Last Update: Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #9

  • Thursday Feb 17th Nordic Combined Relay
  • Friday Feb 18th Official Training Distance
  • Sat Feb 19th, Men’s 50km Free Technique 6×8.3km
  • Sun Feb 20th Women’s 30km Free Technique 4×7.5km
My grooming partner and good friend from Norway, Lars Katzenmeir will take over leading the crew here for the last 3 days. Lars and I met and worked together in Pyeongchang. He is the lead groomer at Holmenkollen, has groomed World Cups and World Championships on his own trails for years.

Snow Removal crews hard at work after 10cms. We were wondering what would happen if it snowed any more.

 

This is where we ate all of our meals, and these very young girls were busy serving, cleaning, taking food orders and seemed to always giggle at what I think must have been my height…or my hair? They asked for a photo.

 

Lars and I were fortunate to be in the Nordic Combined Jury room for the Sprint Relay.

 

Congratulations to Antoine Cyr and Grahame Ritchie who were in the lead pack, often leading, and ended up in an incredible 5th place. If you look closely, Grahame is actually ahead of Klaebo…. 🙂 Establishing themselves amongst the fastest skiers in the world. To me that is the crux to getting there. I have always believed that we ski as fast as those we ski with.

 

 

There is a Loonie somewhere there under the finish line. Apparently there were loonies or toonies and even a small Canadian flag under the ice at various venues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tiller Burp” We were starting to get spilling snow out of the back of the tiiller occaisionally in the center of the pass and more often along the edges. The center burp is caused by a combination of tiller settings; tiller speed, depth of cut, and pressure. Easily avoidable. The burps along the outside edges was a different issue. We have now done over a 100 passes of the courses and many more on the parts where the different courses overlap.  Likely more grooming than Ridge Road or the Parkway over an entire season, and the Gatineau’s receive snow. The sking surface is noticieably lowering leaving high edges. When the tiller rides up on the higher  edge it creates a gap where the snow in the tiller box spews or burps out. A week or so ago we started shaving those high edges back in to the centre.

 

The 90 and 120 Meter Ski Jumps

 

The Jump Crew, R to L, Canadian’s John Servold and Andreas Andresen and Finnish Ulli definitely are owed the “Olympic Employee of the Year”. Arrived in October 2021, taken one at a time from the airport by ambulance to a solitary hotel room for 3 weeks of quarantine,  and then worked 100 straight days, making, pushing and leveling snow and ice on the 2 ski jumps. We flew home to YVR together and I think I heard them cheer when we landed.

I will see them in Callaghan in March for the Canadian Championships. And plan to again at next year’s World Juniors hosted by Canada at Whistler Olympic Park.

Close to the end for me. Flights out of Beijing were difficult to get. Nancy managed to book a direct Vancouver flight today, Thursday Feb 17th. I am actually in the YVR Airport writing this last post. I will be happy to get home but sad to leave. It has been 25 days, and although communication has been next to impossible, somehow friendships are made and leaving is hard. I feel I was able to share some Cross Country Grooming tips and techniques with the Chinese operators. They now understand what you need to run straight stadium tracks and continuous even radius turns. We had a great practice session yesterday preparing the tracks in the stadium for the Team Sprint.   They were very keen to learn and very hard working. Every night, but the one, they were at the shop, machines warming up, fully fuelled, and ready to go. Most nights they are out after the courses close to flatten and clean up the mess from the previous day.

Good Luck Len Apedaile and Marc Lyster for Paralympics. Meo, Wong, and Yao are ready and able to help!

I hope you have enjoyed the behind the scenes realities of the Cross Country events.

See you on the Trails!

Dirk Van Wijk

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #8

February 15th Nordic Combined; February 16th Women and Men Team Sprint Classic

 

Yesterday late afternoon Nordic Combined had their event on the 2.5km. It was close to -20. Everything was groomed and finished by 0800, and then I got a call from the NC TD that they wanted their course re-groomed at 1100. All I can do is say yes, so off we went again after breakfast.

