2002 Olympic Diary
I thought you might want a peek at what it is like to be a Olympic Volunteer. Tell me to stop if you can no longer stand it!!
It was February 1980 when Deb and I decided to "Take the road less traveled" and ended up in the Peace Corp. Some thing about "volunteering" has stuck with us and when the call went out for Olympic volunteers two years ago we decided "What the heck, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity". I figured I would be ensconced in a nice warm trailer somewhere managing the Olympic network, or building/repairing PC's in a warehouse. I made the fatal mistake of checking the level "Expert" next to the "Skier" box on my application.
What followed has left me trembling with fear and trepidation as the first day of volunteering has come. SLOC routed my name (even before the interview) to the SnowBasin race organizers and 15 months ago I received a letter (which I wish I had hung on to) that basically read me the riot act on making a commitment to work the World Cup Race in February, 2001. If I wanted to have ANY chance of working the Olympics, I had to make a commitment to work the World Cup Events. So, being the diligent volunteer, I signed up for the World Cup (Men's). You didn't hear about the World Cup held at Snow Basin last year? Are you sure? Well, that is because it was cancelled, due to HEAVY snow. 1 million cubic feet of snow, by one estimate, that was lovingly removed by a rapidly diminishing cadre of 500 volunteers with shovels. We would have had better success digging the Panama Canal with teaspoons than clearing that course in time to run a race. Out of 5 days, it snowed 4. Snow HEAVY. Snowed with a vengeance.
Here was my schedule then:
4:30 Wake up, make coffee, eat cereal, drive to SnowBasin
6:00 Ride the lifts to "Worker City"
6:05 - 10:00am Shovel snow, lots of snow.
10:00 - 11:00am Sit exhausted while race officials determine that the race should be cancelled.
11:00am - 5:00pm Shovel snow
5:00pm Drive home
6pm Throw clothes in laundry, throw food in stomach, throw self in bed.
4:30am next day: Repeat
By Sunday there were maybe 200 folks left, maybe a 100 by the end of the day (5pm). "Oh, the race was cancelled? Well, we can roll up all this netting then and get ready for the races next week." No rest for the wicked......
It was honestly the absolutely worst experience I have ever had, on or off skis. I was so tired that I went home and dropped into bed hoping never to wake up. At least, never wake up on the first day of the Olympics...
Ah, but I DID wake up this morning. I put on the $600 "Official" Marker donated volunteer uniform. Had coffee, cereal, and drove to Snowbasin. Having suffered through 3 of the most remarkably uninformative training events. Having sat through a venue training that one of my team members snored through. Having had the worst possible first experience at "working a race" (its legendary!). I stepped off the bus and into the Olympics.
Well, not exactly. The Olympics start Friday with the Opening Ceremony. Today was a setup day that was free of aching fatigue but had a lion share of snow shoveling. I am leader of Course Crew 14 ( I was told by a team member that I was leader because as I rookie I was less likely to "try anything" daring -- TRUE!). My team was originally 10 individuals, 2 of which never showed (sold their uniforms on e-bay is the usual suspicion). One team member is hanging in the balance as she evaluates weather she wants to continue since this was an "easy" day and she is "wupped". I have a couple of others that will miss a day or two during the 12 days we are in action (and only 12 days, please!) so we could be as small as 6 people during some of the days and we may lose one or two to injury anyway. Well, that just leaves more snow for the rest of us...!
Snow is the enemy. For a downhill race, that sounds strange but it is absolutely the case. The perfect course is a two mile long solid ice driveway at 45 degrees. Killer. Its like the skeleton or bobsled event but without the walls and performed on skis. Personally, I don't get it. It seems insane. More on that later.
A good part of the morning we sat. Just sat. Life is good. We finally got on the lift about 9:30am. We shoveled snow both away from and then to Women's A-net 2 at Paintbrush Meadow. Did some slipping then packed it in. About 6 hours in all. Very cool! I could do THIS for 12 days.
They are freezing the course tonight so there will be less fence work and more course work tomorrow. My day starts at 3:45am. You know what a "morning person" I am. I gotta go.
Life will be different if it snows. Snow is the enemy. Pray for no snow.
P.S. Debbie is a volunteer too, I'll try to fill you in on that as well
I was waking up about every hour last night because today I carpooled with a couple of folks on my crew (SLOC REALLY wants us to carpool) and they were coming to pick me up at 4am. I would have felt like a dork if I were the cause of the carpool being late, so I kept waking up. Finally, at 3:30am I just got up, made coffee and ate cereal and waited for Scott to come get me. If yesterday had been more demanding I might of slept better but, hey, I'll TAKE my first day. And hope we have eleven more like it.
I figure I should fill you in on some terms and stuff that can make you look like downhill race experts (Me? I can't tell a Super-G from a G-string... well, maybe I can, but I am clueless when it comes to these race courses). Anyway, there are a few things that I AM familiar with. Netting being one of them. I guess in the early days of racing when you lost control (at 60mph) and disappeared off into the trees, they would just wait until spring to recover the body. A few decades ago, they were using hay bales to bring racers to "gentle" stops (better, I guess, than wooden and stone fences and easier to maintain). The biggest problem was, well, it still hurts like heck when you hit a hay bale at 60mph. So more humane methods were developed. That is where netting comes in. No doubt the first nets were fishing nets but they were heavy and smelled bad so when plastic came along, they used them. These nets catch people, moving at high speed and in the wrong direction.
There are two basic types of netting. A-net is very high. Probably 4 to 6 meters high (the IOC uses antiquated measures like meters...I don't know how long a meter is, but A-net is about 4 to 6 of 'em high). The purpose of A-net is to prevent an out of control skier from becoming a low earth orbit satellite. Downhill races have "jumps" and racers do temporarily lose contact with our carefully prepared, two-mile long "icy driveway". Occasionally, they lose contact permanently and A-net brings them back to earth.
