Gian-Franco Kasper, who in May last year was elected as President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) for the sixth time, used the metaphor of a litmus test as he contemplated his sport’s prospects in the wake of last year's Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
It is a testament to the powers of endurance of this 75-year-old from St Moritz that he remains at the head of his sport in such challenging times - warning against what he sees as the potentially fatal drift towards overblown and overly expensive Olympics, and insisting that the blanket ban imposed on Russian athletes by the World Anti-Doping Agency was unjust.
As chair of the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations, as well as being an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee, Kasper has a uniquely well-informed view on the best routes forward in order to keep the sports of snow and ice in good order.
Right now, however, his attention is focused on a hectic and critical period for the FIS as it stages three successive World Championships in the space of a month.
The Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships are already underway at the Park City, Deer Valley and Solitude Mountain resorts in the United States, and due to continue until February 10.
On Tuesday (February 5) the Alpine World Ski Championships are due to get underway in the Swedish resort of Åre, which in conjunction with Stockholm is contesting the right to hold the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games with the Italian bid of Milan-Cortina d’Ampezza. Those Championships conclude on February 17, and three days later the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships are scheduled to start at Seefeld in Austria’s Tyrol, running until March 3.
"The Olympic Winter Games 2018 have come and gone and now we have to pass the litmus test to see if we can maintain the momentum gained from the Games and continue to attract new followers to our disciplines through the four-year Olympic cycle," Kasper wrote three months ago.
"It is important that we can continue to capture the imaginations of the general public and as the motto for the upcoming FIS Alpine World Ski Championships states '‘Inspire the World to Ski'. These new followers are the future of our sport."
The future of his sport, and of winter sports in general, was front and foremost in Kasper’s thoughts as he looked ahead this week to the impending FIS World Championship frenzy.
The Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding Championships feature in the US feature two new mixed team events with aerials and snowboard cross, and the big air events will now include free skiers as well as snowboarders.
All three of these new events will make their debuts on the programme of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
Meanwhile, the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships will be staging the mixed Alpine team event that was introduced at Pyeongchang 2018 - involving two male and two female skiers from each nation who progress through heats of successive head-to-head slalom racing - and which will also feature at Beijing 2022.
The official FIS view on the mixed Alpine team event, as offered to insidethegames last year, was as enthusiastic as one might expect: "We are excited that the team event will be introduced on the Olympic stage this season. It is a fan favourite on the World Cup tour with the exciting head-to-head format and we think the Olympic audience will enjoy this new event. It is a compact event with short runs, quick action and with national teams going head to head it has it the flair of both an individual and team sport."
Kasper, of course, is also positive about the innovations - but his rapture is distinctly modified at certain points.
On the subject of the new freestyle events, he told insidethegames this week; "It is the first time these events will be included in a World Championships and it gives us a great opportunity to create some new public interest in the competition.
"But we don’t want to overdo the innovation, because the Olympics does not need gigantism, as Agenda 2020 has made clear.
"It is about striking the right balance between new and traditional events. I hope the new freestyle events will appeal to young people - we will see how it goes there.
"The Alpine Championships of course contain events that we have seen over the years, although we will see in Åre the team event which made its first Olympic appearance in Pyeongchang last year.
"I thought the eeam event at Pyeongchang 2018 worked well to a certain extent. It generated enthusiasm within the media, particularly in the countries which won medals. The idea is similar to the mixed team event in cross-country skiing.
“The difficulty with it is that skiing is an individual sport and I can imagine some athletes saying ‘no thanks’. They might like to be in the Team Event, but maybe the next day they have a special competition for their main event and they don’t want to take the risk.
“This is how it is. We have to live with the fact that skiing is an individual sport. In cross-country skiing, for example, many athletes have not participated in the relays for a number of years.
“But in the major skiing nations we have enough strength in depth to have top class performers taking part.”
The balance of new and traditional events is an enduring question for Kasper on his latest leg of a Presidential journey that is due to take him up to 2022.