Today is the exciting Team Sprint. We all remember the “air guitar” Canadians, Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey winning the gold at the 2011  World Championships.  You never know what happens in sprint racing but I will bet on Norwegian Klaebo and whoever they choose to ski with him. In Korea, Sundby was the lucky one, and ended up with an Olympic medal. Remember Sundby’s comment after the Montreal World Cup where it snowed all night before the race. “Is this Cross Country or Back Country.?” I took that to heart. Lars is setting the tracks and is focussed on getting it right the first time.

Some of the People….

IM from Korea, Cross Country Sport Manager at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Currently here coaching the South Korean Team.

 

Finnish Jussi, Swiss Seraina, and Czech Michal, part of the FIS Jury  after a stressfull, snowy,  Men’s Relay. Jussi started off as TD and then part way through switched with  ATD Serrina.  Jussi and I have a great rapport after Korea. Both Serrina and Jussi were TD’s at one of the Quebec World Cups

 

 

 

Norwegian’s Lars, fellow groomer,  Ella, FIS Jury, Neighbour and former teammate  of the most decorated Olympian Marit Bjorgan, and myself.

 

Alpina nicely set up with a Honda powered spreader for “salting” or “fertilizing” the snow. This unit was also never used much to my relief, as the temperatures were consistently cold. Fellow Canadian’s Len Apedaile, and Marc Lyster who are arriving soon for the Paralympics may need to use this. Apparently there is tons of salt.

 

An afternoon of Ginzu Training with the Course crew. This paid off as they touched up all of the skate lanes on the 3.33km course after the Men had started the classic legs of the relay. Very tricky timing coordinated by the Jury

 

Ski Depot and Wax Test. Big part of this level of event, where the wax techs can lay out their quivers of skis and test base structures and wax for glide. These areas needed to prepped at the same time as the actual race courses. I felt a little sorry for Wong who  groomed and set this area every night. The LOC Groomers seemed happy enough repeating their respective jobs everynight and it certainly simplified the nightly explanations

This morning’s Team Sprint tracks. We had lots of help, and all the tools. The Jury is happy with the way it turned out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We missed breakfast this morning so heading for early lunch, maybe a cold ski, and then over to  watch the Team Sprint event. The race start has been moved earlier (1515) due to the cold.

Cheers Dirk

Grooming Team; From Left, Amy, our translator, Meo, head groomer, Wong, Myself, Mr Wei, the boss of all operations at all three venues here. He is onsite 24/7, and Yao. I was happy that the group was keen to learn about classic track setting and CC grooming in general. I feel they will be a great addition to the Paralympic grooming team, headed up by Marc Lyster from Mount Washington, Canada.

 

Therese Johaug, One of the World’s fastest women on skiis, you can hear her before you see her. Skied away from the  pack in the Skiathlon. Her next big race will be the 30km Free Technique on Sunday February 20th, the last day. The Women’s long race is after the Men’s, so they receive their medals at the Closing Ceremonies

 

 

 

 

A spontaneous “sign language” meeting on the trail in the middle of the night. I had already set some classic tracks and with diagrams in the snow I explained not to run over them. Successful!

 

 

 

 

 

Olympics!! They have seven YTS Ginzu’s at CC alone. Thankfully  two  were used 1x for 15 minutes during the Men’s relay to pack the freshly falling snow during the Men’s Relay. I wish I could take one home to Nakkertok 🙂

 

 

 

 

You may have picked up on the fact the the Stadium work was quite challenging. Many thanks for Jury member, Enzo, from Val Des Fiemme, who helped us out for every setup, day or night. Val Des Fiemme will host  the Nordic events for the 2026 Olympics and Enzo will be a big part of it. He has fond memories of racing the Gatineau Loppet many years ago.

