Thursday, February 25, 2010

Womens GS; Will Sochi Be Another Pissler?

After watching one racer in today's womens GS Run 2, it was clear that Atle and the jury are no longer asking themselves the usual questions about the race conditions.

The normal questions would be:

1. Will it be a fair race?

2. Are the conditions above minimum?

3. Are the conditions going to get anybody hurt?

Instead they are asking themselves one and only one question: "Is running the race in these atrocious conditions worse than canceling the race and leaving Pissler with races canceled, for the first time in Olympic history?"

In GS, question 3 isn't nearly as critical as in the "speed" disciplines. That's not to say racers don't get hurt in GS crashes (they do), but GS crashes rarely are caused by bad conditions. The speeds and forces involved just aren't that high.

Today, obviously, the answer was "no", so they ran on a slushy Slurpee-slope with 15 seconds of the course completely socked in by fog. I'm sure, at this point, even the racers just want to get the Orympical Games over with, get the hell out of Pissler, and never see the fucking place again. Trust me on this - they won't. There will never be another World Cup level race held there. Probably Alpine Canada won't even hold Nor-Ams (equivalent to AAA baseball) there. Ostensibly, after the 3rd straight failure to get a World Cup race off in 1998, Pissler was off the schedule forever, but Vancouver getting the Olympics started the entire clusterfuck all over again. Everyone who has ever been involved with an (attempted) race at Pissler knew the Olympics was going to be a Gong Show, and Pissler did not disappoint. It sucked.

A clever television sleight-of-hand took place during run 2. I'm almost sure it wasn't intentional (nobody from the host broadcaster is that smart), but it worked well. I noticed it, but anybody who doesn't know the sport well probably didn't, so I will explain it.

In GS races (actually, in all race disciplines except slalom) the "start interval" (time between racers) is very tightly controlled. It is published in a document called the "Daily Race Program", and everybody on the hill has a copy. Often, this interval will change for safety, theatrical, and TV reasons at various places on the start list. For example, racers 1-15 may start at a 1:45 interval, then racers 16-30 at 2:15, then 31-end at 0:45. There is a timing device called a "start clock" which is programmed with these intervals, and the clock counts the racer down in the start gate with both an audible and a visible signal. That's the BOOP BOOP BOOP BEEP sound you hear when a racer is starting. A racer doesn't have to start exactly dead-on the start interval; the racer can legally start any time between -5 seconds and +5 seconds. For example, the start interval is 1:15, racer 14 is scheduled to leave at 12:12:00; racer 14 can legally start at any time between 12:11:55 and 12:12:05. The next racer (15) then can legally start at any point between 12:13:10 and 12:13:20. It's primarily a safety thing. If a racer hooks a gate and breaks it off, the nearby course worker has a Daily Program and knows it will be X:XX before the next racer arrives; if he can fix the gate within that interval and be out of the way before the next racer arrives, he does it. If not, he calls the referee on the radio and asks for a delay ("stop-start") of one or more intervals.

What happened today is the racers were running the course in 1:15, and the start interval was also 1:15. The socked-in "Sewer" section of the course started at about 8-10 seconds into each racer's run, and lasted about 12-15 seconds. On TV, what you saw was this:

- Racer 10 finishes.
- TV follows Racer 10 as she stops: 5 seconds.
- TV follows Racer 10's reaction: 10 seconds.


- Racer 11 is already 15 seconds into her run. Instead of going to #11 live, TV rolls tape of Racer 11 starting (BOOP BOOP BOOP BEEP) and negotiating the first few gates: 15 seconds.
- Just before Racer 11 disappears into the fog on the replay, TV switches to Racer 11 live.
- At this point, Racer 11 is about 30 seconds into her run and is through the pea soup section, so the viewer never really sees the skier doing her impression of David Paterson.

TV avoided the embarrassing effect of Run 1 yesterday, where every single racer spent 20 seconds in a fog so thick that it looked like the camera was following a cotton ball being blown through a sandstorm.

OK, enough about Womens GS for now.

My friend and esteemed colleague The Big Guy asked a very good question today:

"Enlighten us regarding the 2014 location: Krasnaya Polyana. Looks like another Vancoober/Whizzler to me.
Do tell!"

Well. Ahem. I've never been to Krasnaya Polyana, but I've talked to a few colleagues in the alpine race biz who have (including two representatives from FIS). At this point there are virtually no answers. It's all questions.

First of all, the current resort known as Krasnaya Polyana was, during the review process, deemed unsuitable for an Olympic Games (how much worse than Pissler could it be?). So, an entirely new venue is being built about 20 minutes down the road, at another mountain. Construction has not yet started. The Olympic courses are still being laid out. At the moment, there is nothing at the Olympic venue except a couple of office trailers.

Giving Sochi the benefit of the doubt, this sounds sketchy, but is not necessarily a bad thing. In 1988, for example, the original plan for the Calgary Games was to run the alpine events at Lake Louise, one of the best and most consistent World Cup venues for the past 25 years. Commercial problems took LL off the table, so the Calgary Games organizers designated a virgin, uncut mountain near Calgary (Nakiska) as their alpine site. They cut trails, installed lifts, built a venue from scratch. It wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't a great venue. After the Olympics concluded, they ripped out all the lifts except one and nobody skied on the Olympic courses ever again. Basically it took about a hundred million dollars to find out that Nakiska was a shitty place to put a ski resort.

