The O. Zone

Why warm, wet weather and big-event downhills don't mix (and why Sochi, like Whistler, will be a total disaster)

By David O. Williams
Real AspenFebruary 12, 2011
I just sent this email to a Canadian buddy of mine who worked with me at the Vancouver Olympics about this time last year: “Why couldn't he have done this a year ago?” I was referring to Erik Guay, the Canadian racer who just won the gold medal in downhill at the World Championships in Garmisch, Germany.

Guay overcame an increasingly mushy course that earlier in the week was a rock-hard sheet of pond ice, and in Whistler a year ago he came closer than any other Canadian racer to winning an Olympic medal on sloppy home snow. He was also really close in Sestriere, Italy, at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
David O. Williams

My Canadian friend and I have a friendly rivalry going back and forth, giving each other grief about our respective countries, but I really was pulling for Guay and the rest of the modern-era Crazy Canucks to do something in Whistler – just as I pulled for the Italians back in 2006. You want to see the hometown heroes do well at the Games. Besides, Americans did so well at Whistler (a record eight alpine medals) that it almost became embarrassing.

No American men cracked the top 10 in today's downhill in Garmisch, where the course and the weather have become a huge part of the story. Earlier in the week, organizers hosed down the course and made it rock hard. Now temps have soared and it's turning into spring-like mush, which can be bad at 70 to 80 mph. Guay, maybe used to such big-event conditions after soft snow plagued Whistler a year ago, clearly had it figured out.

Earlier in the week, Vail's Lindsey Vonn made headlines by complaining about the track, calling it too icy and dangerous for the women's speed events.

I'm not sure if U.S. Ski Team spokesman Doug Haney was aiming these comments at Vonn, but here's what he had to say in his World Cup notes prior to today's men's downhill:

“From the icy beast that it was on Wednesday, the temps have started to stay warm overnight and in turn have softened it up quite a bit. If organizers hadn't got the hose out earlier in the week, it's feasible we wouldn't be racing today. Besides, Bode [Miller] and other veterans like [Didier] Cuche said it best. This is the World Championships, difficult conditions make becoming a World Champion even sweeter.”

And then he said this about another American racer: “Steven {Nyman] has been working his way back to full steam all season and doesn't complain about snow conditions – ever.”

Well, journalists do. And a year ago I complained a lot about holding the Winter Olympics at lower elevation coastal venues like Whistler, which set a new record for alpine racing postponements. Whistler, in fact, had its World Cup yanked years ago because of brutal coastal weather.

Now, the IOC is going right back to the well – the soggy and super-soaked coastal well – by holding the next Winter Games in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Think that won't be just as bad as Whistler, if not worse? Check out this blog from a guy who owns a nursery (the plant kind) in Oregon and was just in the Sochi area a few weeks ago checking out the plant life.

Here are the first seven paragraphs of his blog:

“A few weeks ago I was traveling in southern Russia, visiting friends and their orchards. This region is unique in several ways.

“One, it is home to the City of Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Two, it is located on the Black Sea and has a subtropical climate, where everything from Mandarin Oranges to Avocados can be grown. Three, it is home to a famous (in Russia) fruit research station where researchers work on crops like Pineapple Guava and Jujube.

“Even though Sochi is located on the 43rd parallel (like Roseburg), when I was there in early January they hadn't experienced a killing frost. So you might wonder why this is a good choice for the Winter Olympics, which, after all, usually require at least a little snow and ice. I wonder the same thing.

“Obviously, there are other reasons for choosing a location besides its suitability (money maybe?).

“Organizers of the 2014 Olympics obviously are counting on snow in the mountains, something that wasn't there when I visited.

“Lack of snow is only one of the surprises that may greet visitors in 2014. Another is massive environmental destruction. To change a sleepy, one chair lift, ski area into an Olympic venue is requiring huge construction projects in a once-pristine mountain meadow.”

Yikes, sounds like if you go, you should bring your Visa, head-to-toe rain gear and lots of cash to pay off the local police. No thanks. Wake me up for the 2022 Games in high and dry Colorado.

comments: 2 Comments on "Why warm, wet weather and big-event downhills don't mix (and why Sochi, like Whistler, will be a total disaster)"

bberwyn – Feb. 12, 2011, at 11:25 a.m.

Hmm, last time I checked, skiing was an outdoor sport and adapting to changing weather and snow conditions was part of the challenge. Complaining about snow, or the tech choosing the wrong wax, is the oldest excuse in the book. Skiing is a global sport, practiced at a wide range of elevations latitudes, etc. Oh, wait, maybe we should just hold all ski events indoors in a giant dome to make sure that conditions are just right :)

David O. – Feb. 12, 2011, at 12:24 p.m.

Or hold the Winter Olympics in places where they actually have winter and you don't have to spend millions of dollars and spew an inordinate amount of C02 into the atmosphere to truck and fly in snow like Cypress Mountain in Vancouver last year.

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