Avalanches no problem for Sochi
Organisers of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have greatly reduced the risk of avalanches that could have jeopardised the Alpine Skiing events.
They have installed 30 extra anti-avalanche devices (gasex)at the Roza Khutor ski resort, which will host Russia's first Alpine World Cup events, including men's and women's downhills, in February.
Last February, the organisers were forced to shorten the men's downhill, part of the Europa Cup event, by several hundred metres because of the risk of avalanches -- a common problem in the high Caucasus mountains that surround the Black Sea.
"We had too much snow at the top of the course so we decided to lower the start of the men's event," the area's managing director Alexander Belokobylsky said.
"The athletes' safety is a paramount concern so you don't want to jeopardise it in any way.
"But at the same time, you don't want to compromise any of the sporting elements, especially because a World Cup race is a top-level event compared to the Europa Cup. So we added 30 extra gasexes. We had four last year -- now we have 34."
The downhill course starts at 2,045 metres for men and at 1,745m for women and finishes at 960m.
Svetlana Gladysheva, president of the Russian Alpine skiing federation, has been impressed with the World Cup preparations after visiting the ski resort over the weekend.
"Although I didn't get a chance to try the downhill course myself, it should be in top condition come race day," Gladysheva, who won silver in the women's super-G at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, said.
"The men's course will be the same as it was for the Europa Cup while the women's should be a bit more interesting. The skiers will use a different piste which has some tricky portions."
Krasnaya Polyana, once a sleepy mountain village with 3,000 inhabitants some 70 km from central Sochi, will host all the outdoor Olympic events, such as bobsleigh, luge, Alpine and cross-country skiing, ski jumping and biathlon, in 2014.
With the construction of most of the sporting infrastructure almost complete, the area will soon begin to host Olympic test events, starting with the Alpine World Cup.
Despite unseasonably warm weather that has hit Sochi this month, there should be enough snow in the mountains in time for the competition, Belokobylsky said.
"In December we usually don't have much snow here but come February there will be plenty of it. Last February we even had too much," the Krasnaya Polyana native recalled.
"Besides, we have also installed 300 snow-making machines along the course, so the skiers shouldn't worry about the lack of snow too much."