 

 

OBS (Olympic Broadcast Services) directs grooming as well. Finnish  Tapani, the director, emails me photos of where he wants the tracks to go straight towards camera positions. The Jury is the moderator to keep it all focused on fair racing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #7

February 12th Women’s 4 x 5 km (2×2.5km) Relay, February 13th Men’s 4 x 10km (3×3.33km) Relay, and February 14th, Valentines Day.

Snowy morning before the Women’s 4 x 5 Relay. The non race network opens for general training at 0900, grooming started at 0415 as normal. The 2–4 cms of forecasted snow started falling shortly after. The jury decision was made to set the tracks in the stadium but delay the last grooming of the race course and wax test areas untill 10:30. All the non race courses were ready and open. Lars and I had a quick breakfast and then did the final lap and setting all of the classic tracks. As we approached the stadium we were asked to regroom all of that as well. No pressure….  The snow stopped and the sun came out just before race start.

For the Men’s Relay, snow was forecasted for the day and we delayed the start of grooming until 0930. Wax test and training areas needed to be open for 1030, and the jury wanted continuous grooming on non race courses untill 12:30. We regroomed and reset all of the stadium between 11:30 and 12:30, then did a double Bison pass (2 x 6 meters)on the 3.33km course, Lars leading on the free technique lane and myself following setting the tracks. In the relay, the first 2 skiers ski classic and the last 2 ski free technique on the same course. Jussi, the Finnish TD follows us off the course to the garage and asks if I could reset the classic tracks out of the start and up the first climb as they were already filled with snow. The course crew was already setting out the V-Boards and the spruce branch decorations along the course edge. The 2 sets of classic tracks are typically set on the inside of curves so competitors don’t cut the corners.

“Eye-balled” Start track from the Men’s Individual Classic Race

Stadiums have been our nemisis here. As I mentioned in an earlier post, traditionally the stadium crew, who has designed the layout of where everything goes, directs the tracksetting of the stadium. For various reason’s, covid protocols, transportation issues, the stadium crew cannot make it on site for the grooming times. The Jury has stepped up to help us but without any lines or long tape measures we are relying on the old “eyeball” technique.

As a kid, back country skiing with my parents my dad always wanted a straight track across a lake or beaver pond. He taught me to pick an object on the far shore, focus on it, and ski directly towards it. Results were pretty good. 50 years later I am using the same technique at the Olympics. So if you are noticing the unsightly, crooked tracks in the stadium, now you know why. Kind of embarrassing…for me.

Straighter Stadium Tracks, using tape measures, drills, 150 meter length of rope, to make a perfectly straight line to follow

Valentines Day, The snow ended early this morning and grooming started at 0415. Today is official training for the Team Sprint race on Wednesday which will be classic this time arround. The Jury called me last night to delay the stadium set up until 10:00, so we had some idle time on our hands before sun rise as shown in the “Olympic Heart” above. Also gave me some time to track down a 150 meter long rope, tape meaures, and 2 drills.  The resulting straighter,17 sets of classic tracks, were immediately obvious. Olympic Day 11 and we finally have it together. Certainly a big relief to finally have Lars from Norway here and we can share some of the grooming pressure.

Heading off to ski the courses, check out the track setting, and meet the Jury again at 1700. We have  switched our groomer meeting to 1730, immediately following the jury meeting so we are not constantly going back and forth to the venue.

Cheers

Dirk

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #6

Thursday February 11th, Men’s Individual Start Classic 15km, 2 x 7.5km course

Lars Katzenmaier, my Norwegian grooming partner, flew into Beijing yesterday morning and arrived safely at lunch time. We walked around the 5km race course and watched the Women’s 10km classic race. Great to have him here. This morning he took the right seat tour as I set the best line tracks for todays race. We had a loose track on the Husky we were using and we couldn’t keep it tight, so needed to swap out a machine mid grooming. Good thing we have 2 of each. Lars and I plan to share Stadium and Course grooming from now going forward.

