This is rapidly shaping up as a winter to forget for the U.S. Ski Team, Alpine version.
A quarter of a century and many millions of dollars later, American ski racing would seem to be no better off than it was at the Squaw Valley Olympics, when the sport supposedly came of age in this country.
Of course, there have been ups as well as downs along the way, but the United States has yet to catch and stay even with the major Alpine nations such as Switzerland, Austria, West Germany and Italy on a sustained, year-after-year basis.
As the World Cup circuit continues to stagger from one reshuffled race to another on the rocky slopes of Europe, only one American ranks in the top 10 of either the men's or women's overall standings. Debbie Armstrong of Seattle is ninth with 41 points, a considerable distance behind leader Erika Hess of Switzerland, who has 112.
As for the men, it's better not to ask. Downhiller Doug Lewis of Salisbury, Vt., is the leading U.S. competitor in 26th place with 21 points. The front-runner is defending champion Marc Girardelli, an Austrian who races for Luxembourg, with 103.
Bill who? Oh yes, Bill Johnson of Malibu, the 1984 Olympic downhill champion, has raced three times and recorded his best finish on New Year's Eve at Schladming, Austria. He was 24th.
"I was off skis for six months last year," Johnson told United Press International this week. "I've just got to train harder, got to get into the rhythm, got to find my timing. There are plenty of races coming up. And January has always been a good month for me."
Where have you gone, Phil and Steve Mahre . . .
The men managed to complete a giant slalom last Friday at Kranjska Gora, Yugoslavia, but were rained out of a slalom the next day at Maribor, Yugoslavia. Both races had originally been set for snowless Borovetz, Bulgaria. The slalom will now be held at Parpan, Switzerland, Jan. 21.
Additionally, this Friday's scheduled downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany, has already been canceled because of a heat wave at the Bavarian resort, but World Cup organizers still plan to stage a super giant slalom there Saturday and a slalom at Berchtesgaden, West Germany, Sunday. Then it's on to Badgastein, Austria, for a giant slalom Tuesday.
The women are spending this week at Badgastein, where they will compete in downhill events both Friday and Saturday, followed by a slalom Sunday.
John Buxman, who raced in the shadows of the now-retired Mahre twins throughout most of his career on the U.S. team, has turned professional and will compete in the second event of the Peugeot Grand Prix this weekend at Loon Mountain, N.H.
The men's pro ski circuit will come to Heavenly Valley Jan. 23-26 and to Snow Summit Feb. 13-16.
Women's Pro Ski Racing, meanwhile, will start its eight-stop swing across the nation with a weekend meet at Okemo Mountain, Vt. The women, led by defending champion Cathy Bruce, will be at Snow Summit Feb. 22-23 before heading into the Sierra for races at Squaw Valley March 8-9 and at Kirkwood March 22-23.
Thanks mainly to their snow-making capability, four Southland ski areas are hanging in there despite the current balmy weather. They are, from east to west: Goldmine, Snow Summit, Snow Valley and Mountain High. Reported depths range from 8 to 24 inches.
Mammoth Mountain got some powder last weekend at its higher elevations and has a total of 75 inches. June Mountain lists a 42-inch base.
There's still plenty of snow around Lake Tahoe, but it's turning to the notorious "Sierra cement" in many places. Squaw Valley, for example, has 17 to 58 inches, Alpine Meadows 40 to 75 inches and Heavenly Valley 24 to 48 inches.
Elsewhere, a random sampling includes Sun Valley, Ida., 39 inches; Park City, Utah, 76 inches; Vail, Colo., 40 inches, and Aspen Mountain, Colo., 25 inches.
Skiing Notes The World Cup men's downhill at Schladming, Austria, Dec. 31 will be shown on ESPN Saturday at 3 p.m. PST. . . . The John Denver Pro-Celebrity ski tournament will probably return to Heavenly Valley after a one-year respite; tentative dates are Feb. 22-23. . . . Mammoth Mountain is now operating the shuttle buses from Mammoth Lakes to the ski area, with the same 50-cent fare charged on all five routes. . . . Sierra Summit is holding Equitable Family Ski Challenge races every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.