B-net is something I need when I ski. B-net is low, only 2 meters high. Imagine losing control as you glide at 50mph and instead of worrying about how many dozen skiers you'll need to take down before you come to a stop, you instead wonder how many B-nets you'll take out before you come to a stop. We figure that when racers are skiing parallel to a B-net they probably will only be able to take out a single row, maybe two. However, where there are turns in the course and the skier is perpendicular to the fence, a 120 pound body moving at 60 miles an hour could probably do some REAL damage (almost as bad as a snowboarder - but we'll talk about "shredders" later). We put three rows of B-net at corners. In our section, Russi's Lone Pine, we have a turn at the bottom of Shooting Star jump just before racers disappear into Paintbrush Meadow (without using any A-net, we hope). At this turn, we have three B-nets and then a fourth placed just before the conveniently placed emergency evacuation helipad (which also has a fence). There have been crashes at this site before, so today we practiced how to quickly replace B-nets. Actually we were assisted by an unwitting volunteer who didn't quite make the corner and snapped a B-net pole before entangling himself and his skis in the net. That is the great thing about Olympic Volunteers, always ready to help.
But back to today. Cake! We were on the lifts in total darkness, directed by flashlight to Worker City for dispatch and then stood shivering, watching a beautiful Utah morning paint itself slowly into existence. Absolutely spectacular! Made the whole tedious day worth it. Now, I am NOT complaining. I KNOW how bad it can get when the weather turns nasty. But, today was remarkable for its complete lack of exertion. We were done at 8:30am. But, we had a forerunner test race at 10:30am and 1pm so we had to be there to peel folks off of the netting and repair it as necessary. Forerunners are athletes who want to race, but haven't qualified for anything but insanity thus far. They run the course to test it out and see what a great job we are doing. Racers who will be competing in the Olympics can't ski the course until training day (the Men have one tomorrow) so forerunners can check it out and even let racers know the good and bad spots. I think we did good. Nobody "lost it" in our section. We are just about perfect as far as I can see.
The big deal in the ranks was complaints about the food. We get sack lunches and there has been a can a soup in the sack which is really great, if you happen to have a microwave. I guess some malcontents whined to HR about the soup. Where do these people think they are working? We're ON A MOUNTAIN! We're volunteers. Be thankful that we have anything to eat. Give the soup away and eat the sandwich....my guess is that these folks are vegan Californian's that came for "the experience". The rest of us, we just want to have a good time. Which, so far, it has been.
Up at 4:45am tomorrow (get to sleep in!).
P.S. If you are looking to lose a few friends, feel free to forward this on to them. "Genuine" Olympic experiences are hard to come by...you might try e-bay though.....
I don't know about you, but I am NOT a morning person. I crashed last night at 8:30 and STILL felt tired this morning (at 4:45am). Tomorrow it's 3:40am. This, more than anything, should show you how insane this volunteer thing is. I have been possessed. HELLO Elvis! I crawled out of bed to the annoying cadence of the alarm. Good actually, since that means I was zonked out. Well, not completely. Debbie eased her frozen body into bed and next to me when she and Jonas returned from the Opening Ceremony rehearsal last night. My recommendation: Watch it. The folks I have talked to, even those most jaded and flippant about the "Mormon Olympics", said it was cool. Jonas and Debbie enjoyed it but came home frozen icicles(walked, to avoid traffic) . So for a brief moment last night I regained consciousness but only long enough to snuggle up to a block of ice and drift off again.
Brought the kazoo's with me today. Oh, I didn't mention kazoos before? As a training gimmick, kazoos were used to emphasize "Charge!" (the volunteer slogan). Charge was NOT, as I quickly discovered, a thinly veiled attempt to coerce us into buying Olympic stuff. Charge is an acronym for "Committed, Helpful, Adaptable, Respectful, Gracious, Enjoy!" (vs. Can't Have Another Rowdy Group Entertaining which was the Australian slogan). The use of kazoos reduced us all in our various stations in life to one of simply acting silly. We also sounded like the munchkin version of a Scottish Bagpipe drill team. Anyway, I took the kazoos to further enhance our growing reputation as a team of rabble rousers, which we are (and haven't been busted yet). You haven't lived until you have heard our rendition of "Proud Mary" on a kazoo. Brought tears to everyone's eyes at "Worker City". It must have been really good, too, because they dispatched us right away! Nothing like kazoo music at 7:30 am at the top of the John Paul lift. Lends new meaning to "Mountain top" experience.
We had a "medium" day today. The men had a training run so we spent the morning buffing out our section. A little more B-net here. A little raking out of a bump or two there. We took time to watch the men's training runs. Nobody will convince me these people are sane. I would NOT want to be on the same highway with them. The emerge from nowhere at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour and then fly through the air and disappear. I had a pretty good vantage point to watch them and an excellent vantage point for the women's race (you can find maps of the snowbasin race course at www.snowbasinrace.com. This is a site for volunteers but it isn't restricted and the maps are good.) Use the Course Worker map that is a 161k JPEG version. Find Russi's Lone Pine just a bit below half way on the course (women's course is on the left side) Just above that is Shooting Star Jump. Just below is Paintbrush Meadow. The drop from Shooting Star is about a 60 degree slope and then it flattens out just as it crosses the "I-16" access road. From the beginning of the jump to about 120 feet (sorry, 40 meters) past I-16 is our section. Just at the jump, off to the left on the map (skiers right, actually) and behind two B-nets and a large, van-sized inflatable pillow, is a TV platform which we volunteers have temporarily commandeered for a lunch and observation platform. I was safely viewing the Men's training race from about a 100 yards (excuse me, METERS) on this platform (it is about 5 meters high and fun to climb with ski boots!). Immediately below I-16 is another TV platform at ground level (3 B-net and two large pillows protect it from airborne skiers). This is where I will guess you will be able to see me on Monday's races (yeah, Women are relegated to the weekday spots...). We'll be stationed about midway up the hill directly across from the Men's A-net 3.
How will you recognize Women's Course Crew 14 from ALL the other blue coated volunteers (1500 of 'em)? We bought hats today. Not the Olympic freebie, Marker donated hats. But red, white and blue hats that may get us "busted". We may be busted because the hats may be too patriotic (we need to be sensitive to other countries) and they are not standard issue. What we have going for us is that the course crews, lost in the vastness of the two downhill runs, seem to have managed to avoid the usually rigorous "uniform police" we have heard about roaming downtown Salt Lake busting volunteers for carrying cans of Pepsi, wearing Nike ornamentation, and other non-sponsored regalia. The general visual appearance of some course crew volunteers ranges from the missionary-like cookie cutter uniform to something akin to Grizzly Adams. We hope to get away with making a statement for individuality. The 60's will NEVER DIE!