In yesterday’s Women’s 10km Classic, Norwegian, Therese Johaug squeeked in for the gold 0.4 seconds ahead of Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen. U.S. Jesse Diggens placed 8th, Canadian Darhia Beatty had a great race for 18th and Nakkertok’s Katherine Stewart – Jones a very respectable 36th, out of a field of 98. It was a beautiful day,  wind, but lighter than the gusts the women faced in the Skiathlon.

In the Whitewater world we use a term “River Booty” for found items. Here in the grooming world we have a similar “Groomer Booty” all of that stuff was left on the stadium and courses from the day before.  If you are missing any equipment it is in the lost and found.

Decorative Snow, The Chinese have worked very hard to make Zhangjiakou look like winter, and have been , day and night, making decorative snow arround each of the venues. The process was stopped at “Sports” request due to snow drifting on to the race courses and the jump hill. I might drive that snowmaking truck back to Ottawa to help out the Ottawa Urban Winter Trail network to get a solid base down for an extended ski season.

Corduroy profile has been a topic of concern in the past and Prinoth has the Nordic Profile figured out by placing the small black inserts in  the grooves of the coarser profile typically used on the alpine slopes. Gatineau Park skiers have noticed and commented on this, and Demsis has addressed the issue with the same solution. In Korea, I wrote about this as the two Pisten Bully 400 that we were using  at Cross Country had Alpine combing making skiing on the fast downhills tricky. The fine profile definitely makes for nicer and safer skiing.

An italien coach and athlete were skiing on the course a few days ago at roughly my pace and he said to me, “You go ahead, I am old and slow” and then asked “where are you from?”.  I replied “Canada” , and he said “Canmore is my favorite place, I raced at the World Juniors there back in 1996”. To which I replied “ I raced at the World Juniors in 1979” I took that as a compliment 🙂

Tomorrow (Saturday)  is the Women’s Relay, Sunday the Men’s

That’s it for now, Lars and I are going to ski and check out the grooming and watch the race.

Happy Eastern’s Weekend – Good Luck to all!

Dirk

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #5

Tuesday February 08th Men’s and Women’s Sprint, 1.50km Free technique. Qualification starts at 16:00, Heats at 18:30 local time.

Skiathlon, Men’s Start, Photo Courtesy of CBC, taken with the OBS  Spider Cam which is suspended over the stadium by four wires attached one at each corner. Tracks ended up pretty straight 🙂

As you now have all surely seen, we had significant wind for the Women’s Skiathlon, and most opted for faster snow outside of the classic tracks. It certainly didn’t seem to affect Norwegian Therese Johaug. Bolshunov skied a very strong race on Sunday in calmer conditions. I feel for those fast, but not fast enough skiers who get lapped on the short 3.75km course and get pulled off of the course by the Jury. 18 Men were not allowed to continue.  Canadians Olivier Leveille and Skinouk’s Antoine Cyr were likely happy to be skiing the same pace as superstar Klaebo. His time to shine will be this afternoon on the Sprint Course. There is a climb on the courses named after Bolshunov and I hope we can name one “Klaebo”, like we did in Korea, after tonight.

We are settling into a nice routine, wake up at 0315, grooming by 0430, wrapped up and off the course by 0830. It remains cold enough the courses are rock hard by 9:00. Our evening meetings with translator Amy are working well. Once those are over there is really no effective communication between the 3 Chinese groomers and myself. So far so good!

Other good news is that Norwegian, Lars Katzenmaier, the second foreign CC groomer, has received numerous negative tests and should be flying here soon. Someone to talk to 🙂

The signature photo op;  The Olympic Rings, the Prinoth Bison and me. This beautiful -20, early morning on our last stadium pass. Couldn’t resist the opportunity.

This will be the start of the Sprint Race this afternoon, 6 x 20 meter almost perfectly straight tracks. 5 meters before the start gate and 15 meters after. The Qualifier lane on Skiers right has no tracks. The course has no tracks.

