Halfpipe skiing takes Russian: Practice starts at the Sochi Test Event and World Cup
The rain in the village of Krasnaya Polyana stopped sometime between when I fell asleep, at midnight, and when my jet lagged brain popped awake at 4 a.m. What I saw yesterday as I drove into the village under dark, monsoonal weather was 180 degrees from what dawn showed me today. Breaking clouds revealed the snow line about 1,000 feet above town and stretching above me nearly 6,000 feet to the top of the some of the most beautiful peaks I’ve ever seen. My bags, unlike those of Brita Sigourney and David Wise (who both ran through practice on borrowed skis), made it through the nearly 36 hour trip from America, so I had nearly everything I needed to get up to take some laps at our host resort of Rosa Khutor.
The thing was, I still didn’t have a credential for lift access and the real reason I’m in Russia is to cover the FIS World Cup halfpipe and Olympic test event. Practice was supposed to be going down, but the more I tried to figure out the practice schedule, the more confused I got. Eventually Jossi Wells told me the correct time, 2:15 in the afternoon. But I was given at least three different answers, including a final e-mail as I left the hotel that declared itself the “REVISED” schedule and still had practice going down, under the lights, at the original time of six this evening. Lucky me, after I gathered my credential and took a few laps in the solid 8-12 inches of fresh (mind you, the mountain is closed to the public and freaking mind-blowing amazing to shred especially when you’re among maybe 1,000 people allowed to ride the lift and most of them are focused on, like, the Olympics), I trusted Jossi’s word and headed down to see if the skiers were in the pipe. Indeed, practice was just underway.
The pipe was surprisingly good after the recent weather (rain, rain and more rain) and a full day of snowboard qualifying (both men and women). The skiers were boosting, the drop in was packed, the vibe was good. I saw smooth action out of Kevin Rolland and a couple big hits from Roz Groenewoud. I saw a young posse including Beau James Wells launching fun train style runs. I saw some side-slippers crash while trying to keep the warm temps from slushing out the bottom of the pipe, falling prey to … the slushy bottom of the pipe. There was certainly a bump near the lower end of the pipe—fourth hit or so—that made doing full runs a risky proposition. But with two days before qualifiers and the temperature creeping lower as we wrapped up for the day, things are looking good.
I’ll be back with some more stories about Rosa Khutor and the Sochi area, some info about the contenders who are here (and some who aren’t), a bit about the slopestyle course (unfortunately the WC test event here was cancelled), maybe a few words with some of the coaches and certainly some better action photos (sorry, decided to skip the full camera pack since there’s no friends or jobs on a powder day) and event recaps of the women’s and men’s qualifiers and finals on Saturday.
I’ll close out with a quote that, after all this event’s anticipatory fears and questions, sums up the first step (of the final push) towards actually having this resort host halfpipe skiing as an Olympic sport. As some burly, surly Russian security guys closed practice at four this afternoon, Canadian skier Noah Bowman said, with a laugh and a smile, “That was fun.” I couldn’t agree more.