It's Downhill All the Way
A Guide to the Outdoor Olympic Venues, Part Two of Two
There is a stadium at the base of Park City ski area that would do any National Basketball Association team proud. And there's another one over at Snowbasin. And a third at Deer Valley. In just-what? six weeks?-the stadiums will be full of thousands of Olympic fans. The stadiums are almost done-their steel frame skeleton shines on this frigid winter morning. The races will be here soon.
Park City, Snowbasin and Deer Valley will be home to some of the Games' most exciting and notable events, especially the downhill, Super-G, slalom, snowboarding, and freestyle events, all of which run the duration of the Games.
While tickets for most of these events were snatched up months ago, there are still opportunities for locals and visitors alike to both experience the excitement of the Games and see some of it in person. Each of the three ski resorts will be open before, during and after the Games, and with just a bit of luck you could actually ski or board the Olympic runs. For tickets, head to the official ticket website.
For those who will not be at the events, it is now possible to buy the official Olympic Program, which covers all the events and venues and many of Salt Lake City's attractions. The program is $15 and can be purchased at Olympics stores and maybe on the Olympic website.
At Park City, the stadium marks the end of the giant slalom, parallel giant snowboarding slalom and snowboarding halfpipe.
Alpine skiing became a hallmark of the Games starting in 1936, and progressed through the 1940s. Races like the slalom and giant slalom are technical events that rely on speed but are typically determined by skill and agility. Reverse that for the Super G and downhill races.
Park City, founded by miners in the late 1860s, has been a Mecca for skiers since about 1985, when Swiss champ Erika Hess won the World Cup here. More recently the resort has been host of the America's Opening World Cup race, a ski race-cum-party that the whole town turns out for.
At Park City, the mainstay of the area's three resorts - including Deer Valley and The Canyons - skiers still glide past mine tailings and operations buildings left for their relic value. Though the area spawned millionaire miners who went on to become influential statesmen, it is also the hub for one of the nation's greatest assemblage of ski mountains.
The giant slalom is the cousin to the slalom race, one of the original alpine ski race events held in the 1936 Olympics. Named for a Norwegian word meaning 'sloping track,' the slalom was designed to distinguish technique from pure speed. Slalom skiing puts the racer on a relatively short run through a tight series of poles, each of which must be negotiated, though the skier can actually hit the pole and not be disqualified. The giant slalom at Park City, which takes place on the great CB's run, has gates slightly farther apart, allowing for greater speed.
The halfpipe and parallel giant slalom snowboard events will both be held at the Eagle Race Arena, towards the base of Park City. Halfpipe boarders pare through a 400-foot long, 50-foot wide, 10-feet deep halfpipe carved from the mountain. Hits on the near vertical walls of the halfpipe produce brilliant aerial moves. The giant slalom is much the same as it is for skiers, except boarders qualify for a single-elimination tournament that puts them with a foe in a series of elimination rounds.
You could forgive the average skier for thinking Snowbasin is a new resort. From the base these days, actually, it looks very new: a brand new massive wood and rock lodge strikes a pose in front of jagged peaks, and spiffy new chairlifts and a gondola whisk skiers away from the base village.
Actually, though, Snowbasin is one of the oldest ski hills in America. The first chairlift here was built in 1941 and the area operated as a local ski club hill for years. A few years ago, however, a guy by the name of Earl Holding - who owns Sinclair Oil and Sun Valley resort in Idaho - bought the place and has pumped millions and millions of dollars into it. Officially known as Utah's best kept skiing secret, it could soon be the state's best known ski mountain.
If for no other reason, Snowbasin will shine during the Olympics because of the downhill ski race it will hold. Built especially for the Games but eyed for years because of its incredible terrain, the downhill race will be held on John Paul, a new ski mountain served by a detachable-grip four-seater chairlift and a unique tram, which covers the last few hundred feet to the top. The run covers nearly 3,000 vertical feet at an average pitch of 34 degrees. The steepness of many of the pitches will likely come as a shock to racers. It will be shocking, at least, once they fall back to earth. The way to win the downhill is perhaps the simplest of all alpine events: ski very fast and don't fall.
Snowbasin will also hold the Super-G, as in super giant slalom. This sport, added in 1988, runs on the same hill as the downhill but is somewhat shorter and has gates to maneuver through.
Deer Valley likely has cushiest ski lifts, the best-groomed runs, and the greatest preponderance of famous people on its slopes of any ski resort in America. This is the place that, starting in the late 1980s, defined luxury for skiing. It did it by adding first-class skiing, accommodations and food to excellent ski terrain. Bill Clinton stayed here - because his daughter Chelsea wanted to ski here - as did the International Olympic Committee members, many of whom resigned their post after the bid scandal broke loose. Stein Eriksen adopted the place and runs perhaps its greatest lodge.
Mogul skiers are graded on speed, form, and two mandatory upright jumps. Aerial skiing involves twisting and turning in midair. The events will take place on the White Owl run.
More snow fell in the mountains and valleys of northern Utah this week - a foot last Friday, a few more inches this Thursday. The new snow brings the average snow depth at the ski resorts to more than 7 feet in some places - an exceptionally deep snowpack for this early in the season. At Park City, work is feverishly advancing on the stadium at the base of the mountain, as well as a host of other service buildings. Tuesday afternoon I went into the Olympics Superstore in downtown Salt Lake City - a large heated tent with almost everything Olympics related you could want. When I came out the sun was setting, and the Wasatch Range, home to the alpine events, was awash in orange light. The Games are drawing very close.
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