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Monday, February 17, 2014

Preparing Ski Slopes for Competition | Behind the Scenes at Sochi

Hosting any type of ski race takes hundreds of volunteers and days of preparation. Starting early before the sun is even up, volunteers use water cannons to ice the course, and sharp edges on their skis to slide down the course sideways to even it out and shave off the rough top layer of ice.

the alpine volunteer ski crew smoothing out the course for the men's Super-G in Sochi.
Photo: Montreal Gazette

When the course snow conditions are finally ready, the race flags have to be skied down and set up for the specific race type. During the races the crew is lined up down the course to reset flags that are hit, set up safety nets, and help out camera crews. Either the workers are in razor sharp skis or wearing crampons. Normally used for ice climbing or backcountry skiing, the sharp metal teeth of crampons allow the volunteers to easily stand, or run up and down the extremely icy and steep course.

crampons in action!
Because of the spring-like snow conditions in Sochi, the crews have to work even harder to make snow and then ice it down to be smoothed out. These volunteers started working on the courses before the athletes even arrived. They also work from 5am till after the races are concluded for the day, every day throughout the races.

Some might call it crazy to willingly sign up for the brutal labor and long days, however the up close experience watching the race from the course is worth it. Seeing skier after skier fly by at 70+ miles per hour, fighting gravity is one experience that fans in the grandstands won’t experience. Plus they get discounted gear, and on top of all of that, they get to keep the sick crew jackets.

Volunteers aren’t just needed at the Olympics! The World Cup and other races need volunteers too!  I have friends and family who volunteer at the World Cup races in Beaver Creek, and when my school schedule allows, I hope to join them on the course, wishing that I might run into Bode Miller somewhere along the way.