Deb and the boys ran down the block to see the Olympic torch pass by. Even though we are about 1 1/2 miles from Olympic "ground zero" (Rice-Eccles stadium) the torch is actually heading AWAY from the location of the Opening Ceremonies tomorrow. This phenomenon is a "classic" Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOC) event. It really doesn't make sense, but it looks good.
The Enemy is approaching tonite. Forecasts range from flurries to light snow for tomorrow. On the eve of our first training event (Picabo, we're doing our best, honest!) we have snow to mess up a perfectly buffed out course. Pray for no snow!
Tomorrow I'll fill you in on Slippers. It's a Cinderella story....no, not really.
Its late. Gotta go,
Defeated by the enemy! Although as we drove to Snowbasin this morning the sky was only threatening and we had a strong south breeze, I was not fooled. We are fighting a clever enemy that is cagey and relentless. Weather.com said light snow and flurries. Local weather guys said a inch or so up north. But I wasn't fooled. I am a Men's World Cup veteran! I have been faced with and defeated by this enemy. So, as we drove into the parking lot, with the slightest flurry in the air, I KNEW we were going to engage in battle, mano a mano. I wasn't disappointed.
The flurry quickly escalated into full blizzard and although it was rumored we weren't going to load the lifts because of lightening in the area, the race organizers have a logistical issue that HAS to be solved every morning: The Field of Play warming tent (that's us) holds only 500-600 people and we come in two shifts. The Women's course crews had the A schedule today which meant we had to be there first (in the Park 'N Ride at 5am!). The 400 or so Women's course crews have to vacate the tent before the 600 or so Men's crew show up at 6:15, so they HAVE to do something. The plan to have us hang outside while they figured out what to do with us. So we DID hang outside in the snow and the 30mph gusts for 15 minutes or so. Folks were admiring our stylish red, white and blue hats (AND, we weren't busted, yet) while we serenaded them with "Here Comes the Sun", "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". That, of course, got us quickly loaded onto the lifts. When we got to the top however, rather than check into Worker City, we were "dispatched" to the brand new lodge at the top of the John Paul lift (sweet!). I thought only IOC officials and other such folks hung out there. Actually, the weather was SO bad that they had to put us SOMEWHERE and I guess this was the only place to put us. VERY nice! But our respite was short lived. The "call of the shovel" was too strong. We had to go. We were shouted out of there by the "boss" of Worker City who acted like this kind of pampering was NOT his style. "Get out Now! and report in in any order!" was the cadence that brought us to our feet. And here is my favorite part (I wish I had a map to show you). As we exit the John Paul lift we have to bear to our immediate right and circle almost 360 degrees down a slope to be dispatched (almost directly below John Paul). If we have to take the Cat track to Lone Pine, we exit to the immediate right, have to hike up a 20 foot ramp and, you guessed it, we are just 10 feet from where we started (right in front of the lodge, though. Care for a latte?). We took the circuitous route to the Cat track.....
So it was off to Lone Pine, but more logistical problems faced us. We had several Cat's coming up the Cat track (yep, that is what they are used for). Oh, a Cat is basically a small bulldozer with very WIDE tracks and is used to dress the snow (pack it, usually) . There are two versions of Cats, the regular Cat and a winch Cat. A winch Cat is used on the hill because NOTHING can go up these 50-60 degree slope hills (except volunteers with shovels). The winch Cat works by running a long cable up the hill where it is anchored (usually to a concrete pillar, sometimes to a tree) and then the Cat winches itself up the hill to scrape and pack snow. We watch winch Cats VERY carefully mostly because someone could lose their head from a snapping cable or getting clothes lined, let alone tripping on the cable. Anyway, we skied around the Cats and several snowmobiles but because Snowbasin has remained open during Olympics and several speeding volunteers have set some new snowland speed records, some of the normal accesses to our sections have been fenced off. We had to take the tree route and got to ski a bit of new powder.
There it was. Our beautifully prepared Lone Pine was buried under inches of snow. What to do, what to do? I think the general consensus was to return to the lodge. However, Rob, our section chief, had other plans for us. How do you remove that much snow? Let's see, we have a section that is probably 400 meters long and maybe 30 meters across (all at 50-60 degrees of incline). The snow was about 10 centimeters deep so that comes to, like, 120 cubic meters (I think...see, I AM getting the Olympic Spirit: meter math) Think of it as a REALLY BIG cube of snow. Normal human beings would think to themselves, "Hey, we have got those three BIG winch Cats just sitting over there, why not use them?" (Admit it, if you had 120 cubic meters of snow on your driveway and a winch Cat sitting at the end of it, wouldn't you use it?) Well, not US! Winch Cats would ruin that beautiful finished racing surface we so lovingly honed to perfection yesterday (just for you, Picabo!) No, the 25 or so of us who were nuts enough to leave the warmth of the lodge grabbed our shovels and rakes and headed up the course. I hung back a moment just to enjoy what I knew was to be a wonderful sight: The view of wildly spinning bodies careening down the hill (rookies!!!) You really haven't lived until you watch the learning curve that folks go through as they attempt to work a shovel on sheer ice on a 60 degree slope. A few lucky souls (no pun intended) got crampons to where to assist them in hiking (crampons are strap-on nail-shoes, not recommended for anything but walking on snow and ice). Us veterans walk up in ski boots. From then on it was shoveling and scraping, punctuated by the occasional cry of "Shovel!" or "Ski!" and (thankfully rare) "Body!" as our implements of battle were occasionally mis-handled. This is VERY hard work, and with the exception of another visit to the lodge to eat lunch (too sweet!), we logged 6 hours of continuous shoveling. Yeah, but we are doing this for the once in a lifetime experience (alas, twice for me if you include the now legendary 2001 Men's World Cup).
Gee I almost forgot the slippers! Rather than Cinderella, lets reset to "Wizard of OZ" (we had 61 MPH winds at Snowbasin this morning). The slippers are actually people, not shoes. I would characterize a slipper as a suicidal person who is afraid to pull the trigger. They had a hankering to be a downhill racer but lacked the death wish that separates the racers from us other folk. Slippers do this (watch for 'em): As racers pass through the gates, slippers pass immediately behind them "cleaning up" any ruts and pushing out any snow left by the racers. They do this at very high speed and they fortunately have only a short section to do , then they must exit. If they fall during a race, they are done, period. High stress. High speed. These folks are one gate short of a slalom in my book. But we get to use them to move snow. And, they can do that well if they stay on their ski's (during the World Cup's idle moments of exhaustion we watched outtakes of slippers taking out themselves and occasional sections of B-netting - Man! That was fun!). Anyway, watch for the slippers! They did ALMOST as much work as we did.