"We have to look carefully at the number of events in the Winter Olympics," he said. "There have been many discussions about the cost of the Olympics - and to include more and more events and sports doesn’t help.
"We have to be careful not to kill ourselves by having too much. This is really important for the future of the Games, and for future hosts. But after having all this discussion we see what happened with the Tokyo 2020 Games, where we have too much, adding five new sports.
"We need more modest Winter Olympic Games. Beijing 2022 is already looking bigger and more expensive - this is not the right way we need to go.
"At the FIS Congress last year we had 15 more requests for events at the Beijing Olympics.
"Big air for ladies? Fine. For men? Fine. A mixed team event? Fine. But then a team event for men, and for ladies?
"We are the International Federation, so we can’t exclude these requests if the Congress votes for them, even though the IOC had said 'This is the limit'.
"In 2026, nobody will try to match Beijing. We need to solve these things or we will kill ourselves.
"Agenda 2020 talks about spreading competition different countries, and using existing venues. We shouldn’t just go on getting bigger."
Beijing 2022 is scheduled to include 109 events over 15 disciplines in seven sports.
The current estimated budget for the Beijing 2022 Games is $3.9 billion (£3 billion/€3.4 billiion).
Åre has already hosted the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships in 1954 and 2007, and also staged last season’s World Cup finals. These latest World Champonships come at what could be a telling time given the impending IOC decision to award the 2026 Games, which will take place in Lausanne on June 24.
So this is Åre’s big moment?
"One hundred per cent," Kasper concurred. "It is a unique opportunity for them to showcase their bid. Of course they have hosted the World Championships, and the World Cup finals. But this comes at a particularly good time ahead of the June decision of the IOC. The organisers have a very good chance to show how well they can manage a major championship.
"Some of the impact will depend upon their performance - Sweden is not too strong at the moment. But with interest so high in Norway, which is so close, I think the atmosphere will be very good.
"We had a good crowd at Åre for the World Cup finals last spring - it was not like Pyeongchang, where we had lousy crowds for our competitions - and I am sure the level will be good again, even though Åre is three hours’ journey from Stockholm.
"What matters most of all will be the TV viewing figures, and I think they will reflect the high level of interest.
"We are very confident about all our World Championships this month. The organisers of these venues have huge experience of staging World Cups and, in some cases, World Championships.
"So we don’t have any concerns, other than usual ones about the weather. At the moment the forecasts for snow are good, but with such experienced officials we are well used to re-scheduling for the weather conditions if needs be."
One of the steps FIS is undertaking on the latter front is to organise the Mainau Conference, a high-level academic forum at Dubrovnik in November this year on the subject of the "Environment in the Mountains and Snow".
"The initial conference on the topic of the Environment organised by FIS led to the creation of the Mainau Manifesto which was adopted by the FIS Congress in 1994," Kasper wrote last year. "It is a highly relevant that we gather the leading experts in this area again to take another step forward."
Reflecting on the impending event this week, Kasper added: "There will be some expert discussion - although I don’t expect we will find the solution of how to change things!
"But sometimes it is difficult to know what is happening.
"A lack of snow is a real problem for some of our sites and resorts, especially those at heights of less than 800 metres. But having a lack of snow is not only a new thing. The church book back in my home at St Moritz has a record of a year in the 16th century when there was no snow before March. It was good for the mountain farmers of the time.
"What we are trying to do with events such as this is to support the people who work in the mountains, to try and safeguard their livelihoods. If they are experiencing less snow and there will be less snow in future we need to find ways of bringing them an alternative - whether that is a means of creating artificial snow, or in adopting different alternatives to attract people to their resorts."
But the prime aim of FIS, as Kasper points out, is to promote and enhance the sport. On that front, performances such as the one put in 22-year-old Czech athlete Ester Ledecká, who completed an unprecedented double at Pyeongchang 2018 by winning titles in skiing and snowboarding, are hugely beneficial.
