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21 Feb 2010
Vancouver 2010 , IOC News

How to produce world-class courses

Making and maintaining the slopes on Cypress Mountain, Whistler Creekside and Whistler Olympic Park for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games is a challenge the world’s top course builders and groomers have risen to admirably this February in Vancouver. The specialists have overcome some trying weather conditions and difficult mountain terrain to produce world-class courses for athletes competing in events ranging from Alpine skiing to snowboard halfpipe.

24 Hours A Day

As with the ice venues in Vancouver and Whistler, the snow venues all differ from each other in terms of design, type and amount of snow. Alpine racers, for example, ski on wet, dense snow that is almost but not quite ice. The water content of the snow on such courses is between 55 and 65 per cent, whereas the water content of snow on normal recreational ski slopes is about 45 per cent, while dry powder snow contains about 10 per cent water.

The ice-like conditions help the skiers gain speed as they travel down the 3,158-metre (men’s) and 2,870-metre (women’s) courses. A snow maintenance crew of 40 people operate 24 hours a day to keep the course in tip-top shape, and their efforts have been much appreciated by the athletes. "It's an awesome course," said Briton Chemmy Alcott after her 13th place finish in the Ladies’ Downhill. "It's a perfect Olympic women's course. If you ask any of the girls, they want it to be challenging."

Able To Shine

Unlike most of the snow venues, snowmaking machines are not required for the cross-country and biathlon courses as they require relatively shallow snow bases and low snow densities. The snow for landing on the ski jumping course, conversely, comes largely from machines, and takes approximately 100 hours at temperatures of -3.5 C to create the ideal conditions.

As with the downhill courses, the snow used on ski jumps is very dense (approximately 60-70 per cent water) to provide a solid landing surface for the athletes. It’s been a long, tiring process for the hundreds of specialists and thousands of volunteers on the slopes of Whistler and Cypress, but their countless hours of work have resulted in incredible platforms on which the world’s greatest skiers and snowboarders have been able to shine.

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