Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Climate change: Athletes tell dangers of man-made ice Nation World News

A British skier crashes through a wooden fence at a downhill corner and collides with a pole, breaking his leg. An American hits an icy patch at the bottom of a hill and crashes into a fence, breaking one ski and rolling the other, also breaking his leg.

Another American, training before a biathlon race, slides onto an icy corner and flies off the trail into a tree, breaking ribs and a shoulder blade and puncturing a lung.

These were not the scene of a high speed alpine or ski cross event. They took place on cross country ski and biathlon tracks made of artificial snow.

Many top athletes say such accidents are becoming more common as climate change reduces the availability of natural ice, forcing racers to compete on the track with a man-made version. Organizers of Olympic and World Cup races have begun to rely on snow-making equipment to create a ribbon of white running through the hills because natural snowfall is less reliable.

Estonian Olympic biathlete Johanna Taliharm said running on man-made ice comes with risks.

“Artificial snow is icy, so faster and more dangerous,” she said. “It hurts even more if you fall out of the way when there is no fluffy snowbank but a rocky and muddy hard ground.”

Skiers and experts say that man-made snow has a high moisture content, which makes it snow quickly.

Chris Grover, US Ski’s head cross country coach, said, “It can be really hard rock out there and falling can feel like falling onto concrete, and so that makes it a little more dangerous than natural snow conditions.” ” Team.

Some places even make ice and then store it under wood chips in summer and spread it around a track when it cools. Artificial snow, welcome as it is, doesn’t get better with age. Race organizers should take this into account when designing courses, say skiers and experts.

“It is very universally recognized that the courses are stronger and faster than before,” said Gus Schumacher, a member of the US cross country team.

John Elberg, a former Olympic cross country skier who designs Olympic Nordic ski courses, including the Beijing Games, said he always considers snowy conditions when designing a course. He said a major safety issue was the change in the format of the race from individual starts to mass starts.

“When you ski one by one like they did in the ’90s, you could have slopes and corners because they came one at a time,” he said.

Unlike alpine equipment, cross county skis do not have metal sides. They are designed to be thin and light for climbing hills and gliding on flats. The shoes are flexible and attach to the skis with a metal bar under the toe. Nordic skiers do not use the side of the ski to navigate around a corner. Instead, they take rapid baby steps to go around the curve.

All this is more difficult on man-made ice.

Olympic gold medalist and US Nordic ski team member Jesse Diggins said she has reached 76 kph (47 mph) on man-made snow “and that is scary because most of our race trails are built for natural snow.” went.”

“I think it’s getting a little more dangerous and I’ve seen in the World Cup when it’s man-made ice, it’s scary because instead of sliding on the ice you’re sliding on the ice,” said Diggins, overall World Cup Winner for 2020-21 season. “I think we’re seeing a higher percentage of declines. I think it’s a little more dangerous now.”

The International Ski Federation keeps track of 2006 injuries. The FIS surveillance system was created to “monitor injury patterns and trends” and to provide data “for an in-depth study of the causes of injuries”.

The report tracks alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding and ski jumping. But there is no data on injuries in Nordic events, which include cross country skiing, biathlon and Nordic combined.

When asked by the Associated Press whether the organization keeps track of accidents in cross country and biathlon races, an FIS spokesperson said: “We track injuries during our races, but we do not make our research public at this time. ” When asked about concerns over man-made ice, the FIS did not respond.

John Morton, a two-time Olympic biathlete and founder of Morton Trails, a Vermont company that designs ski trails, said there are international standards for Nordic ski races. He recalled attending a conference where he discussed the banking diversion on rapid downhills, but this was opposed by some European officials, who said it would be too easy.

“It’s a constant drive to make it more exciting and more dramatic,” he said. “It’s very clear that they want challenging courses, they want to push athletes to the limit.”

In that context, he said, courses designed for natural snow “may now have to be modified because everything is faster — skis are faster, wax is faster.”

Jim Steinberg, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Utah, said “man-made ice” is actually not ice at all. “What it is is water that is blown through a nozzle that breaks up the water into very small and tiny droplets which then freeze.”

Man-made snow has a higher water content, so it has a higher density and is actually durable, making it good for ski racing, at least for alpine ski racing, Steinberg said. But maybe not for Nordic athletes.

British skier Andrew Young was on the fourth lap of the 15-kilometer Mass Start cross-country ski race in Sweden in January when he crashed downhill and ran over a fence, breaking his leg. This put an end to his hopes for the 2021 World Championships.

Young said climate change has “definitely changed” cross country skiing. He also noted that race courses tend to be shorter partly because of limited snow, but also to bring skiers to the field more often for spectators and television cameras.

As Young put it: “Shorter loops means more corners, which means more crashes.”


More Associated Press Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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