Olympic slopestyle course designs released

The International Ski Federation (FIS) released the first public design schematics Wednesday of the 2014 Olympic freeskiing and snowboarding slopestyle course. The designs detail a layout featuring three rail-feature sections and three jumps.

Sweden's Anders Forsell will oversee the construction of the slopestyle course, located at the base of Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort in the western Caucacus range. Forsell, 36, is the former terrain park manager at Åre, one of the premier freestyle resorts in the world, and owner of Snowpark Consulting, a boutique park-and-pipe construction company based in Forsell's hometown of Östersund.

According to a news release from FIS, the course will be built by a team of groomers provided by the Russian organizing committee and Rosa Khutor staff "under the direction of Forsell."

FIS and the Russian organizing committee had intended to assess the course design last February during the Olympic test events in Sochi, but the World Cup freeski and snowboard slopestyle competitions were canceled due to warm, rainy conditions that turned the resort base into a quagmire and did not allow for a suitable course to be built.

Slopestyle courses are different from standardized Olympic venues such as figure-skating rinks, in that each design is unique. The number and size of jumps, as well as the number and shape of rail components -- and the order in which the features appear -- varies from one contest to the next.

In general, the distance between takeoffs and landings on jumps at major contests range from 30 to 80 feet, with competitors usually preferring larger gaps to enable more difficult tricks.

According to competitors, FIS-sanctioned events have had a history of undersized courses in which the jumps sometimes limit the tricks the athletes are able perform.

At the world championships in Stoneham, Quebec, last January, Mark McMorris, a favorite to podium in Sochi, voiced his displeasure with the course in an interview with The Star.

"I want to do this triple cork at the Olympics and all, but right now it hasn't been set up that well," he said. "Every Olympic qualifier I've been at, the jumps have been really small and not even close to being big enough for a triple cork."

After a Freeski World Cup event in Switzerland last February, winner Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen of Norway criticized the slopestyle course's flat landings and smaller jumps. "FIS is still struggling to build courses with good jumps and good landings," she told ESPN. "They need to step it up a bit."

Courtesy Anders Forsell

Meet Sochi's head slopestyle course designer: Anders Forsell.

Forsell promises those issues won't be repeated in Sochi, weather permitting.

FIS snowboard assistant race director Roberto Moresi, a longtime snowboarder who is helping Forsell with the Olympic slopestyle course design, told ESPN last winter in Sochi that organizers intend to build jumps with more than 60 feet between the takeoff and landing -- a distance that competitors have said allows them to perform the most progressive maneuvers, including variations of the vaunted triple cork.

"They will be big enough," Forsell said of the jumps. "I don't know if I can give you the number, but they will be like X Games for sure. That's our goal. The exact size in meters will depend on the snow situation."

Forsell and Moresi have also stated in separate interviews with ESPN that competitors will be consulted on the course features' size and design leading up to the competition.

With snow shortages a serious concern in Russia recently, resort officials stored snow halfway up the mountain last winter in case it's needed to build the Olympic courses in February.

"It's on my mind for sure," Forsell said, "but we calculate that and try to organize for that. We're working on maybe not only an A and B plan, it's more A, B, C and D plan. We try to prepare for all conditions."

The appointment of Forsell to build the Olympic course marks the Swede's biggest job in his 20-year career as a snow-shaper.

Forsell, who likely will be on the ground in Sochi by mid-January to start construction, called it a "great honor" to build the Olympic course.

Others who expressed early interest building the course included Snow Park Technologies president Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson, a shaper who has built all the X Games slopestyle courses, as well as courses for the Winter Dew Tour, snowboarding's U.S. Open, and private resorts across North America and Europe.

"I did go over to Sochi last spring and met with the resort folks and some of the master planning people at Rosa Khutor," Gunnarson said. "I was definitely impressed with the mountain, and we did get asked to submit an initial bid, but never got a response to any of the emails that we submitted with the bid."

Citing Rule 46.1 of the IOC Charter, FIS Freestyle Skiing Coordinator Joe Fitzgerald pointed out that the sport's governing body, in this case FIS, is entirely responsible for selecting the course designer, not the host resort or local Russian organizing committee.

"I want to see the Olympics be the best possible stage for these athletes in the first year," Gunnarson said. "I hope they can pull that off. ... I hope nothing but the best."

Rain, sleet or variable snow conditions notwithstanding, the lone guarantee regarding the Olympic slopestyle course is that it will be the same for everyone. And in that sense, Moresi said, it will be like every competition before it and after.

"You still have to prove on that course, on that day, that you're the best," Moresi said. "I would like to say that we really are keen on giving the riders what they want, making them feel comfortable. Because what makes a good event is the show they deliver."

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