Many other odds and ends. Warnings today that if any gate panels disappear as souvenirs your credentials would be pulled and you'd be turned over to the police (I bet it's those Californians again). We still have those soups in our lunches. Not enough water on the course (drinking water, I mean, plenty of the frozen stuff). Saw Picabo today! Almost unrecognizable in her long blue trench coat. I guess she didn't like what we had. But we'll make her happy tomorrow! The enemy has retreated (temporarily).
Gotta go and get some sleep, except we are just a mile and a half from Rice-Eccles stadium and those blasted fireworks keep going off (pretty, cool, even from here though). I hope to report a successful training race tomorrow.
First the news...Victory! Yes! We got the women's training race off today and my girl Picabo got first!
But, I'll take care of questions first. Security.You bet! The guys with yellow coats are everywhere (security) as well as plenty of National Guard folks as well. In order to be a volunteer, we had a standard background check (which I remarkably passed). Then we got our accreditation (twice for me because I worked the World Cup). The accreditation has our picture, a barcode, a hologram, and special coloring and markings that indicate what we have access to. Course crews have pretty wide access on the course (field of play assistants is our official name). We can basically go anywhere on the course and within the Snowbasin venue itself. I can't go into other venues or into the Olympic Village (where Debbie can go because she works the Poly Clinic at the Olympic Village). We are required to wear the accreditation tag from the time we get on the bus at the Park 'N Ride until we return to our cars that afternoon. Once we arrive at Snowbasin (about a 15 minute ride) we have to go through the "mag and bag". If you have been to an airport since 1974 you know what I am talking about a magnetometer and a bag check. They don't have an X-ray machine so each bag is manually checked as you go through. However, since we are almost all wearing ski boots, we all set off the magnetometer (duh!) so we have to be wanded. I wised up after the first day and I leave my ski boots up in the Field of Play warming tent. I usually get through with no additional hassle but there are plenty of volunteers that tediously discover cell phones, loose change, silverware, anvils, kitchen sinks, you name it. That holds up the line. You'd think after the first time they would leave the stuff at home or put it in their packs. Utah allows people to carry concealed weapons but they are not allowed at the venues. We also have a few military helicopters that circle during the day (and did you know that all aircraft are escorted by Air Force and National Guard fighter jets over Salt Lake?). There are also patrols that circle the venues. Debbie has a friend of a co-worker who's husband was up in Deer Valley and was answering the call of nature "in the trees" and was startled by a camouflaged military person that encouraged him to "move on". They are everywhere. Debbie and Jonas went to the rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday and they had to go through "Mag and Bag" and there were plenty of security people. Nothing other than a purse and a blanket was allowed in (no cameras, nothing). Tomorrow will be the REAL test of the efficiencies of the security system at Snowbasin. The men officially race tomorrow (the women train) so we will have the usual 1500 volunteers plus 15000 spectators going through "mag and bag". I can hardly wait....
The other question was about slippers. They follow EVERY skier EVERY time. Usually two or three slippers for each racer. We had 55 women race today so they go through 150 slippers during a race. The slippers were WORKING today. Although most of the snow fell yesterday, we still got an additional 1 1/2 overnight plus plenty of wind. Generally, light fluffy snow can be pushed off the course with slippers. But, if it's heavy, we have to get most of it shoveled out and then the slippers can come around and clean up afterward. Today, we had a BUNCH of snow that had to be moved quickly in order to have the course inspected by the judges, athletes and coaches so we actually got a snow Cat to come up and drag our side areas while we sang "Cat track fever". Occasionally we can get a Cat to do some work for us. It NEVER goes on the course (stays about 15 feet away) but it can help smooth out the areas on either side of the course so that if a racer goes off course they won't be injured and will be able to remain upright. That happened today. A racer came off the Shooting Star jump leaning back too far and nearly wiped out. She went off course but maintained her footing because the course was smooth on the sides. One racer completely lost it above the jump but wasn't seriously injured.
I took videos of Picabo not realizing that she placed first today (an Olympic moment). That's my girl.
As you can tell, I am a little bit "wupped" myself tonite. Two long shoveling days have burned me out. With the course in relatively good shape and the men racing tomorrow I hope it will be a bit more laid back, like days 1-3 were. The weather is supposed to hold for a few days so we may get the women's race off without a hitch on Monday and perhaps get a few days recuperation before the next storm comes in.
Yahoo!! Women's training race #2 is done and my girl Picabo is still in it (second, intentionally it is said). Of course all the hype was around the men's medal race today (won by the Austrians, of course) and most of our work was around final preparations for the races interrupted by actually watching the races. We saw our own antics eclipsed by a men's course crew who tramped out a USA in the snow below where they encamped for watching. They contributed additional accompaniment by adding shovel drumming along with the usual cow bells. We heckled them from across the course, sang a few songs at them "I don't wanna work. I just want to bang on the shovel all day...". They chanted USA!, USA! (a no-no by Olympic "impartiality" standards). We yelled back "Sweden!", "Sweden!" or whatever country was currently racing. Best thing when was a errant official accidentally skied up to the base of the USA logo in the snow. So we chanted our new cadence "YSA!","YSA!". THAT shut those guys up!
