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CR4 Olympics Coverage: Poor Snowpipe Construction

Posted February 12, 2014 6:51 AM by HUSH

Like any company with an immensely popular product, the International Olympic Committee is always seeking ways to expand its profit margins. Audiences around the globe are insatiable in their desire for Olympics coverage. There will be 500 hours of video coverage of the games here in America, and that is a pale comparison to Canada which will offer views 1,500 hours of Olympic coverage. Other nations devote similar levels of coverage.

However, the Winter Olympics have always been in the shadow of the Summer Olympics. The 2014 games have one-third as many events (98) as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, in only a quarter as many sports (7). Those participation numbers include extreme sports that recent Winter Olympics have cannibalized from the Winter X Games, such as slope style and halfpipe, in disciplines such as snowboarding and freestyle skiing. Could we someday see an event such as freestyle snowcross?

Something else that could be adverse to the IOC's bottomline: weather. If it's too cold or too snowy, travel between Olympic sites will be gruesome, and broadcasts could also be interrupted. If it's too warm, the snow won't stick, and we'll have the "Autumn Olympics" instead. A well-hashed subject, the average winter temperature of Sochi is over 40° F.

Well, as Sochi gets set for use of its snow halfpipe this week, some prominent athletes are calling out the quality of the terrain design, weather and snow. After practice runs on Saturday, riders complained that the vertical sections of the halfpipe were of poor quality. After a day of fixing this critical area, riders then complained that the flat area between vertical transitions was slushy and slow--likely as a result of the changes made to the verticals. While these aren't safety issues, they'll likely result in subpar performances and competition. One competitor called the halfpipe "unsalvageable."

American snowboarder Danny Davis complained to Yahoo! Sports: "It's the Olympics. It should be flawless. What a lame showcase of snowboarding, and what a lame way to treat the athletes."

While Russia has been scrutinized for its unprepared infrastructure surrounding these Olympics, this one isn't their fault. The IOC is responsible for halfpipe construction, and evidence suggests they cut corners while contracting the company to do it. The IOC utilized New Zealand's Development Snowparks to engineer their snowpipe. This company is widely considered inferior to Nevada-based Snow Park Technologies, who had created Olympics snowpipes until 2010, and continues to maintain ramps at each year's X Games. The main difference between the two companies is the type of equipment used to shape the halfpipe.

Development Snowparks relies on a machine called the Global Cutter, and Snow Park Technologies uses a Zaugg Pipe Monster (at right).

For both companies, a Snowcat is mounted with a boom arm that creates the radius of the halfpipe transition as well as the vertical section. The boom arm contains a conveyor device much akin to a grain elevator that scrapes away ice and snow to leave a transition and vertical. Heat exhaust is routed to a finishing net which trails the conveyor scraper and melts the top layer of snow to leave a smooth surface. Laser guidance systems ensure that the each cut is perfect for competition. And after a few passes the snowpipe should be nearly complete, save for a few finishing touches.

It seems like the crew who used the Global Cutter didn't understand that an extended boom arm puts a lot of pressure on the Snowcat tractor. Slowly the tractor and boom begin to sink, and the conveyor begins to chew away too much snow at the bottom of the track. Unlike the Pipe Monster, there is no blower to remove unwanted snow. The result is verticals which are too soft because they haven't been cut consistently, and a flat area that has too much unpacked snow.

Perhaps the Olympics should have gone back to using the terrain analysis of Development Snowparks and their Pipe Monster. Despite spending a few hundred thousand more, they would have provided the best facilities for the athletes, who have openly expressed their trust and enthusiasm for Development Snowparks.

Similar principles apply to product design: it's worth paying a little more for a reliable product from a proven manufacturer, than ruining the integrity of your work in the name of cost savings.

Resources

Yahoo! Sports - American snowboarder...

Development Snowparks

Zaugg - Pipe Monster

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#1

Re: CR4 Olympics Coverage: Poor Snowpipe Construction

02/12/2014 4:12 PM
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Re: CR4 Olympics Coverage: Poor Snowpipe Construction

02/13/2014 9:44 AM

An elite sport requiring a masive artificial infrastructure, with a stupifying level of subjectivity in judging, appealing to X gamers. All competitors had the same conditions. The lack of form or consistency in performance or judging makes for a boring sport, IMHO. The GS skiers could be crying about the changing and poor conditions, but that is what makes a champion, someone who has the right combination of strategy, skills and luck. All I hear is wah wah wah.

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Re: CR4 Olympics Coverage: Poor Snowpipe Construction

02/13/2014 12:45 PM

I don't blame them.

There was a contractor with a proven track record, that could have got the contract, but they went with someone else.

$50 billion spent on these olympics, the best of the best from the entire planet, gathered to compete, and they had to compete on something that resembled a curved washboard.

It was sad to watch.

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