This season Alpine World cup has now reached fever pitch. The male contingent will, after the Swiss tour, stop in Kitzbühel, Austria, for the 71st Hahnenkamm Cup, while its female counterpart will be visiting the cosmopolitan Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy. These races attract each year millions of television viewers, but also bring a huge number of spectators to the tracks themselves. This year would be no exception if it wasn’t for the weather that has been disrupting the competition for the 3rd week in a row.
For my part, I have noticed for the past few years that New Year is often followed by a sharp rise in temperature. The Föhn, a warm wind as it is called in the ski world has of late regularly threatened to disrupt the races taking place in the Bernese Alps, in Switzerland. Adelboden, and Wengen, have had huge problems in recent seasons, and managed only with strenuous effort to bring the competition to completion. This year, the Swiss have been lucky to get enough snow and consequently had ample snow cover to proceed with the races, despite the spring-like temperatures.
Of course, the preparation of the competitive tracks in these conditions becomes a much bigger challenge. The organisers resorted in this instance to salt and artificial PTX. First, a layer of snow is removed from the track, by a snow groomer, which is then covered with a synthetic material that is sprayed with water before being covered again with the final layer of snow. This operation is repeated just before the race, albeit without the use of the snow groomer. Thus not spelling the best prospects for the competition or competitors for that matter! A bleaker prospect awaits the skiers placed higher up in the starting line-up. They will find it much harder to achieve any kind of good results. In the past, the Swiss have also had troubles with environmentalists who would not allow the use the PTX. But that threat has been removed as the State implemented a law that empowers ski race officials to do whatever they see fit in order to salvage a race.
It all seemed that the matter would be settled before the week end, and that winter temperatures would be greeting racers. But as it happened, the drop has failed to materialise on time and not all downhill trainings could be completed on the famous Streif track as it was still raining in the lower segment of the track only last Wednesday.
Workers were toiling day and night, trying to consolidate the snow on time for the first race. Later, on Wednesday night, the rain turned to snow. However, bad weather has now been forecast for the week end. Fog should also join the party. Let us not forget that, in the past, fog has already forced a few races to be cancelled at the foot of the Hahnenkamm Mountain.
No matter what, Günther Hujara, one of the judges in the men’s world cup competition, will be working overtime. Everyone is piling up pressure on him; the organizers, the media, the athletes and the coaches. Ultimately, he will be the one switching the red or green lights on to competitors at the starting line. Meteorologists too will be trying their very best to provide “to the minute” predictions about the changes in the Kitzbühel skies. Incidently, some world cup organisers have in recent years invested a lot of money towards state of the art meteorological equipment. However nature once again shows that it transcends man.
Kitzbühel is now faced with a tough ordeal, since the rules state that at least one downhill training session must take place before the actual race. If that fails, then the prospect of having to sacrifice Friday’s super G is well and truly alive. Downhill in Kitzbühel is the alpha and omega. The Super-G race can be moved to another location, but the downhill in Streif is irreplaceable. It is already clear that the race cannot be moved to the Monday and Sunday has specifically been scheduled to host the Slalom race. In the end, it seems that the weather will be the one to decide the next course of events.
Original text by Urban Lavrenčič translated from the Slovene by Christian Ngalikpima.