Whistler Olympic Park, BC – Organizers of the cross country races here have been using a lot of salt recently. And it’s not because they’re hungry.
With rain and above-freezing temperatures for the last few days, officials have been experimenting with ways to harden the courses. Today, FIS Cross Country Race Director Jurg Capol said, organizers tested salt on the portions of the courses that will be used for the 10/15k freestyle on Monday. And for Saturday morning’s biathlon race, organizers opted to apply fertilizer to the course to firm it up, which won strong support from athletes.
There aren’t any objective rules that dictate when the trails get doctored, Capol said—the decision is left up to the race committee and the jury depending on the conditions. But he said that the measure worked well today, and unless the venue gets a new weather pattern, the salt will be used for Monday’s races.
One would think that waxing staffs could be pushed to the breaking point by an added mineral, on top of the already-chaotic weather at the Olympic venue. But from conversations with service technicians on Saturday, it doesn’t sound like the process will result in any big problems.
The Americans have known that salting was a possibility since the beginning of the winter, when the procedure was tested successfully at the biathlon venue, said Erik Nilsson, one of the members of the country’s service team.
While the U.S. has been testing for three years here, none of those trials were conducted on a salted course. But after a good test today and another scheduled for tomorrow, Nilsson said he wasn’t worried—especially since organizers used restraint.
“Seems that it’s working pretty well for skating,” he said. “They did not go crazy with it, so they didn’t get that ice rink thing that I was afraid of.”
Joakim Augustsson, another wax tech for the Americans, said that the salt doesn’t create too many challenges—especially since the team has seen it used before on other courses. But he added that it could result in subtle changes, like forcing athletes to pick a pair of skis that would normally be used in a different temperature range.
Capol hadn’t heard any complaints about the salt from any of the teams training at the venue, and he said that using it was in everyone’s best interests.
“We want to have, for the Olympics, the best track—the most stable and fair,” he said. “All the teams would wish to have a better track than we had the last day.”
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.