Having unexpectedly won the super-G gold from 26th place,Ledecká followed through a few days later with a more generally anticipated victory in the snowboard parallel giant slalom.
"At FIS we are trying to promote the sport," Kasper said."And one of the best showcases is to hold attractive competitions that engage the public and media interest.
"When someone like Ledecká emerges, and manages to become a crossover champion in both snowboarding and skiing, of course it is very important for the sport in terms of PR.
"She had to decide which discipline to go for this season - and to nobody’s surprise she decided to choose Alpine skiing. So we will very much look forward to seeing her in action in Åre.
"Like many people, I was surprised when she won the giant slalom at Pyeongchang. But it is always good when you get new talents emerging unexpectedly in World Championships or Olympics as she did.
"If [Marcel] HIrscher wins again in Åre people will go ‘Okay, that’s normal.' But for other athletes it can be different.
"That is one of the best things about World Championships or Olympics - you often get new names coming through, perhaps because some want to risk it all, and others don’t want to risk. Or maybe some become too nervous. It is so different from the World Cup competition."
The forthcoming competition in Åre is now due to mark the last appearance of one of the other marquee names of the sport in Lindsey Vonn, the 2010 Olympic and multiple world champion, who announced on Friday (February 1) that she would retire after competing in the downhill and super-G events in Sweden.
That means the 34-year-old American athlete will remain on a total of 82 World Cup victories - four short of the all-time record of 86 wins set by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who competed between 1974 and 1989.
Asked earlier in the week whether he thought Vonn could overhaul Stenmark’s record, Kasper responded: "I personally don’t believe she can. Don’t forget that Stenmark had fewer events in which to be victorious. And maybe Toni Sailer would have won many more with more opportunities.
"It is a great topic for the media, although these kind of records are not of such importance to the FIS. But we need the interest of the public, for whatever reason, whether it is Ledecká winning in snowboard and skiing, or Vonn making the record. That’s what we need.”
Kasper added, following Vonn’s latest news: "We will have to see if in the end if Vonn is able to continue with any more competitions, but whatever happens she has been a great ambassador for our sport.”
Last month, Kasper’s fellow honorary IOC member Sam Ramsamy told insidethegames he felt that the Russian Olympic Committee had "served its time" and that there was "no doubt" that Russian athletes would be at Tokyo 2020.
"I agree with him in principle," Kasper said. "I think he’s on the right way."
There was widespread condemnation by athletes and national anti-doping agencies when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced last September that it was lifting its ban on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), which had been non-compliant for three years following evidence of a widespread doping regime involving Russian athletes.
WADA earned further censure when Russia missed the deadline of December 31 to allow access to data stored within its Moscow Laboratory.
WADA, which subsequently confirmed it had successfully retrieved the data from the laboratory announced on January 22 that the RUSADA would remain compliant pending analysis of the samples given over.
For Kasper, this is a welcome turn of events.
"Russia is not strong in Alpine skiing, but it is in cross-country, where it is one of the three main countries," he said. "We hope the doping stories will end in the future and they will back to competition.
"We also look forward to Russia hosting many more events in their country. There are three million cross-country skiers in Russia - if you are in Siberia there’s nothing else you can do except cross-country skiing!
"But for this to happen we will have to have confidence that RUSADA is in charge and that the teams are under proper controls.
"One of the present problems in doping is that the athlete who is number two on the podium always believes that the number one has only beaten them because of doping. I exaggerate a little, but this is the kind of thinking that makes people cheat. We have to get rid of this.
"Of course whoever did wrong with doping has to be sanctioned. That is very important. But to try to sanction Russia because of missing a deadline by 10 or 12 days would be a political move.
"WADA has to be very strong. But for me there is no question we shouldn’t have imposed a blanket ban because that affects innocent athletes, and I don’t believe that is right.
"I think WADA is doing all it can at the moment. I think they should have reacted earlier, and more strongly. But it is like a kindergarten what is going on, with political moves on both sides. The important thing is that WADA gets the data they have asked for, and that needs to be carefully checked."