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Time, Technique and a Whole Lot of Snow

By Melissa Fields
January, 10 2019

From February 1-10, approximately 1,400 athletes from 40 countries will converge on Utah to compete in the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships, presented by Toyota—the biggest winter sports event to be held in Utah since the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Contests held as part of this elite event will include snowboard and skicross; freeski and snowboard big air, slopestyle and halfpipe; snowboard parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom; and freestyle moguls, dual moguls and aerials.

But long before the first competitor arrives on deck, enters a start gate or drops in, multiple teams of course designers, builders and preppers will have put in countless hours planning, sculpting and refining the competition venues at Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain and Solitude Mountain Resort. Snow, hundreds of cubic feet of it, is where building each of these courses begins. Thanks to consistently cold temperatures and lots of natural snow in Utah this season, the 2019 World Championships host resorts have been able to make and stockpile plenty. Beyond this shared construction element, however, building the fields of play for each of these events is a very different and very specific task.

Champion moguls course and White Owl aerials jumps, Deer Valley Resort
“The crew of course builders at Deer Valley are so dialed in. Almost all of them, including both staff and volunteers, have built moguls courses there since before the Olympics,” says Nat Schirman, Champion Moguls Chief of Course and former NorAm freestyle skier.

Schirman and co-Chief of Course Tony Gilpin begin by stringing ropes and flags along the Champion Run designating where a snowcat driver should place the piles of snow that will eventually become moguls. Course builder volunteers then move through every inch of the course, removing ice chunks from the snow and further shaping the bumps. Schirman then invites local freestyle team athletes to ski the run, which continues to build the mogul field and allow he and Gilpin to see how the course is skiing. The final step is building in the two sets of jump tables, used by competitors as take-off for aerial maneuvers consisting of upright or inverted tricks. These are made by filling prefabricated forms with snow and water and the leaving them to freeze overnight.  

World Cup moguls courses generally range between 650 and 885 feet long with an average slope grade of 26 degrees. Deer Valley's Champion course is 827 feet long with an average slope grade of 28 degrees, making it one of the steepest, longest and most coveted moguls courses on the World Cup circuit. “It’s really one of the best moguls courses in the world,” Schirman says. “It’s steep at the top and allows the crowd to see athletes going for it from the top all the way to the finish.”

Deer Valley is also particularly well-known for its White Owl aerial jumps, a sport pioneered by the resort’s late Director of Skiing, Olympic Gold Medalist Stein Eriksen. Course builders will construct five jumps for the 2019 World Championships—one single (2.1 meters or 6 feet, 11 inches tall), two doubles (3.5 meters or 11 feet, 6 inches tall) and two triples (4.1 meters or 13 feet, 6 inches tall).

“Prior to building the actual jumps we spend about five days moving snow with a snowcat to get the profile of the course correct,” says Wayne Hilterbrand, the White Owl aerials course builder and jump builder for more than 20 national and international events since 2005. Other items on the pre-jump building checklist include grading the in-run, ensuring the transition curve—the stretch of the in-run from the ramp to the jump table—is a specific length, building the jump table and laying in the finish area.

Building the actual jumps starts with construction of a three-sided, steel and plywood jump form. Then a large industrial snowblower mounted to the front of a snowcat is used to fill the forms with snow. Volunteers pack snow into the forms by hand to eliminate air pockets; water is also added to help the snow harden. “The trick is to get enough water that they get hard, but not so much that they become total ice,” Hilterbrand says. After the forms are filled, the builders manipulate the snow further to achieve what’s called a rough shape. The jumps are then left to freeze overnight. The next day the forms are removed and official aerial jump shapers—typically coaches—carve the jumps into exact heights, lengths and angles for competition. Then the athletes get to fly. “We’ve estimated that, off the triple jumps, aerialists that get about 45 to 50 feet of air from the peak of the jump to the landing,” Hilterbrand says.

Doc’s Run big air, 3 Kings slopestyle course, Eagle Superpipe and Picabo’s run snowboard parallel slalom/GS, Park City Mountain
“Long before course construction begins,” says Park City Mountain Terrain Park Manager, “our team sits down and makes a plan for the course design.” Executing four separate competition venues—hosting the lion’s share of 2019 World Championships competition—involves multiple resort departments including snowmaking, grooming, competition services and fleet maintenance. Snowmaking and course prep begin soon after the resort opens for the season. And then as competition nears, Ingham and other course building staff use snowcats to shape the piles of snow into the basic feature profiles for slopestyle, big air and halfpipe.

To complete the final stage of the 600-feet-long, 70-feet wide, 18-degree pitch Olympic-caliber Superpipe, Park City Mountain relies on the expertise of Jake Ingle—U.S. Ski & Snowboard halfpipe builder and a part of the team responsible for the famed 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Superpipe. After resort crews have built the pipe decks and dig out the middle into the characteristic U shape, Ingle uses a snowcat fitted with an elliptical-arc-profile arm with an articulated augur (Ingle’s 'pipecutter of choice is the Zaugg Pipe Monster) to shave the Superpipe’s walls. “We try to use a drier snow to create a chalky riding surface,” Ingle says. And then, as is the case with all other freestyle event features, a team using hand tools puts the finishing touches on the Superpipe.

But Ingle’s job is really just beginning once the halfpipe is finished. “I start getting feedback from the athletes and coaches from the first practice session,” Ingle says. He also spends times watching training sessions to get firsthand clues about how the Superpipe is riding and seeks out veteran Grand Prix competitors who are typically able to provide more specific feedback. Once competition is underway, most of the work in the Superpipe shifts to slippers, hand shapers and the dye crew. Unless is snows. “Then I’m back in the snowcat on dawn patrol, digging the snow out before the day begins,” Ingle says.

