Rode up the ski lift in the dark at 6:30 in the morning for day 3 on Talon Crew. That fresh sharp tune on my skis and 3rd time over the Brink–it’s becoming a piece of cake. Even carried a snow rake with me as I side slipped down. I didn’t mention in my previous blog that we don’t take any poles up on the race course because they would only be in our way for carrying gear down the mountain.
The crew was complemented this morning as the racers who ran the downhill training course yesterday said it was in “perfect” condition and the Talon Crew gets called the best race course team in the world. We’re also told the FIS (International Ski Federation) officials have been happy, too.
A quick flurry of activity this morning to perfect the course before downhill training starts at 11:00. Raking, fixing fence, getting airbags ready. When we go into “race mode” we are pinned into place until 81 racers have finished their downhill run. Today is the second day of men’s downhill training but it is treated like a race and they talk about who won “training” yesterday. Downhill is the only discipline that the men get to train on the course. The “actual” downhill will be on Friday, with Super G on Sat and GS on Sunday (broadcast times). For Super G and GS they do not get any training on the course, only a chance to side slip the course and “inspect it.”
We are stationed behind an airbag at gate 26 along with professional photographers. The 1.73 mile course is divided into 17 sections with 4 or 5 person crews to care for gates, snow, fencing and safety in each section. Each volunteer crew has a volunteer chief and we take our direction from a professional race staffer in each area. My crew is assigned to “Westfall Rd” (course section map) just below a knoll where racers will catch some air and should they come loose and careen toward us the airbag we spectate behind will keep us from being one big pile of broken bodies. We’ve been told that if a racer crashes in our vicinity that we are to freeze, and not lend aid and wait for ski patrol/medics. Touching a racer can possibly disqualify them.
All of sudden I’m told to put on the yellow gate keepers vest as I’m going to become a race official. I get quickly trained. I have to watch to make sure skiers pass through the gate correctly. If I record a foul, I have to note the racer’s number and draw a map of where they skied in relation to the gate. Then after all 81 racers run, if I’ve recorded a foul I will have to accompany a race official who will come down the course checking with the judges at each of 38 gates on the course and gathering up any and their diagrams who have reason to DQ a racer. We will have to ski to the stadium and present our findings to the head officials.
The first 6 racers come at 2 minute intervals which means there are 2 racers on course at time and we have to be behind the protective airbag. If a gate gets damaged then crew has to run quickly out to fix it because unless there is a major problem the racing doesn’t not get held. Of course radio transmissions are part of all this too. Our part of the course isn’t so steep so we were not required to get in our spikes or crampons but up on the the “Brink” workers would have to be wearing traction equipment once they take their skis off. After the first 6 racers the “bugs” are worked out of the course and the racing speeds up to 1 min 15 sec intervals. These racers are likely reaching speeds of 40-50 mph more and a collision with race crew would prove catastrophic for everyone. So repairs are made under a bit of stress. For 2.5 hours racers from around the US, Canada and mostly Europe blaze past us. I check them off on the race program as numbers on their bibs are to spot.
Racing finished around 1:30 and there were no fouls at my gate so I just pass my card off to the official coming down the course.. After a rolling up some fence to make access for snow grooming equipment and raking some soft snow off the course we’re dismissed to check in at the Birdhouse Tent and enjoy the camaraderie.