Tough course, low snow leaves race wide open Factors will drive ski techs nuts By Chris Woodall The man-made snow for the Dave Murray Downhill — on a course that is already one of the toughest tests of a ski racer's skills — make choosing winners of this weekend’s downhill and super G races a crap shoot. Skiers won't have the comfort level of five to six feet of snow carpeting the rock and turf of summer. "The race hasn't been that way before," says Whistler veteran Rob Boyd, who won a World Cup race here in 1989, of the start-from-scratch snow pack. "The course is pretty darn challenging anyway, but with all the snowmaking equipment they've put in and summer grooming to smooth out the run, it'll be a new experience for everyone," Boyd says. That summer grooming takes a lot of the pressure off the snowmakers who can worry more about an even foot or so of snow over the length of the course, rather than having to take specific humps and bumps into account, too. Being a homeboy won't necessarily give our Canadian guys an edge. "Yes, the Whistler course will give the Canadian Alpine Team an advantage because they know the basic terrain and where to enter the turns, but no, it won't be an advantage because the downhill and super giant slalom are the first races of the season," Boyd explains. "This'll be a big step up from anything they've been on before," Boyd says of mountain slopes the boys of winter were training on over the summer and fall. "They can't get any training close to this in the summer." There will be sharper contours without the snowpack, Boyd says. "It's all in the visualization of the course." Part of that visualization will be where a skier might fall. Boyd walked the course last week with Sepp Messner, FIS race director, noting that additional fencing will prevent skiers finding any dirt if they slip up. Certainly racers aren't shy about bringing up what they see to be deficiencies. "Brian Stemmle is very conscious of spill zones and safety nets," Boyd says of the skier who suffered a near-fatal crash at Kitzbühel in 1989 after complaining about inadequate safety netting. "He's not afraid to bring it up if we need more snow or netting," Boyd says. It helps if you are among the elite. "Better-ranked guys will have more oomph in what they have to say," Boyd says. Weather, of course, is the big IF. "We're so close to the ocean there could be such a temperature difference from top to bottom," Boyd observes. It always drives ski technicians batty trying to divine which ski will best match the changing conditions of the course, give their skiers the edge. Technicians will be keeping a close eye on skiers who precede their guys. "Based on how a previous guy does, the techs may have to switch skis quickly," Boyd says. "They have a lot riding on their shoulders at the start gate." Although the course — hopefully — will be ice-rink hard, if it softens up a little bit during the race, skiers may actually go faster by riding an edge they can cut into the snow. "They can be more confident in their turns," Boyd says. Harder ice means the skis may chatter, which can mean a rougher, slower ride. Then there are the mind games skiers lay on each other. "Stemmle likes to get to the start at the last minute," Boyd says, rattling other skiers who've been cooling their heels for a half-hour or more. "It may be his game plan, but it can throw off guys who are all ready to go."