Setting the scene for skiing speed

Ski racer: Austrian Stephanie Resch competes in the Winter Games NZ at Coronet Peak in 2015 PICTURE: DIANNE MANSON/GETTY IMAGES

When victory and defeat are separated by fractions of second, a fast and fair course is mandatory. NZSki snow sports boss Toby Arnott explains to Paul Taylor what it takes to make one

Elite international ski racing returns to Coronet Peak later this month – and preparations are already well underway.

The Queenstown mountain will host both the FIS Australia/New Zealand Continental Cup Alpine Slalom and Alpine Giant Slalom races at the fifth biennial Audi Quattro Winter Games NZ.

Work to create a fast and fair course on Out Wide, to the left of the T-bar, actually began back in the long days of summer.

NZSki snow sports boss Toby Arnott says that’s when the course gets “homologation” – official approval.

A technical delegate from FIS – skiing’s governing body – visits the mountain to assess the course location.

“They look at vertical drop, width, obstacles, terrain and the major one is safety factors.”

From the start of winter, Coronet Peak’s snow team covers the course in a different type of snow from the main ski runs.

“It’s a wet and heavy snow compared to what they put on the rest of the mountain; so it sticks together and forms a really solid surface.”

That’s achieved by watering the snow. The guns blast out piles of snow to add to the course.

“The groomers run the tiller through it, like a rotary hoe, and cut it all up.

“Then the guns put a whole lot of water on it. The groomers come back and settle it all up and it’ll freeze.”

The aim is to create a hard and fast surface. The depth is usually 30cm.

Arnott: “The harder it is the fewer ruts we have on the course and the more even it is across the entire [athlete] field.”

Aiming for hard and fast surface: Toby Arnott

A coach sets the course for each event.

There’s a minimum number of gates to include and a set distance between them.

Slalom’s the most technical of alpine disciplines, with fractions of a second between gates and racers dipping and swerving into turn after turn after turn.

Giant slalom sees the gates set slightly further apart.

“The feedback is usually attrition rate,” Arnott says, referring to how many racers fail to make the final gates.

“But generally there’s not much we can do about it, except not let that guy set a course again.”

A dozen-strong Coronet Peak race crew is joined by up to 20 volunteers during the events and national ski team coach Nils Coberger and the Coberger Academy, who manage the race lanes.

But even with intense preparation, the course is still at the mercy of the weather.

“It all depends on the weather and snow conditions.

“That can cause quite a lot of pressure.”

Soft conditions could see salt added to the snow or the event postponed.

Arnott: “Halfway through an event the weather can come in, the chairlift can stop, or it can start raining, so there’s lots of different scenarios to plan for.”

FIS Alpine Giant Slalom, ANC Race 1, is on Monday, August 28, 9am-2pm, with Race 2 the next day. FIS Alpine Slalom, ANC Race 1, follows on Wednesday, with Race 2 on Thursday. Spectators can watch for free