 At last evening’s Jury meeting there were a few “to do’s” which we tackled as soon as the course was closed at 8:00pm. There were still a few wax techs out testing wax who begged for some extra time. We got all the tasks done and then straight to bed. Today’s grooming started again at 0430 and wrapped just after 0800. TD’s, Jussi and Enzo inspected and were happy with the start grid. They wanted slightly softer snow so we did 2 final passes of the sprint loop just after 0800 before we parked for the day.

First Olympic moment…

In the Stadium, I like to groom the 12 meter wide finish lane first. Most finish areas are a dead end and you cannot drive in or out beyond the finish line. In that case we back all the way in around, between the Rail Cam and the outside perimeter fence of the stadium to and just past the finish line. There is always a plethora of TV cameras, video monitors and other things you don’t want to hit, so easy does it. Here in Zhangjiakou they have nicely left an opening that we get in and drive out…no backing up 3 times. Once the finish is groomed I start doing a few laps of the inner stadium area and finish it off by backing in and grooming out, ideally lining up all the corduroy in skier direction.

Well…there has been a timing loop (sensor wire) on the snow, covered by a V-board at the top of the athlete access stairs since Skiathlon. I didn’t see the v-board on one of my back-ups, dropped the tiller on to it without realizing and proceeded to drive forward and do a lap of the course.  When I came back in to the stadium I noticed the v-board was gone and I later found it pulverized and partially buried halfway up the first climb. That is where manual grooming comes in handy. Imagine tripping up Klaebo on piece of shredded plywood…not cool.

Forecasted -5 today and light winds. The race will be under the lights this evening. Qualification starts at 1600 and Heats at 1830 local. Not too early for western viewers. Should be able to watch at breakfast time.

See you on the course.

Dirk

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #4

Sunday February 06th, 15:00 HRS, Men’s Skiathlon. 4 x 3.75km Classic and then 4 x 3.75km Free. 8 laps – 30km.

This morning the alarm went off at 03:15. Granola and yogurt, tea, lemon water with my daily dose of vitamins.  It is a short 15 minute walk from my room to the compound where all the gear is stored. Meo, You, Wong,  all there, all 4 machines running, warmed up, and out of the garage. I was happy! Grooming plan was discussed and translated with Amy at the 19:30 meeting the night before. Meo does a lap in the  Bison of the Stadium and then heads out to do his 2 full flattening passes, followed by the track setting pass of the 5.0 and 7.5km course that are not part of today’s 3.75km race course.  You in the Husky helps with some of the shorter  race courses and the cutoff’s before heading out to do the base prep and track setting on the Southern Training Trail. Wong follows Meo in the other Husky, cuts off on the 5km and then preps all the Ski Test areas and the Eastern Training Loop which goes up along the “Great Wall” .

A section of the Great Wall at the eastern end of the CC venue. This section has been all rebuilt and is lit up at night.

The boys are a little intimidated by the stadium work, so I head there and redo it again this morning. Stadium Classic tracks need to be straight and straight is very difficult. Start grids of multiple parallel tracks are beautiful when perfect and a mess when not. It is also where hundreds of skiers, coaches, wax techs, volunteers, jury members, spectators and TV camera’s, are all doing  their respective roles and those tracks are in the middle of it all. The plan worked better than yesterday, everyone did their jobs, I set the race course tracks, and we were all back at the shop by 0830. Time for breakfast #2.

Fingers crossed the wind stays at the forecasted 3m/s versus yesterday’s 6m/s, gusting 10m/s. The ladies faced a brisk headwind out of the start and it was faster skiing out of the classic tracks than in. Last night the Jury decided to remove even more classic tracks from today’s men’s race. If the winds stay calm I wonder if we will regret that decision. I like classic skiing in classic tracks.

Prinoth Husky with 2 track tillers in front of the track pans.

