By Rory Carroll
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Brutally cold conditions in Pyeongchang are warping skis and forcing some athletes to toss them out after training runs, an Alpine skiing course worker told Reuters on Wednesday.
“One of the coaches said they are throwing the skis out after today,” Craig Randell, a start crew technician working on his third Olympics, said on a chilly morning at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre, where the slalom, giant slalom and team events will be held later this month.
“You can’t do anything about it but with the cold temperatures, the snow adheres to the ski base and twists it.”
“They are turning their skis to garbage real fast,” he said.
Austrian Alpine skier Marcel Hirscher said snow crystals that form amid the frigid weather are the primary culprits for so many skis meeting an untimely end.
“Every run is a different pair of skis, but it’s not because of hard conditions but the cold conditions,” he said.
“Snow crystals get really sharp when temperatures go to -20 degrees and the base burns. It’s the same as lighting fire and burning your base because the snow crystals get such sharp edges,” said the slalom specialist who is favored to win gold in Pyeongchang.
Although discarding expensive skis over relatively minor flaws may seem extreme, Randell said it was a necessary evil for Olympians in pursuit of medals.
“When you are an athlete training to be the best in the world, every little millisecond, every little idiosyncrasy counts.”
Due to the hard snow and cold weather, the slalom race course has been injected with water. That, along with a warming trend in the region, should help maintain the integrity of the skis.
Temperatures in Pyeongchang were still in the single digits Fahrenheit early Wednesday morning at the center but that has not prevented top skiers from taking practice runs.
Defending slalom gold medalist American Mikaela Shiffrin was the first athlete Randell said he spotted training on the course earlier in the week.
The North Korean and South Korean teams were also among the first to barrel down the training course when it opened for training sessions, he said.
The Games open on Friday and run through Feb. 25.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)