Winter Olympics - Course design no picnic at Whistler

Reuters - Sat, 13 Feb 23:56:00 2010

Designing a cross country skiing course with its twisting trails over and around hills is certainly no picnic, especially in the rocky terrain of Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING Whistler Olympic Park - 0

While skiers competing for Winter Games glory will face their own difficulties on curving stretches like Downhillers' Delight, the course designer had to overcome the challenge of creating tracks through dense vegetation.

Forget all the problems associated with the fluctuating weather at Whistler where an unusually warm January has been followed by intermittent snow and rain this week.

For Rob Bernhardt, chief of cross country skiing competitions for the Vancouver Organizing Committee, the landscape presented the biggest headache for design.

"The weather isn't a factor," Bernhardt said.

"The biggest headache for setting up a course is to meet the technical requirements given the landscape you have. In this mountainous area, we have difficult, rocky terrain so construction was not as easy as it would be on grassland.

"There was a great challenge here to set trails through bush so thick you couldn't even see through it."

The trails at Whistler Olympic Park twist and turn through two separate loops of five kilometers at an altitude of some 930 meters.

"Every well-designed course should have a variety of conditions and a variety of types of terrain so that the best overall skier can succeed," Bernhardt said.

"An athlete who is strong in diagonal stride may want a course that has a lot of steep hills compared to an athlete who is stronger in double poling.

"There is tremendous variation in these courses. We have a very exciting downhill called Downhillers' Delight and we have some long, sustained climbs as well where athletes with the big engines will have the capacity to pull ahead."

For Canadian all rounder Devon Kershaw, the Whistler trails are relatively straightforward with the exception of some corners.

"The downhills here have really tight corners so with mass-start racing it could be a bit dangerous but in individual stuff it shouldn't be too bad," Kershaw said.

"The corners here are designed strangely. In Formula One, it's kind of tight and then gradual, gradual, gradual as you come out of a corner whereas these corners are gradual at the start and then tighter, tighter, tighter.

"It's almost against nature. It poses some pretty tricky sections but nothing out of the ordinary."

Asked to assess the condition of the trails three days before the first cross country event of the Vancouver Olympics, Kershaw replied: "They are definitely super-soft, and soggy."


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