The track Tillers on all of the 4 machines are working incredibly well. After a day of heavy traffic, cold temperatures and the wind the snow is hard. Not ice, like we would get at home after a winter rain event, but just hard squeaky snow. By using the track tiller, you can groom and set tracks in one pass. We are not doing that here as we groom everything flat first. Without them we would be spending more time lapping and tilling the courses to enable the tracks to be pressed in. Classic tracks from the previous day need to be removed before setting new ones as they are often moved slightly dependent on skier speed and safety, TV requirements, sizes of mass starts, and race formats etc.

I wanted expand on the photo of the testing I sent yesterday. Our hosts have now added a body temperature check every time we come back into the Hotel. To be honest it is reassuring. There are more and more people around and with the systems they have in place a positive case would be picked up quickly.

Tomorrow morning we start prepping for the Sprint event scheduled for Tuesday February 8th. The Sprint is Free Technique at these Olympics. Only 6 x 20 meter tracks in the stadium. The question is where in the Stadium they go and who will show us at 0430 in the morning. Maybe I will get to choose?? Nordic Combined will also be joining us here at the Cross Country venue for their events in the next days.

Set your alarms for 0155 EST and cheer on the men!

Cheers Dirk

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #3

Saturday February 5th  15:45 (02:45 Eastern Time) Women’s Skiathlon. Good Luck;  Katherine, Cendrine, Olivia and Dahria, only 4 can be entered, Laura sits this one out.

Skiathlon Stadium Set up for Official Training Day – they do a very nice job of perfectly lining and spacing all the V-Boards, Exchange Boxes (where they switch from their Classic Skis and poles to Free Technique equipment).

Official training day for Skiathlon was yesterday and the Jury was happy with our work. Always a few tweaks, remove one track here, shorten the neutral (scrub or no track) zones, move the 4 tracks further to the right or left side…. But Jussi, the Finnish TD went through it all with me within 10 minutes. I worked with Jussi at the Korean Olympics and also some of the World Cups in Quebec. We get along well.

Now for the fun part… 1900 start to meet and go over the job list with the Chinese groomers and Amy our translator. I try to make a plan so everyone knows what they are responsible for before we head out. Once on the course I have to resort to flashing my spotlight and sign language. They gave me a radio but what is the point? After the meeting I am told neither of the 6 meter wide garage doors will open. All 4 cats are inside due to the cold (smart plan). They have called the mechanic. I have taken over the stadium and the race course track setting and I was to meet the stadium crew at 2000 to lay out all the tracks. Not happening. Head back to our accommodation and conveniently can watch the opening ceremonies. A 2200 Jury call to make a new plan for a 0400 start. Have to be off the courses with everything perfect by 0900. Should be able to get it all done in 5 hours. That kind of situation doesn’t enable me to relax and sleep so after a fitful few hours I get up and head back over around 3:45. Start up all the machines, no sign of the 3 groomers. Luckily the Operations boss sleeps in his office, I wake him up and he calls in the boys.

I purposely left the stadium tracks visible instead of flattening them out which would be standard practice. I groomed over them and immediately dropped a few track pans behind me so I wouldn’t lose their locations.  Well good thing I did because no one showed up at 0500 at -23 degrees. In all of the nights of Olympic, World Cup and even Eastern’s grooming I have never laid out stadium tracks without someone from the Stadium crew present with long tape measures, stakes, ropes and all the tools of the stadium trade. In Whistler we spent hours with a laser trying to perfectly line up all of the start, finish and lap lane tracks. This morning , first day of competition and there is no one around. The start grid will only be used once today so I am recommending for them to protect it and reuse it for tomorrow. I should be able to repeat the lap lane incoming and outgoing track setting one more time.

Once stadiums are groomed and track set we try our best not to go in and mess it up. It is like wet paint, don’t touch it. Stadium was finished and I am starting my first of 3 passes of the 3.75km course when I see one of my colleagues in the 4 meter wide Husky heading down the last hill into the stadium and, worse still, right into the finish area.  He thankfully realizes that he is boxed in by my lap lane tracks and skillfully turns around and comes back out. Doing a zero radius turn on snow in the finish area with a 5 ton machine is not a good idea. We are lucky here with the extreme cold, and hard snow. Going into the finish there is a rail camera on skiers left and the stadium fence on the right as you can see in the photo above. Normally we reverse in to the finish line and groom out,  opposite to skier direction.

