How To Sculpt A World Class Race Course

Mar 17, 2017

Squaw Valley recently hosted the Alpine Skiing World Cup. It’s an international event requiring intense preparation. Reno Public Radio’s Alexandra Mosher looked into what it takes to create a world class race course.

Beyond preparing the World Cup race course, "Red Dog," John Haines, the event service coordinator at Squaw Valley says that the course also needs frequent maintenance during the races. Squaw Valley uses what they call, "slippers," crew members who slide down the course and even it out for the next racers.
Credit Alexandra Mosher

People love to watch ski races, like this one at Squaw. But a lot goes into sculpting a quality course, like Red Dog. Racer Georgia Sege just went speeding down it.

“It’s good. It felt really fast; it’s pretty straight at the top and then it has some turns at the bottom, but it’s really short and it’s really fun.”

Red Dog is legendary. It debuted in the 1960 Winter Olympics and was used again for the 1969 Alpine Skiing World Cup. John Haines, the event service coordinator at Squaw Valley, says it took 6 months to get it ready for this year’s race.

“Racers of the World Cup have a way of cutting into the snow so you have to make it almost as hard as an ice skating ring.”

Haines says keeping the course firm isn’t just about preference. Softer snow makes athletes more accident-prone.

Trevor Wagner, the technical advisor for the United States Ski Association, says there are many requirements that have to be met before a course can qualify as World Cup ready.

“We have to go out with the machines and prepare it for watering, and we water with hoses, like a big garden hose," he says. "And then [we] go work with the machines again on it and get it smooth and hope it freezes.”

The work is painstaking and it can easily be ruined. In fact, just five days before this event, a snowstorm rocked Squaw Valley with 4 feet of snow, almost burying their carefully-prepared surface.

“That was a tremendous challenge," says Andy Wirth, the president and CEO of Squaw Valley.

“We actually had to completely resurface the entire venue with what are called Winch Cats. They’re a very highly specialized piece of equipment. And then we had re-water it and then wait for ambient temps to drop and freeze the course hard. I’ve got to tell you, the 4 or 5 days leading up to this event, it was a real firefight.”

Reporter, Alexandra Mosher interviewing Andy Wirth, the president and CEO of Squaw Valley. He says that the primary concern with making a race course is making sure that it's fair and even.
Credit Alexandra Mosher

He says that a team of more than 300 people, a lot of them volunteers, stayed up till 3 or 4 in the morning hurrying to get the course ready on time.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed.

“European coaches, which tend to be a little critical particularly of the U.S. courses, or the tracks as they are known…The European coaches have been very complimentary of our efforts and our race course.”

Wirth is thankful for that validation, but what’s even more important to him is the next generation of Squaw Valley skiers. Where the real value of hosting the World Cup lies is in the 12-year-olds standing in awe at the finish line.