Snowy Sochi, Cancelled Czech
2013 so far has definitely been the year of too snow so far on the Ski Cross World Cup. The sun is a long lost memory these days, and gone are the days of getting more that one or two training runs at World Cups, or skiing at all in some cases.
This trip began mid February with a visit to Rosa Kuhtor, the site for the mountain events at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi Russia. Getting into Sochi is anything but easy. The first headache started weeks ago with just applying for a Russian Visa. One of the questions on the application, “list all countries you have visited in the last 10 years and the dates” hhmmm that is a very long list for this ski racer!
My flight path into Russia was, Calgary to Frankfurt, then on to Munich where I spent the night. Then the real fun began, 5pm flight Munich to Istanbul, a 6 hour lay over there in the evening (thankfully the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul is by far the nicest airport lounge I have ever seen, thank you Elite Status!) and then a midnight departure from Istanbul to Sochi, arriving at the lovely hour of 4 am. Yes someone actually planned this route over for our Olympic test event….2 hour bus ride up to Rosa Khutor, go to check into the hotel rooms we were assured would await us only to find out they would not be ready for another 6 hours. I proceeded to find the best available lobby couch and pass out until I got a hotel room, at which point I went back to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.
Enough about the travel and onto the skiing (or lack there of), and the snow, so, so much snow. It was pouring rain down at the hotel in Russia, but we loaded up and headed for the gondola anyway hoping for our first look at what is supposed to be a replica of what we will see next year at the games. After getting all your ski gear through metal detectors and enduring two to three pat-downs from “friendly” Russian army men, we were on the brand new gondola and were on our way. Half way up the rain turned to snow, a lot of snow.
The build in Russia almost made up for being left out of the X Games this year. Yea it was that good. Thankfully too much snow and soft conditions meant we skipped most of the Ski Cross option line, which looked lammee. The Ski and Snowboard courses share the top and bottom sections with a shot detour in one secion for skiers. The course is big, with lots of rollers and rhythm sections and some rather large and fun booters. It also featured 3 “cut banks”, massive banked corners with the ends cut to a drop off. A cool feature fun to ski and something we hadn’t seen before.
The race in Sochi ended up being an exercise in patience, like a lot of races have been this year. Qualification was postponed to the same day as the finals due to weather and too much snow. When they finally came we as racers had to deal with ever changing snow and course conditions, especially huge changes in speed. One run there would be a run in fast track, and you were over shooting everything, the next and few inches of fresh snow meant popping to make landings on some of the features.
I had a solid quali run, but was a little bit tentative in sections. Not my usual style I know but the lack of visibility and training runs on the course were playing in my mind. Either was I put down a solid run and ended up 4th in quali, I wasn’t totally satisfied, but still thought it was a good effort. The heats did not go my way that day. I had a solid first round, but in the quarterfinals I got the short end of another tangle out of the gate, dropped into 4th and couldn’t recover. I was furious with myself at the end of the race, I had put a lot of pressure on myself to do well there, with it being the pre Olympic event. Now that I have had some time to reflect I am not as disappointed with my performance. I learned a few things, and a lot about the Russian experience and the course there, and I can use it to move forward and make sure I am ready for next year.
We had another beauty travel route out of Sochi, I will leave out the details because I will be tempted to use a lot of 4 letter words that will be offensive to some readers.
Next stop was to be Harrachov, in the Czech Republic. I was super excited to go and race in Czech, I had only been one time before and not for skiing but I loved my time there. Also I know that the Czech’s are some of the biggest sporting fans around, not to mention Thomas Kraus, one of the best to ever race SX, is Czech.
However, we showed up to amateur hour when we arrived at the resort. The race organizing committee (ROC) was unorganized and unprepared. I’ll keep most of my thoughts to myself about how this place ended up on a World Cup schedule to myself for the same reason as the Sochi travel.
After one inspection down the course it seemed like they had built a ski cross course barely worthy of hosting a FIS race, let alone a world cup. Not features, not a single jump to be seen and the major problem, the most dangerous looking start anyone had ever seen.. Athletes and coaches immediately started talking about how to change the course while the snow kept falling and the ROC scrambled to finish course preparations. Oh right I forgot to mention the course wasn’t even finished when we showed up!
It was my turn at being connection athlete at that race. The connection athlete has the lovely job of being the connection between the athletes and the FIS, and let me tell you, it was some fun sitting in on the coaches meeting and telling the organizers that we as athletes would not race unless the start was moved or changed!
We began a very long process of making major changes to the start section. All the coaches from the various teams worked extremely hard all day long on what was supposed to be quali day to completely rebuild the start section using shovels, a lot of sweat and some help from a snowcat with an operator who seemed like it was his 3rd day behind the controls. Their hard work paid off and meant that we had a safe start to race on the next day. Mother Nature had different plans though and opened up the skies to 15 cms of very wet snow overnight, cancelling the race.
It was a long trip to Czech to do a grand total of two inspections, however it wasn’t a total loss. We banded together as athletes and got a course we deemed dangerous and below World Cup level changed. We also worked with the FIS officials and event organizers and, I feel that we set a great example of what can happened when they are willing to listen to what the athletes have to say. Getting that start changed was one win for all the athletes even though we didn’t get a race off.
Now I am sitting in Mittenwald, Germany, writing this long overdue blog and hoping that my ramblings make a bit of sense. We spent the last few days chillin in Munich relaxing and resting. Not really sure what we were resting from, I haven’t skied in weeks I feel like! We are here for a FIS race taking place this weekend that we will use as a training camp before we head up to Norway for World Champs.
Hopefully after Norway I will have a chance to gather my thoughts again and write another one of these things!
Thanks for reading!!