Another challenge is to get all of the other machines off of the course before I set the classic tracks. One cat was taking too long doing non-race course grooming so at 0530 I called and woke up our translator, Amy , and she called him to park his cat out of camera view  and not to go over what I had already done. With more time I could have waited for him but Meo is a perfectionist. He got the message and everything worked out well. I haven’t had any panic calls from the jury. If there are any issues that are what rakes are for.

 

John Aalberg – Master of Perfection, John designed the CC and BT courses in China. He was the mastermind behind Callaghan, and has been involved in numerous Olympics. John has hired a group of us to lead the grooming on the Ski Jumps, the Biathlon and Cross Country courses. It has been a pleasure working with him.

Daily testing for everyone,  each morning , right in the hotel Lobby, we are given the Nucleic Acid Test for Covid.  So far so good.

It is soon time for some lunch, and then out to watch the ladies race! Most of you are asleep now but I am sure some of you will get up very early to see the action.

Happy Skiing!

Dirk

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Short Update #2

Look who I caught up with on the trail a few mornings ago…. Our happy, cheerful Canadian Team. All arrived safe and sound along with coaches and wax techs.

My 11th day here and have been around the race courses between skiing and grooming about 25 times. Last night we groomed the stadium and 7.5km course for the Men’s Individual Start Classic OBS Rehearsal. Rehearsals are great as it gives us the opportunity to set up as if it were for the real thing. OBS uses it to refine camera positions and check that their systems are all working. My challenge will be to demonstrate to my grooming colleagues how to work with the Stadium Crew and set all of the required tracks as shown on the Stadium Map below, in the correct place, and all beautifully straight so it looks  good for TV…. and us 🙂 Once that is done and the course have all been tilled and flattened and ridden of previuos classic tracks, ski traffic, and the cursed snowmobile messes, it is my turn to set the single best line track around the 7.5km. One track setting lap will take me over an hour to complete as long as I don’t make a mistake and have to redo a section.

I am certainly missing Lars Katzenmaier from Norway who I met and worked with in Korea. We got along well, lived, skied, ate, and groomed together but he has been delayed due to Covid.  He just received a negative test and will hopefully be able to join us soon.  Once he is here we can divide up the responsibilities. The local groomers are all very keen to learn about Classic track setting but unfortunately there is not sufficient time to get them confident enough. At this point they are a great help with the surface preparations and then they tackle the warm up trails and wax test areas. I hope they can take on some of the stadium grooming soon.

Yesterday was a bit of a groomer marathon. An early 0300 – 0730 grooming shift due to the snow and wind the night before. Had some breakfast, a couple of coffees, then jumped on a snowmobile to install 50 blue “no track zone” poles around the entire 8.3 km and warm up courses. These markers are crucial for me to indicate the “no track zones” at night when it is dark. It will also help the other groomers lift and set the track pans at the proper spots for the non-race sections of the course. The day continued 1900 when we met with the grooming team to split our tasks and 2 groomers and I headed to the stadium so I could show the crew how to set up. Enzo the Italian FIS TD from Val Des Fiemmes and I demonstrated how the process works, a great first attempt!

The venue is getting busier every day and the Chinese are furiously working to getting everything ready for opening in 2 days.  Above is a sectional building that they seem to use a lot of the for wax cabins, office spaces and this one for onsite staff accommodations.

Just in from a morning ski, the Jury has arrived and I tried my best to keep up. They are all former World Cup and Olympic skiers and half my age, so good thing I know some of the short cuts. In general I got the thumbs up on my first try at the “best line” track setting from last night. There are always different opinions and I have learned over the years that my input has little uptake. I am just the groomer….