The organized chaos we call course prep kicked back into gear once the men's race was over. Our problem area, the I-16 crossing, gets a lot of traffic while the men's course empties out. Most of our work is in repairing the damage done by 600 volunteers and who knows how many IOC officials, course officials, cameramen and various other folks as they cross the course. The number of folks, particularly clueless folks (like cameramen), who have access to the course are troublesome. As you watch the race tomorrow you'll see how much trouble these little things create for racers. We have two camera placements near us: One right next to the Lone Pine where our section got its name and one at the Shooting Star jump, 100 meters up (at 60 degrees). Depending upon where the networks shoot their video footage, you should get a good look at the flat spot at the bottom of the Shooting Star jump and you'll see the skis of the racers begin to chatter as they hit the I-16 crossover (at 60mph). We have lovingly repaired it every day but there is only so much you can do. They LAST thing we did today was repair that section and tomorrow the men' course workers come up AFTER we get up there and the I-16 crossover will be closed. We arrive at the warming tent at about 5:30am (I leave the house at 4am tomorrow, I have an hour drive, twenty minutes on the park and ride bus, 10 minutes in mag and bag, we check in, get meal tickets) eat breakfast and we're on the lift at 6am in the dark. They will inspect the course at 7:30 and there will be a course freeze at 9:30 (everybody has to be off!). The race will start at 10am (although you won't see it until 7pm, I guess). With any luck we'll be done at 1pm. Tuesday we start to set up for the Combined race (all over again).
People ask if I find all this exciting, and frankly I am so tired, I really can't connect to the whole thing. Sure, I want Picabo to take the Gold, but I find myself more concerned about whether the enemy (snow) will reappear or whether some disaster will strike at work or I'll fall or.... Each day has blended into another and has taken on a "Groundhog Day" quality that makes it difficult to figure out where I am in the week or how long this has all gone on. I would have probably had more enjoyment if I sat at home every night watching the coverage on TV (at least I would be coherent). On the other hand, I probably appreciate the amount of work that goes into these events a bit more. As one guy on my crew said "Its amazing how sleep deprivation and lack of nutrition can turn you into a raving lunatic". Frankly, we were all lunatics before we started this thing. Its now a war of attrition.
Speaking of attrition, did I tell you how dangerous this job is? We probably lose a volunteer or two to serious injury every day. The ski patrol is plenty busy with the injuries of 1500 volunteers shoveling snow on ice. Our crew has stayed healthy. Oh, we had one case of "Opening Ceremony Flu" (a volunteer stayed home to go to the opening ceremonies) and we had one case of "venue-itis" (a volunteer had tickets to the snowboarding competition today). But, no injuries, yet. Here is another "Huh?" experience of being a volunteer. We are encouraged to attend events for volunteers that start at about 7pm. We are also encouraged to attend events going on around town. "Huh?" You get us up at 4am, work us until 4pm. We still have to go home and be husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, managers and employees. We are exhausted. We have NO time for extra-curriculars. I hope to watch the Olympics via video tape when I finally recuperate. June?
Well, tomorrow is a VERY early one and my girl Picabo is expecting a PERFECT course (especially in that I-16 section).
Watch the race on our PERFECT course. Think of me when you hear of the Shooting Star jump. Watch for the I-16 crossing causing trouble for the racers (very little I hope). And, if the worst happens in our section, watch for my crew as we reconstruct the B-net.
Hey! Did I send out TWO day fives? Man, I must be losing it...
Just when you thought it was safe to go outside...The enemy has allies we had forgotten about. We were on the lifts, as I predicted, at 6:30am (in the dark). We skied down to Lone Pine in the predawn light (man, I HATE to ski in the dark...I am bad enough when the sun is up!). We stood, shivering, while some of us did some last minute prep and then we waited on the course inspection. By the time the inspection was complete, the winds had picked up and the judges called a hold for an hour to see if things would calm down. Since spectators were beginning to arrive, we had to seek more private accommodations for our "coffee disposal" so we had to take the long way down to "porta-potty village" which is just outside the warming tent down at the bottom of the hill (somehow that sounds worse than it really is). Then, they pushed out the start time to 12:00 with an announcement coming at 11:15. We decided to hang out in the warming tent until they figured out what to do about the weather. We heard and saw the 15,000 spectators that were shivering in the stands (there is really no entertainment or much to keep them happy while they wait). We watched the snowboarding up at Park City on the TV's in the warming tent. Maybe the spectators watched outside as well on the gigantic "Jumbotron" in front of the stands. We can't go over there....
We got a reprimand on asking athletes to sign our jackets (we didn't even know you COULD ask an athlete to sign your jacket). Who ARE these volunteers? It never crossed my mind to even meet one of these folks. Besides, outside of shoveling snow on the course, I don't know enough about racing to carry a conversation with them. Of course, if you throw caution to the wind, and pull out the pen, they will pull your accreditation. That's the threat - PYA (Pull Your Accreditation). No sweat! "Please don't feed the athletes. Please don't touch the athletes. Please don't talk to the athletes". Who has time? I'm shoveling snow!..... I didn't mind the R&R or being in the warming tent but it IS boring, so by 11:15 when the judges still had not made their decision, we decided to head back up the mountain. I figured that if they cancelled the race or they ran the race, we would have to do some shoveling, so off we went. While waiting for the lift, and kibitzing with other volunteers, we had to let a racer and coach through (they get lift priority). They hesitated in front of the lift then the racer clipped off her skis and quickly walked away. It was then I recognized her. It was my girl! Picabo! She looked none too happy and we figured that the race had been cancelled. And, NO! I didn't ask her to sign my jacket! As we rode the lift up, we saw the stands begin to empty out which was the final confirmation that they had cancelled the race. When we got to the top of the mountain, it didn't seem THAT bad. The rumor was that it was the "primadonna" Europeans that pushed for cancellation. They had missed the primetime window for TV in Europe and the course was heating up and slowing down. Who knows! The rumor mill is constantly churning and I don't believe half of the stuff I hear. Interesting chatter, though.
So they shot the race and, amazingly, we were released! Yahoo! I haven't been off the mountain before 4pm for a week. One catch though, 20,000 people were also heading down as well. We had to wait quite a while for a bus. The spectators have a different set of buses and a different lot to go to but still, EVERYBODY rides the bus! The spectators will get to come back tomorrow (me, too!), but no refunds...have to "call in sick" one more day for many folks. The weather guys all say the winds will be calm tomorrow, but will Picabo be calm? We'll see. I'll be up at 3:35am again tomorrow...we have the "A" schedule.
Deb works Olympics tomorrow as well. Debbie , as a Physical Therapist, gets to use her skills on athletes....families! Most athletes have their own trainers and medical support people so Debbie doesn't work directly with many athletes. But, she will be working with family members and other support staff involved in the Olympics. Some of the athletes from less prosperous countries will also be treated. Deb says that rumor has it (those rumors again) that many athletes use this opportunity to get free medical treatment that they couldn't get in their own countries. She normally works the Poly clinic up at the Olympic Village (the "poly" means multi-disciplinary). The clinic is really a mini hospital with just about every service and doctor you could imagine. I haven't been able to pry any "juicy" tidbits out of her (patient confidentiality and all) but she has only worked a few shifts so far. Tomorrow, though, she is at the practice oval just over a mile from here (short commute!). This is a new venue for her but a coworker said that he enjoyed watching the skaters and really didn't do much else. Maybe something exciting will happen!