Vladimir Putin is an alpine skiing fanatic, and he has promised the IOC that Krasnaya Polyana will get whatever resources (financial and otherwise) it needs to become a world-class venue in plenty of time for 2014. Since Putin has very few people (none, actually) to answer to, his promise carries, er, a lot of promise.


Unlimited money, unlimited political power, and tens of thousands of troops may not be able to overcome some serious environmental challenges presented by Krasnaya Polyana.

To wit:

1. The current Krasnaya Polyana resort claims an average seasonal snowfall of 1.5 meters. That's about 60 inches. That's really, really bad. That's about the same as, say, Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is hardly a skiing mecca. Off-the-scale bad for a ski resort. Snowbasin, Utah (for example), site of the 2002 Olympic downhill (my home resort where, coincidentally, I skied today in 10" of fresh powder, hee hee hee), averages about 400 inches a year. Snowbird, a small resort about an hour from Snowbasin, averages almost 600 inches. Snowbasin and Snowbird, like all ski resorts in Utah, have "The Greatest Snow On Earth" (it says so right on the Utah license plates). One of the worst resorts in the American West in terms of snowfall is Sun Valley, Idaho. Sun Valley averages 220 inches a year. So, to summarize, the snowfall is Sun Valley is pretty crappy, but it's about 4x more than Krasnaya Polyana.

Lots of snow doesn't guarantee a good Olympic venue. Before the 2002 Games, we were all terrified that the Olympic events at Snowbasin would be snowed out. Both World Cup "test events" (in 2000 and 2001) and 2 of 3 "Nor-Am" test events at Snowbasin leading up to the 2002 Olympics were snowed out. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you wake up and there's 28" of fresh powder on the racecourse, you can't race. It's too dangerous. The new snow actually has to be removed from the course, as if the race course was a sidewalk. The course workers actually use shovels and snowblowers to get the new snow OFF the course. But that takes time, since a downhill course is about 5km in length. Imagine shoveling a sidewalk that's 5km long and 60m wide. I used to love working races at Snowbasin, because the chances were overwhelming that I would spend the entire week skiing fresh pow and not working one damn bit. Miraculously, Snowbasin got no significant snowfall during the 2002 Olympics, thus proving that God is, in fact, a Mormon.

2. The altitude at the base of Krasnaya Polyana is 540m / 1700 feet. Bad. Altitude means cold and dry, which is good for snow. The base area at FuckOffler is 650m / 2100 feet. So in other words, Krasnaya Polyana is LOWER than Pissler. GAH!

This, potentially, can be worked around. Krasnaya Polyana has a vertical drop of 1688m / 5500 feet. That's about the same vert as FuckOffler, and that's an awesome vertical drop for a ski area. Even mighty Kitzbühel has a vert of "only" about 3300 feet. Vail is about the same. The problem with Pissler is that the finish area (Creekside) is at the very bottom of the mtn, where it is always raining and foggy. If VANOC had built the Pissler race venues at the TOP of the mountain, they wouldn't have had the worst Olympic alpine events in Olympic history during the past three weeks. It's not impossible to build race venues at the top. Expensive, yes. Impractical, yes. But not impossible. Breckenridge, for example, has its race course on Cimmarron, which is about a mile (via ski trails) and 2500 vertical feet above Breck village. The Cimmarron start is up at around 12,000 feet. The finish of the GS is at about 11,500 feet. The village is at about 9,000 feet (note - the town of Breckenridge, at the base of the Breckenridge ski area, is about a half-mile vertically above the TOP of Pissler. That's why Breck is one of the best places to ski on the planet, and why Pissler fucking sucks). Building race venues at the top of a mountain creates a lot of problems with respect to getting spectators up there, and dealing with TV cabling, but it's nothing that a shitload of money can't solve. I'll go out on a limb here and opine that Mr Putin can solve those problems very nicely, should he decide doing so is prudent.

3. Ocean. Pissler gets slammed by fronts coming off the nearby Pacific Ocean. Sochi is, like Vancouver, right on the Black Sea. Krasnaya Polyana, like FuckOffler, is just inland. The Black Sea is relatively small, and not in the path of the prevailing upper-level winds, so the proximity of the Black Sea to Krasnaya Polyana isn't as ominous as the proximity of the Pacific Ocean to FuckOffler.

So that's what I know about Krasnaya Polyana. It has the potential to be another raging clusterfuck of an alpine venue, but a lot of questions remain before I'm ready to throw in the towel on 2014.


The Big Guy said...

Thanks for the insight.
I now have some ammunition to beat up on the Commie Code Monkey with when he starts extolling the Wonders of Sochi (tm) again...

BTW- Something to look forward to-
NBC does not yet have a deal for Sochi... Word around the campfire is that Turner and ESPN want it, but will try to do it "on the cheap"...
Depending on the NBC/Comcast shakeout, 2014 might look and sound very different.


The Mighty Skunk said...

Wow. Interesting gossip.

That could be really cool. Turner did a nice job with the Winter Goodwill Games in 2000 @ Lake Plastered. My crew did the timing & scoring for the ski racing, the snowboard racing, plus the bobsled, luge, and skeleton. Turner cut through a lot of the bullshit and staged, for example, TWO mens downhills, no technical events, and no women's skiing, because their research showed that viewers wanted to watch mens downhill uber alles.

Maybe me and my guys will even get some work out of it.