Whistler, British Columbia – Conditions at Whistler Olympic Park – the venue for cross-country skiing, biathlon, nordic combined and ski jumping have been predictably unpredictable. The variable snow in Whistler has been a major topic of conversation among teams and service personnel over the last several years. The US invested significant resources into a program set up to prepare skis – both in terms of structure and wax – specifically for this venue.
Last year at the pre-Olympic World Cup races in Whistler, conditions were out of the ordinary – clear blue skies every day with temperatures warming from well below freezing to nearly 40. Waxing was easy with straight klister for the classic events.
But things are back to normal now. Daytime temperatures have hovered right around 32 F with mixed precipitation.
With colder nights, the track is often hard first thing in the morning, before softening as the day goes on.
“Today was our third day of skiing up there as team, and we’ve basically seen just about everything now” said US Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb.
Whitcomb went on to list the variety of snow that the team has encountered, starting with hard and firm and runnign through the spectrum to glazed and squirrely where no wax will work to deep corn snow.
“All of this has kept us on our toes with ski selection and wax testing,” continued Whitcomb.
Despite well below average snow falls in Whistler this year, there is plenty of coverage at Whistler Olympic Park. The much publicized lack of snow refers to Cypress Mountain, the site of the snowboard and aerial events outside of Vancouver.
And the challenging conditions do not automatically mean bad skiing. “The skiing is awesome,” said Whitcomb, demonstrating a level of confidence and positive thought that he expounded on.
“You can let this stuff really get to you, and it can stress you out, and sort of foil your plans as you’ve envisioned them.
“Or you can attack it as a positive, which we’ve seem to been able to do. Everyone is taking it in stride, and is skiing in the good stuff and the hard stuff…as best they can. I’m really impressed with the attitude of the team.”
And while things can be crazy with the changing conditions, it is not outside the norm for Whistler, and the response is standard for a World Cup event.
“You definitely see people running around outside when it starts snowing, the techs and coaches, but you see that pretty much anywhere on the World Cup. It’s not entirely different, and I wouldn’t say that this venue is giving us anything that these teams have never seen—it just happens to have given us a bunch of different variables in the last three days,” concluded Whitcomb.
The forecast calls for continued precipitation and temperatures in the low to mid 30’s. If the snow turns to rain, the ski preparation could quickly become much easier. At this point it looks like more heavy wet snow – the most challenging conditions for classic waxing.
NBC commentator Chad Salmela, a collegiate cross-country ski coach and former biathlete, commented that the conditions have been a dream come true for Zach Caldwell, the man who has headed up the US ski testing program in Whistler over the last three years.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.