ShareThis Page
News

Skiers wonder loudly about injected courses

| Friday, Jan. 8, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

U.S. star Lindsey Vonn is a central figure in a debate consuming the Alpine skiing circuit with the Vancouver Games a little more than a month away: Is it a mistake to inject slopes with water in a bid to make courses more consistent and weather-resistant?

The practice can result in conditions Vonn — a two-time overall World Cup champion and Olympic medal favorite — likened to "pond ice" after she skied off-course during a slalom at Aspen, Colo., this season.

"It's not ski racing anymore," she said that day. "I don't think it does anyone a service to have it this difficult. It doesn't look good on TV."

And that was before Vonn fell during a giant slalom on another injected course, at Lienz, Austria, last month, leaving her injured arm in a sling. The tumble prompted her husband, former U.S. ski team member Thomas Vonn, to say skiing officials' use of water injection would be the equivalent of car-racing officials deciding to "spray oil randomly every couple hundred yards" on a track.

Sometimes injection is used on only portions of a race course; sometimes on the whole thing.

"Once you have an injected surface, it's very unlikely you're going to lose an event, an important thing from the standpoint of TV contracts and prize money and World Cup standings," said Jim Hancock, the race chief at Aspen for more than a decade. "The downside is, it does make it really, really hard and icy and, in some cases, real slick."

According to an official from the International Ski Federation, it's likely that injection will be used at Whistler, British Columbia, where Alpine events will be held during the Feb. 12-28 Olympics.

"It lets us hold a lot of the races, even with changing weather conditions — warm temperatures, rain, snowfall," said women's World Cup race director Atle Skaardal, a former racer and coach for Norway. "Basically, injection is insurance."

Injected courses also tend to be harder, which translates to more pounding when racers fall.

So it also is part of the larger conversation about a recent rash of injuries to prominent skiers — one of the factors cited as a possible explanation, along with questions about equipment, gates that don't break apart and whether speeds have simply grown too fast.

Downhill world champion John Kucera, World Cup slalom champion Jean-Baptiste Grange and former women's overall World Cup winner Nicole Hosp are among the racers already ruled out for Vancouver. Peter Fill, Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin, TJ Lanning, Lara Gut and Resi Stiegler also have been sidelined long-term.

After her fall in Austria, Vonn said: "Since the injections, the women have had a lot more injuries. You know, it's not appropriate for women's racing. ... I personally do not think that they need to be injecting the course. But if they inject, they just need to do it right. It needs less water in the snow. They need to find a system that works, because this system is definitely not working."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me