in the country battling it out on the slopes. It is a relatively young competition, yet proves to be popular even today.
‘Critérium de la Première Neige’ translates to Criterion of the First Snow. Charles Diebold and Louis Erny, both snowing enthusiasts, saw the fresh, new snow brought about by the first snowfall of the season and decided to capitalise on it.
Val d'Isère’s competitions typically began in January, when there was thicker snowfall. They decided to introduce a new skiing race to welcome the winter season, establishing the Critérium de la Première Neige in 1955. The first competition had 55 skiers and proved to be a success.
Almost a decade later, France now had a team worthy of competing in the Olympics, bringing in an impressive 15 medals over seven races.
The Critérium Today
The Critérium de la Première Neige became a World Cup competition in 1968. Today, professional skiers from all countries travel to France to participate in the competition.
In 1995, the competition turned 40 years old, and to celebrate, brought back its women’s competition, which was nixed six years prior. Martina Ertl of Germany took the gold.
What is unique about this competition is that skiers have to contend with very sparse amounts of snow. Since it is the first snowfall of the season, many skiers find themselves skiing on thin, watery swathes of ice instead.
In 2012, the organising committee of the competition received a shock when a heavy snowfall changed the terrain completely. To accommodate the additional snowfall, they held the competition that day at night.
The Critérium de la Première is a truly amazing competition that offers a completely different experience from your usual skiing events. It is always a joy to watch.