We WILL have a race tomorrow and, as soon as Picabo gets her medal, we start tearing down the course for the "Combined" race that is scheduled for Thursday. What's a combined? I'll find out tomorrow. I am SURE it involves shoveling snow....
P.S. I posted a few pictures on our web site www.helgren.com. Look for the "Olympics" link on the home page. Just three pictures. Enjoy!
I'm late and no, it's not because Picabo failed to medal (and my depression). It's because I got a day off!!!!! Yep, I got to sleep in until 7am this morning and actually went to my regular job for a change (which was a little surreal in its own right). After yesterday's disappointments, at least we got a day of rest. But first, what happened to Picabo?
Here is the REAL story: Race running is a combination of the correct conditions and the right politics. On Monday, politics ruled as we got pushed out of racing by whining Europeans. Yesterday, they played the delay game knowing that Picabo had a relatively high bib number (26). The winds were just a bit gustier (to me) yesterday morning but Picabo had high bib number so a delay worked to the advantage of lower # bibs. Caroline Lalive (USA) had a low number (#2) but biffed it (below our section). As it turned out, by the time Picabo ran, it was after 1pm and the course was mush in some sections (ours showed some wear and tear). Now, if they had run on Monday, even the lengthy delay would have put Picabo on the course just after noon because on Monday she had bib #2. That early run could have put her in a medal position. So which bibs won yesterday? 11,14,15 which all ran before 12:30. Hmmmmm. Interesting stuff. I thought it was all ability.
Now don't get me wrong, I never saw the whole race and I heard that Picabo had a couple of rough sections (NOT ours though) so that contributed to her low placement. But it is interesting that she was in the top 5 for the two training runs that took place before 11am. She won't be racing again. She won't be in either the Combined tomorrow or the Super-G on Sunday. She's done (but we're not).
We had our first crash in our section during a race! We are on the B-Net repair crew and we were trained to replace the B-Net poles or the entire net should the net get taken out by a racer (or a slipper or a WAAYY off the course volunteer). We had a racer fall (you probably saw it on TV, I didn't) but I am sure that the TV coverage focused on the racer, not the wild band of "dirty dozen" that went running down the hill, B-Net poles on hand, a roll of B-Net in the ready. You may not have seen the Gate monitor who ran down to replace the gate that was taken out. He replace the gate then lost control and slid down to our net. (See what you are missing?) Anyway, we were at the ready, waiting for the signal that medical had cleared the racer and we could go in. The Gate monitor who had slid down to our net, stood up, stuck the two B-Net poles that were knocked down back in the snow and the net was fixed. HEY! That's OUR job! Bummer! We didn't even get to go out on the course! We just stood there like idiots (actually, there may be a couple of those in my crew).
Deb worked the practice oval yesterday and I can't tell you who she saw but the initials are M.K. Although she didn't treat M.K. (M.K. has a trainer and PT) she saw M.K. on the ice and also worked on a teammate when M.K was in the next curtain. It's as close as this family will get to Olympic skaters.. She also watched the short track practice which is a remarkable competition if you watched it tonight.
Guess what? The Enemy has returned! We are supposed to get 3-6 inches of snow tomorrow in the mountains and so this day of rest will be needed. The men got their Combined race done today (they have lucked out twice!) but I doubt we'll have ours tomorrow. Most likely it will be delayed until Friday. What's a Combined? Well, it is a combination of both a downhill and TWO slaloms. The downhill is the longest, fastest race. It has very few gates, those gates are widely dispersed and there are no sharp turns (well, at 10mph they don't look sharp but they must be pretty intimidating at 60mph). The slalom, on the other hand, is relatively short, not as steep and has 45-55 gates. The slalom is technically more demanding. The regular slalom is also held over in Park City but for the Combined, it's done at the Snowbasin resort. So we have to set up a slalom course (the men's course crews did it yesterday while we were doing the downhill). So, in one day, we run a downhill in the morning and then run the slalom twice in the afternoon. The women actually trained for the combined (downhill portion) yesterday, just 10 minutes after the downhill completed. There were only 15 racers so it only took 30 minutes to run them. Remember, for the downhill there has to be a training run before the real race. For the other events, there is no training run. They get to inspect the course but the first time they race is the first time they run the course full throttle. Makes for a bit more drama.
The local buzz today is all about those Russian skaters. In the shadow of my downhill disappointment, I am a little bit jaded from an Olympic perspective. But the REAL buzz is about those Olympic berets made for the USA team. Roots, the company that designed and manufactured them, has a couple of stores and today folks were lining up 3 hours before opening to get their hands on them. Bare Naked Ladies (don't you love it that they are in Salt Lake?) are playing the Medals Plaza tonite (you can hear them from here, about 3 miles from downtown). Most visited place? Bud World! As a long time Salt Lake
resident it is almost like being on another planet to have Budweiser signs plastered around town and having Budweiser tents set up around downtown Salt Lake. Makes me almost wish I was single and in college again. Not quite like Milwaukee during the 4th of July, or New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but this is "party city" by Utah standards. Kind of fun.
Well, everybody is predicting snow for tomorrow. Another day at the Salt Lake Olympic "Salt Mines". Up at 3:30am, shoveling by 6:30am. I can hardly wait.
I know, I know, where's the e-mail? Well, we got ANOTHER day off after yesterday's three race combined so our team decided to party at the oldest bar in the state of Utah (It's called the "Shooting Star" and is in Huntsville, about 10 miles from Snowbasin). Nothing like spending 3 hours rubbing shoulders with chain smoking Europeans...The Shooting Star is notable for is ancient heritage, small size and huge St. Bernard that is stuffed and hung on the wall along with a moose that is only slightly smaller, an elk, and the rear end of what appears to be a female deer (although with it mounted tail up and in a "at the ready" stance it took me a while to discern through the growing smoky haze just what the heck it was). Our "party" was well earned, we had a tough day.