That’s it for now, all the best! Dirk

Beijing Olympics Cross Country Course Preparation Update #1

I have been here almost a week and everything is going very well so far. Toughest moment was trying to get on the plane in Ottawa, happy the airport was empty and there were three attendants available to check the guidelines for flying into China and joining the Olympic Bubble. I was the first they had experienced and it was all new to them. Ten minutes before departure I was the last to board my first leg to Toronto. The next flight to Vienna was easy but then another small roadblock before boarding the Beijing flight. Prior to entering the departure area, I needed all the proper documents in line and photos available of accreditations, Covid test results, vax passport, invitation letter and visa. I scrambled to fill in a last minute online customs declaration that was only partially in English.  Good thing my phone was charged and I could log into my laptop to prove I was who I claimed to be.

Thirty six hours later, landed in Beijing, and led through series of steps and tests to enter the “Bubble”,   our luggage hand delivered and I was loaded on to a bus. Big bus, one passenger (me), with a police escort for a three-hour ride at 60 km/hr to Zhangjiakou, one of the three Olympic venues. A brand new, 4 lane highway, a good portion through tunnels, only used for the bubble.

Zhangjiakou is the site of Cross Country, Ski Jumping and Biathlon. The venue is laid out in a horseshoe shape with Biathlon at one end, Cross Country at the other and The 70 and 90 meter jumps in the centre. There are 2 hotels in the belly of the horseshoe and that is where I am fortunate to stay. Everything is within walking distance.

The Chinese are taking Covid very seriously. We are always wearing approved masks, get “gag” tested (throat swab) every morning, facilities are sterilized frequently, hazmat suits seem to in style here, but the biggest concern for the venue is how to keep the bubbled group separated from the non-bubbled. In the photo above you can see a raised deck or Gardner Expressway style structure which runs around the entire, 3km, horseshoe between ZCC and ZBT. When non-bubbled spectators come to the venue they use the upper deck to walk from ZCC to ZSJ and ZBT. Here we go again with the Olympic acronyms. The deck has the only access to the spectator stands which are “non-bubbled”.

Cross Country has a 1.5k and 1.8k sprint course and a 2.5, 3.33, 3.75, 5.0, 7.5 and 8.3 km distance courses. All courses are imbedded unlike Callaghan or Korea where they were separated into two 3.75 or 5.0km courses. OBS (Olympic Broadcast services) prefers it this way as there is less moving of cameras between the 2 sets of courses.

My opinion for what it’s worth is the separated and shorter courses have greater appeal to the spectators as skiers lap through the stadium more frequently. Photo below shows the 7.5km course and the extra loop on the bottom left is the extra 0.8km for the 8.3km course which will only be used on the last day, Feb 20th, for the Men’s 50 Free Technique event. All other courses are imbedded within the 7.5km loop. As always these Olympic Courses are tough to ski, either up, or fast descents with little flats, combined with the elevation of 1652m. I have skied all of them a few times during course inspections and am feeling like the first few days in Silver Star. The photos show that there is really no natural snow here. It is cold and dry and the little snow that falls gets blown away by frequent winds. They have made approximately 200,000 cubic meters of snow here on CC alone. Compare that to the roughly 10,000 cubic meters made at Nakkertok. There is additional snow being made in the surrounding hills to make it appear “winterlike”

We are still in the countdown, but the venue is open. The local skiers are out along with their wax techs. I have seen a few Norwegians, Latvians and Swedes as well. Courses close at 1800, OBS (Olympic Broadcast Service) is typically out moving or setting up cameras after that and we start work around 2000. There are always numerous requests to add to the nightly “Groomer To Do” list and my biggest challenge is to communicate that with the other 5 groomers when I cannot speak Chinese. Everything needs to be done through a translator. We are using 2 Prinoth Bison’s and 2 Prinoth Husky’s every night. The Bison’s are set up with 4 track pans, the Husky’s 2, and there are track tillers on each one. We are setting some near perfect tracks already 🙂

That is it for now!

Cheers Dirk