The resort’s grooming department and well-seasoned race department are responsible for preparing the surface along the snowboard parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom run on Picabo’s Run in the Eagle Race Arena. “We take a similar approach to the snowboarding event venue as we would for a ski racing venue,” says Park City Mountain Competition Services Manager Karen Korfanta. “The ultimate goal is to get the two courses as even as possible, left to right. And snowboarders love going fast just as much as the ski racing population but the course surface should be firm, but not slippery or as dense as an alpine skiing event.” Ten to 15 slippers and four to six course workers will maintain the both the 470 to 500 meter parallel giant slalom course, as well as the 350 to 370 meter parallel slalom course.     

Main Street Run snowboardcross and skicross course, Solitude Mountain Resort
The 2019 World Championships snowboardcross/skicross course at Solitude Mountain Resort was designed and will be built by Nick Roma, founder of the Mountain Projects Company. “The terrain is different at every venue, so every snowboardcross and skicross course is different,” Roma says. “Because both the freeski and snowboard athletes will run the same line at Solitude, the challenge with this course is building features that are both safe for all riders that provide a high level of difficulty at the same time.”

To meet that challenge, Roma designed the Solitude’s state-of-the-art, 1,298-meter-long, 180-meter vertical skicross/snowboardcross course using a combined AutoCAD and Leka software platform—the first time this level of technology has been used to design a ski-/snowboardcross course in the United States. The course—which spans seven different multi-features consisting of 34 different rollers, multiple banked turns and two massive jumps—is located on the skier's right side of Solitude's Main Street run; the left side of the run will remain open throughout competition, allowing skiers front-row spectator access along its entire length. Beyond the time put in beforehand by Solitude's snowmaking staff, the course takes about two weeks and 500-plus hours to build, performed by multiple snowcat drivers that push and shape the snow mechanically and a team of on-the-ground course builders using specialized shovels and tools to refine every feature along the course by hand.

HOW TO WATCH
All times EST
Preliminary broadcast schedule, subject to change
Streaming schedule TBA
*Same-day broadcast
**Next-day broadcast


Friday, Feb. 1
1:00 p.m. - Men and women's snowboardcross finals - NBCSN

Saturday, Feb. 2
3:00 p.m. - Men and women’s skicross finals - Olympic Channel
8:30 p.m. - Men and women’s skicross finals - NBCSN*

Sunday, Feb. 3
1:00 a.m. - Men and women’s freeski big air finals - NBCSN**
1:00 p.m. - Team snowboardcross - Olympic Channel
4:00 p.m.-  Team snowboardcross - NBCSN*

Monday, Feb. 4
3:00 p.m. - Parallel snowboard giant slalom - Olympic Channel
7:00 p.m. - Parallel snowboard giant slalom - NBCSN*

Tuesday, Feb. 5
3:00 p.m. - Parallel snowboard slalom - NBCSN
9:00 p.m. - Men and women’s snowboard big air - NBCSN

Wednesday, Feb. 6
3:00 p.m. - Men and women’s freeski slopestyle finals - NBCSN
9:00 p.m. - Men and women’s aerials - Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. - Men and women’s aerials - NBCSN*

Thursday, Feb. 7
9:00 p.m. - Team aerials - NBCSN

Friday, Feb. 8
1:00 p.m. - Men and women’s snowboard  halfpipe - NBCSN
9:00 p.m. - Men and women’s moguls - NBCSN

Sunday, Feb. 10
2:00 a.m. - Men and women’s dual moguls - NBCSN**
1:00 p.m. - Men and women’s snowboard slopestyle - Olympic Channel
3:00 p.m. - Men and women’s snowboard slopestyle - NBC*

Monday, Feb. 11
10:30 p.m. - Women’s freeski halfpipe finals - NBCSN**


EVENT SCHEDULE
All times MST (local time)

Friday, Feb. 1
11:00 a.m. -Snowboardcross Final - Solitude Mountain Resort

Saturday, Feb. 2
1:00 p.m. - Skicross Final - Solitude Mountain Resort
7:00 p.m. - Freeski Big Air Final - Canyons Village - Park City Mountain

Sunday, Feb. 3
11:00 a.m. - Mixed Gender Team Snowboardcross Final - Solitude Mountain Resort

Monday, Feb. 4
11:00 a.m. - Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom Final - Park City Village at Park City Mountain

Tuesday, Feb. 5
11:00 a.m. - Snowboard Parallel Slalom Final - Park City Village at Park City Mountain
7:00 p.m. - Snowboard Big Air Final - Canyons Village - Park City Mountain

Wednesday, Feb. 6
11:00 a.m. - Freeski Slopestyle Final - Park City Village at Park City Mountain
7:00 p.m. - Freestyle Aerials Final - Deer Valley Resort

Thursday, Feb. 7
7:00 p.m. - Freestyle Team Aerials Final - Deer Valley Resort

Friday, Feb. 8
11:00 a.m. - Snowboard Halfpipe Final - Park City Village at Park City Mountain
7:00 p.m. - Freestyle Moguls Final - Deer Valley Resort

Saturday, Feb. 9
11:00 a.m. - Freeski Halfpipe Final - Park City Village at Park City Mountain
7:00 p.m. - Freestyle Dual Moguls Final - Deer Valley Resort

Sunday, Feb. 10
11:00 a.m. - Snowboard Slopestyle Final - Park City Village at Park City Mountain
 

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Tom Webb
Director of Marketing and Communications, U.S. Ski & Snowboard
+1.435.602.9644
tom.webb@usskiandsnowboard.org

FOR ACCREDITED MEDIA INQUIRIES:
Tom Kelly
Chief of Press
+1.435.602.9799
2019WorldChampsMedia@usskiandsnowboard.org