Where was the enemy?... well, I tend not to trust meteorologists (or weathermen, for that matter), and although the sky looked ominously similar to the week prior when our 1 inch ended up being 5, I could tell from the Doppler radar that most of the moisture had already moved east (they deserve it). We got the heads up on the changes for the day at the warming tent briefing. They had decided that with the possibility of snow in the am, they were going to run the slaloms first, then run the downhill in the afternoon which would give us more time to shovel the snow that might fall. We were put on the slalom course which ended up being a pretty good assignment.
The slalom is completely different from the downhill, which you clearly saw in the competition yesterday. The racers have a confusing variety of gates that they have to navigate in order to successfully complete the course. And, as in any race, the fastest through the gates wins. However, in combined, the times of all three events are combined for the final score so even though you may have a bad run (not too bad, though) it's always possible to make up some time in the remaining events. The other thing that was different was that we could be inside the B-net, on the course. In fact, we had to be on the course so we could quickly repair the ruts left by each racer as they come through the gates. We used shovels and rakes (our trusty tools) instead of slippers to clean up after each racer. That made for some fairly hot work since the sun was out and the racers were only 75 seconds apart. A racer goes through, you run out and scrape down the ruts then run back (20 feet or so) to avoid a collision with an errant racer (say, Caroline LaLive). Anyway, it was a change of section, scenery, section leader and crews that made for a fast morning. In the afternoon, we returned to our usual haunt of Russi's Lone Pine. The two crews that had NOT been assigned to the slalom had been buffing out our section all morning so it looked pretty good by the time we got there. Home sweet home.
Our 8 days in the trenches have helped us to develop some survival skills that have made the experience a whole lot more pleasant than the infamous Men's World Cup last February. We have learned to "cycle through" when one of our team members needs a bathroom break (well, I admit it, it's the lone female in the group that can't use the free outdoor facilities). We take the opportunity to ski down and catch the lift up so we can "hang" at the John Paul Lodge at the top for a few minutes of R&R. They have real food up there (even though we have to pay for it). It sure beats sitting in the snow down at Lone Pine waiting for a race to start or a new project to appear. This isn't exactly shirking our duties. That label is used for the notorious Team 13 that somehow manages to evaporate soon after arriving on the hill. It's a very mysterious thing and although I don't believe we have aliens on the hill (at least the outer space kind), we still haven't been able to explain the daily disappearance of this team. One minute they are standing next to you, the next minute there is just a shovel in their place. Their daily reappearance CAN be explained since I know that if they don't at least check in at the Staff check in tent they will be marked as AWOL and could possibly have SLOC seeking a return of their uniform. The general consensus is that SLOC won't go after these "cheaters". What would they possibly do with a used uniform? (Sell it on ebay, of course). Nah! We don't think that threats to find you and have the uniform returned is real. It should happen though. I know of a few folks in New Jersey that could make uniform collection a high percentage business.
Disappearing antics aside, the course crews have generally maintained their original size from about three days from the beginning. We weeded out the folks who weren't serious about work with that snow storm and subsequent "shovel festival". If we do have to extend beyond the Sunday Women's Super-G race, the disappearing volunteer phenomenon may grow more prevalent. With all the "easy" days we have had, it is still hard work to be on a mountain for a day (particularly one that starts at 3:30 or 4:45 depending upon the schedule).
Tomorrow it's Men's Super-G at 10am and then the women train at 12:00. With any luck, Day 10 will go smoothly. Tomorrow I'll fill you in on whatever a Super-G is and also give you the latest scoop on the local Oly scene.
2 down, 1 to go! Oh, check out the website www.helgren.com. I added a bunch of photos I had developed today (see, there is some advantage to a day off). Look for the Olympics links and make sure you use the refresh button to get the new list of pictures should they not appear.
One more day! Men's Super-G was today and the men's crews are done. It is a weird feeling to watch the B-Net and A-net come down on the Men's course. It took a LOT of work to get it up, and it was taken down with such glee this afternoon. We watched with envy from our side of the course. We spent the entire day waiting....waiting to do something. The men's crews were out late and we hung at the warming tent until about 7:30 this morning.
I got the bad news this morning that we lost the only female on the crew. I haven't gotten a full explanation from her yet, but ten days with a bunch of married old guys was probably more than she could stand. It has been almost more than I can stand....
To fill you in on what I know about the Super-G....I think I told it all to you yesterday..The Super-G stands for the Super Giant Slalom. Much to my disappointment, we are NOT going to be watching 7 foot Amazons ski the gates, instead, it is very much like the downhill with about twice the number of gates. Given the number of racers today that biffed out at the Buffalo Jump on the Men's course, the additional gates make for some excitement. I expect we'll see some action tomorrow. The course was very soft today and although it is supposed to be fairly warm tomorrow (we have a storm coming in tomorrow afternoon), I expect an icy section in the morning (the race is at 10am). We may have to replace some B-net after some falls.
And speaking of falls, we had one yesterday, although our course crew wasn't there to witness it. Apparently, a photographer (or cameraman) lost his footing on the course and took a pretty bad fall (broke his pelvis in three places when a snowboarding assistant ran over him...shredders!!!!!) The thing that cracked me up when I read the article in the Salt Lake Tribune was that it mentioned that photographers had to use crampons and be certified on their use in order to get credentials. HA! We watch photographers and cameramen wheeze up the hill wearing ski boots, boots, skis, you name it. They provide humorous diversion for us while we wait for races to start. The Trib photographer WE saw didn't have crampons on. The press is a constant source of both amusement and aggravation. As you guys know from my e-mails, course prep is time consuming work and we are very careful to keep from un-doing our hard work once it is done. There are a lot of people that move around on the course before and after a race. The section leader and section crew folks direct traffic away from the course and to the sides after we complete our work and before the race begins. Likewise, after the race. Most folks like coaches, course crews, FIS officials and the like, know to stay off the course. The press are generally oblivious to direction. They also seem to be the least able to safely ski. I don't know. Maybe we just love to hate 'em.
