Olympic Fever!

Did I ever tell you about the time I earned the nickname “Rocket Girl?” True story—but it wasn’t about my lightening-fast skiing (which, yes, is a skill I have in my quiver, now, thanks to some excellent coaching in my Women on Wednesdays Ski Clinic. But more on that, soon).

In the 2002 Winter Games, Jeff and I volunteered at Utah Olympic Park, in food and beverage services. (For those of you who were in the volunteer corps, we wore the blue coat.)  Jeff was mostly in the office trailer, managing the other volunteers. I, however, was driving those fun AWD buggies around, loaded with Pop-Tarts and Nature Valley bars. And, one fine evening, during the ski jumping competitions, I wore the Rocket Pack. This, friends, is a metal tank in an insulated backpack. It has a dispenser for plastic cups on the side, and a hose with a soda-gun type trigger-dispenser at one end. It was filled with hot chocolate. It weighed—well, a lot. It was, conservatively, about half as long as I am tall. Since I may be 5’1” in boots, this isn’t necessarily huge…until I put the thing on my back and went to my assigned post. I was to climb the stairs next to the jumps and serve cocoa to the judges. Hilarity ensued.

The fact is, that volunteer experience has had a lasting impact—we are, forever, “Olympics People.” I think most people in Park City, who were here, then, feel that way, too. So, as the Olympics kicked off, I got excited all over again. Truth be told, I started to feel Olympic Fever at The FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup Competition at Deer Valley, last month.

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Just approaching the venue, my friend Miriam and I were reminding each other, and explaining to my friend Kathy, what Deer Valley Resort looked like during the 2002 games. Actual stadium bleachers at the base of the venue, plus, SRO areas. Jeff and I rang cowbells as we watched the freestyle skiers throw down amazing tricks.

Even at the decidedly smaller-scale World Cup event, it’s obvious that there is a ton of work that goes into creating it. I wanted to know more, so I caught up with a few of the folks who make World Cup happen. Here, some fun facts about World Cup from Jim Bragg, Mountain Venue Services Manager, and Chris Cowan, Mountain Venue Services Assistant Manager. Study up and impress your fellow viewers with these tidbits:

It takes a village to run a venue. While there are many volunteers that work on World Cup at Deer Valley, It took about 1,200 staff hours for “Field of Play” set-up, maintenance, operations and teardown. This doesn’t include the snowmaking crew, 151 volunteers and a bevy of other “unseen” heroes that make the event happen.

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Course specs are, well, quite specific. The moguls course, per FIS regulations, has a maximum length of 300 meters. Champion runs approximately 280m. “The course the athletes compete on is defined by 10 control gates on each sideline, and is about 10 meters wide,” notes Jim.

Athletes choose their own line. “There are four ‘zipper lines’ the athletes can choose from to do their run,” says Chris.”

Building a course requires art, science, machine and muscle. “The mogul course is brought to grade and the bumps and jumps are roughed in using a winch cat. Due to the steepness of Champion ski run, a snow cat with a winch is used. After the snow cat “cut” is done, moguls are shaped by about 20 volunteers (with shovels), under the supervision of a Chief of Course and a Chief Builder,” says Chris. “Once the bumps are shovel shaped, the Wasatch Freestyle Team runs the course to complete the bumps and better define the “zipper lines”. The jumps or “kickers” are created using wooden jump forms. Snow is shoveled into the forms and mixed with water from snowmaking hydrates alongside the venue to build the “kickers.”

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Course conditions are weather-dependent. Yes, I know, that’s a bold statement of the obvious. The weather for this year’s World Cup was a mixed bag of wind, rain, snow and more wind. “The first night of competition the course was very fast, with steady uphill winds throughout the night. This hampered visibility for the athletes as well as the judges. The athletes had trouble seeing the course and the judges had difficulty viewing the athletes (especially with sporadic winds gusts),” says Chris. “On Saturday, the second night of mogul competition, wind and a few inches of fresh snow and warmer temperatures changed the conditions of the course, especially the “kickers”. These condition changes had an obvious effect on the athletes; many had trouble staying on course and with the transitions after landing tricks off of the “kicker.”

The pine bough grindings at the base of the jumps aren’t debris—they are a safety measure. “The lighting was also very flat Saturday night, so guests may have seen more pine bough grindings on the course,” says Chris. “The pine bough grindings are used on the jump landings to improve depth perception for the athletes and help them get oriented while in the air before landing an aerial maneuver off one of the “kickers”. The practice of spreading pine bough grindings or chips is also used on the landing hill for the Aerial athletes. Pine boughs are chipped and collected from the Park City Christmas tree recycle lot. Typically, 50-60 bags of pine boughs are used between both venues.“