WORDS: Eugene Buchanan
When Aksel Lund Svindal first skied Sochi’s downhill course on the World Cup circuit, he called it, “…what downhill is all about, the mountain sets the pace.” Four-time World Cup downhill title winner Didier Cuche calls it “magnificent,” while Americans Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller call it “turny.” In truth, it’s all that and more, and guaranteed to test speedsters in Sochi.
Constant turns, especially in the upper half, spell minimal gliding sections and little time for tucking. Racers have likened the first 40 seconds to a super fast super-G. Then come the jumps, including one of the biggest ever seen in Olympic competition, with some skiers catching 270 feet of air, and another leading right into the finish. All told, it has everything racers could ask for.
“It’s a great modern downhill,” says U.S. Ski Team Men’s Head Alpine Coach Sasha Rearick. “It challenges athletes with all the key components: speed, high-speed turns, big jumps, and both technical and gliding sections. Physically, it’s very demanding—more turns means more force the athletes are exposed to.” Below he breaks it down even more.
Length: 2.2 miles (one of the longest in any Olympics)
Time: 2:15 minutes (Vancouver course: 2 mins.)
Vertical Drop: 3,537 feet
The Toboggan: “It’s really steep right out of the start. You’re going straight down a steep little gully at about 80 to 90 mph into a compression and a big turn to your right.”
Accola Valley: “Next, you head into some flats and make a turn to your left. It’s like making a turn over a basketball. The ground keeps dropping away from you as you turn.”
Babya Yama: “Here they try to slow the athletes down. There’s a long turn to the left, bringing racers way across the mountain.”
The Estonian Tube: “Next you head into another gully, going straight down a narrow chute. It’s going to take balls to take speed down it and strength and courage to drive your skis forward. This will be a lot of your speed for the next section. It used to have about five turns, but they reduced it to three. You’re in the fall line, right foot, left foot, trying to stay aerodynamic.”
Small Pan: “From here you make a series of long downhill turns in moderate terrain through a wide-open bowl. Its long glide turns, which will favor the downhill-style skiers.”
Russian Trampoline: “This is the first real jump. It’s quite intimidating, but not that big. It’s at the top of a steep pitch where you have to make one fall-away turn to the right while the fall line pulls you to the left.”
Big Pan: “You’ll have a lot of speed coming off Russian Trampoline, probably 80 to 90 mph, taking it into another wide-open bowl in moderate terrain with a lot of rolls at the turn entry, apex, and exit. Being able to move in that terrain is critical. It will really challenge athletes, and likely separate them from first to 15th.”
Bear’s Brow: “This is a unique jump requiring you to take off on one edge and land on the other at moderate to high speed. From here, you land and go into a flat section in the woods, where the advantage goes to the downhillers who are fit. By the time you get here you’re really tired. But you need to get your skis flat and let them run.”
Lake Jump: “This is a huge jump, but they did a magnificent job with it. It was built by Paul Accola, an ex-World Cup racer, who’s also an excavator, from Switzerland. There’s a snow-making pond right in line with it, and it looks like you’re going to jump into the lake. Athletes will catch maybe 270 feet of air. Some teams complained because it’s so big. But from the American side, we think it’s great. At the landing there’s a pretty big compression then it’s dead flat.”
Deer Jump: “This is about a 150-foot jump right before the finish. It’s more typical of what we see on the World Cup.”