Deb is at the Poly Clinic again tonight. She is working swing shift. She'll come home around midnight and I'll be up at 3:30am for my big day. She has gotten an interesting perspective on treating Olympic athletes (and, yes, she HAS treated a few athletes, although from fairly obscure countries). She works in sports medicine so she normally works with active, motivated people who are wanting to get back to an active lifestyle. But she has never seen anything like this. Some of these folks have injuries that would normally require surgical intervention or lengthy therapy and they want to be patched up to get back into competition. A wee bit more aggressive than she is used to. Fortunately, she doesn't have to prescribe, she just does. She has enjoyed the variety.
Although you'd THINK that tomorrow would be a short day, we have miles of B-net we have to roll up after the race is over so it will be a LONG day. That crafty enemy is still lurking out there so I don't know for sure that we'll get a race off but at this hour at least the weather looks like it will hold until tomorrow afternoon. We can roll B-net in snow.
Back with the final installment tomorrow!
Yipee!!! Whahoooo! We are DONE! The ladies ran the Super-G today in remarkably harsh conditions and we finished our "work on the hill". I can't believe that it! Here is how it all came together:
I briefly remember Debbie coming to bed at 12:05am and then harsh "Beep, beep, beep" of the alarm managed to rouse me from a blissfully deep sleep (that is what I get for going to bed at 10pm). Coffee on, clothes on, out the door to meet Scott to car pool to Snowbasin at 4am. Nothing special in the air. No snow. No rain. Just the usual - dark. They held us at the tent longer than usual. We were told that the course was in good shape and didn't need much work. The course inspection would start at 7:45 so we could "rest" a bit before loading the chairs. It was when we were finally called to load out that I discovered that my ski's were missing. I remembered that I had left my skis in the racks the afternoon before because I KNEW that we would be dispatched to Worker City again, but instead we were released. I was so anxious to get home because of Deb working that I never thought to put the skis in the Connex. Well, NOW I thought of it. Since there have already been reports of "disappearing" skis, the first coming on the very first day, I was pretty bummed about leaving them out. No, they weren't still out there. No, nobody took them to the rental counter. No, they weren't at the SLOC lost and found. Not at the Mountain Operations building either. I sent my crew up (they said they would wait for me at the JP Lodge at the top) and I returned to the warming tent. I made the circle again with someone from SLOC and THIS time we found them (they were in Bob's office. THANKS Bob!. On the lifts and up for the last day.
I got to the course before my crew did. On my way, I briefly checked out the JP Lodge (from outside) and didn't see them so I skied down to Russi's Lone Pine by myself. Kind of a solitary start for a team. Our section has picked up a couple of crews since the upper part of Women's course has already been torn down. We have been letting the "fresh meat" get out in our section first and then we usually clean up after. I was hoping that, as the upper course was closed, we would get more folks down below and that thankfully happened. This would have been especially critical if it had snowed. But, by the time my team straggled in from JP Lodge, most of the real work was done. Super-G racers don't get a chance to train on the run before they race, they just get to inspect the course. As Ed, our Women's course supervisor said "This is the rodeo of ski racing". With no chance to "try it on for size", it can make for some pretty exciting racing. Once the inspection was done, we all went out and cleaned up the course. Even though we were told it looked pretty good, we knew better. It was looking pretty beat. The two training runs plus downhill, then a training run and a combined downhill, and the "free ski" yesterday had torn it up pretty good. It has been warm here in Utah (and it is supposed to get warmer) and the course shows it. If we hadn't raced today we would NEED the snow. We actually have some rocks poking through up on one of the sides of the course now.
With the course prepped, my only anxiety was that it was VERY windy. In fact, the winds were stronger and gustier than when they rescheduled the downhill last week. The gates were waving in the breeze when the first "camera" came down the course. A camera is actually a guy that carries a camera down the course. It appears as though the guy is shouting a commentary as he goes down the hill with his camera. Pretty wild. With the camera heading down the hill, we KNEW we had a race! Now it just a matter of getting through the field without losing too much B-net. Yeah, the B-Net has to come down anyway, but we would rather be in control of when it comes down. Having watched the Men's Super-G yesterday, I knew we were in for spills and chills.
I waited through the first 13 racers to get through Caroline Lalive run, knowing she had a fairly high "biff" rating (and, she biffed). So I sat down to eat my lunch (I hadn't eaten since 3:45am) and almost immediately we had one in the net. We re-ran our "keystone cops" routine with a dozen or more of us flying down the hill to fix the B-Net. The racer (I can't remember her name or her country) hit the gate just before the chop at I-16 and didn't have a chance. She practically cart wheeled in to the B-net and it looked ugly. Remarkably, she wasn't seriously hurt. You might catch a glimpse of us doing net repair! (no you won't...I just saw the competition on TV and we didn't make it). Look for those red, white and blue hats!
Somehow, the rest of the race sped by without mishap in our section (and I was able to finish my lunch). Several racers biffed up in Glacier Bowl so we never even saw them, but then it was done! Just like that! But here is where my team shone. We were rolling up the B-net faster than you can say "slipping photographer" (more antics today). We finished the job in 45 minutes (rolling up maybe 1800 meters of B-Net, Wow! That's almost 2km !). Done! We were off the hill.
The rest is a blur. We're done. We're done. We're done. What else can I say? Suggestions for SLOC. Well, for a "family" state we had no benefits that our family could enjoy. We got one ticket for the opening ceremony rehearsal. We got one ticket to the medals plaza. For OUR family who has been missing a dad for the past 12 days and occasionally a mom, a better benefit would have been family passes to events. Why would I want to go to these events by myself. Another suggestion would be to have "carrots" that are of interest to families. Like the party they were having for the Snowbasin Crews tonight. Crew members, free. Others, $10.00..... Plus, having it at the end of a long day, well, all I wanted to do was to get home and be with my family. Oh, here is another benefit with little benefit: We get two days to ski free at Snowbasin but, it's only us and it's only tomorrow and Tuesday. Having spent the last 10 days on a mountain in ski boots, do I really see a free day of skiing (tomorrow) as a benefit? More like punishment. A better benefit would be two day passes. Then I could at least bring Jonas and/or Sam with me (and spend some money as well!). Ah well. We are done and that is fine with me.
Tomorrow we, as a family, will head downtown to see some real Olympic activities (strangely, the races seemed more like work than "real" Olympic competition). We'll do the medals plaza, check out the downtown exhibits (Budworld?) and see what it is really like. Perhaps, I fill you in.
It's been a joy. Keep watching and keep those cards and letters coming in!