Prep School

How a World-Class Race Course is Constructed

“The course is a sheet of ice, just like the racers like it.”

By Catherine Lutz February 21, 2017 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

121124 m shiffrin 219 p3ks3s

Mikaela Shiffrin racing in the giant slalom on Aspen Mountain in November 2012.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are World Cup Finals race courses.

Well before the races here were officially confirmed, Aspen Skiing Company’s longtime Chief of Race Jim Hancock and his team were getting ready. Starting in summer 2015, crews cut down trees in key areas on Aspen Mountain to widen the downhill and super-G courses along the Aztec run and parts of Summer Road. They removed old TV towers and added a new post to lengthen the safety net at the bottom of Spring Pitch.

This past fall, teams hung the large, fixed “A” safety netting along parts of the speed courses; “B” nets, which line the entire course, are put in place as late as possible so they don’t get buried by snow.

Except for some strategic snowmaking to ensure adequate coverage, front-of-house action slowed significantly until mid-February, when crews began pushing around snow to shape the race courses and adding water to make the snow firmer. Until the races start, personnel are added almost daily to complete the infrastructure—building the finish area; running wiring; and adding pads to trees, snowmaking guns, and new TV scaffolding. Snowcat drivers build start areas and jumps, plus shuttle supplies up and down the mountain.

During the race, volunteer course slippers smooth out the snow in between racers, not a task for the faint of heart. “It’s an exhilarating experience that intermediate skiers should never experience,” says Mike Sladdin, a veteran World Cup volunteer in Aspen. “The course is a sheet of ice, just like the racers like it.”

Not surprisingly, the methods of race course preparation grow increasingly more sophisticated with each passing year. “When I started doing this in 1981, we had wooden fences and bales of hay,” recalls Hancock. “As equipment and techniques change, the requirements change. People keep developing new products, and things become standard. And as the sport evolves, what we do is not totally different, just a lot more.”

Filed under
Show Comments