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Racers ski in variable conditions on training day

 | March 5, 2010

So you think skiing at over 100 km/h down the near-vertical Headwalls track is terrifying? How about skiing at that speed in the fog?

Training was delayed this morning as a thick fog descended over the track during the Subaru Velocity Challenge’s first official training day. With the low visibility, volunteers and racers had to wait until around 11 a.m. before racers were able to train.

As soon as visibility improves, everyone immediately gets to work. The volunteer’s walkie-talkies crackle to life with the familiar checks.

“Start, clear.”

“Timing, clear.”

“Finish, clear.”

Then all eyes turn to the Headwalls, hoping to get a glimpse of the racer going down the rolling track despite the fog.

In spite of the weather conditions, first-time competitor David Harel didn’t seem intimidated. A Sun Peaks local, Harel was attracted by the challenge that the competition presented. “We were talking about it last year that we were gonna do it this year,” said Harel, but his friend didn’t make it to the competition. His girlfriend waited nervously on the sidelines looking up at the very foggy track. “He said he’s coming after this one,” she said.

And sure enough, it only took seconds for Harel to whiz down the track.

“Oh, it’s a rush! Everything just comes at you all at once. It’s awesome!” exclaimed Harel after the run.

Vancouverite Harald Wuigk thinks it can be a bit intimidating not seeing where you’re going. “Not being a professional, you feel pretty nervous going down. But once you’re on the slope, the worries go away.” It would’ve been easier on the nerves without the fog, he admits. “It’s the waiting…that’s what gets you.”

Mike Forster, another Sun Peaks local, said that fog or no fog, there’s not a lot of time to be scared when you’re competing.

“It’s so fast. You’re on there; you’re finished. You don’t have time to think about it so you just go,” said Forster. A five-year veteran of the race, Forster owns a company named after the Headwalls track. “ I got talked into it because of that,” he said, laughing.

The overnight snowfall also made the course preparation longer. “It probably took us an hour and a half to shake all the nets off and get everything set up,” said Scott Whitecross, chief of course. “If it doesn’t snow, we can be ready in 25 minutes because then it can all be ready (the previous evening), as long as there’s no snow.”

With the help of the Sun Peaks Resort mountain operations and slopes crew, Whitecross and his team also prepared the Headwalls prior to the competition. “To build it, it takes about four initial groomings. Then it takes our crew of about six to 10 people about five days to construct.”

This includes smoothing the snow on the track, setting up safety nets and painting the blue guidelines along the sides and red across the track.

All this hard work, and especially the paint guidelines, make it easier for racers to ski in heavy fog. Just like racer Don Gagnon explained, “You just ski until you see the red line (near the bottom of the tracks).”

Catch the semi-finals for the first FIS World Cup race tomorrow at Sun Peaks Resort. For more information on race schedule, visit www.velocitychallenge.com.

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