In competitive sports, there are often just a few hundredths of a second between victory and defeat. At the end of the day, optimal selection and preparation of skis can go a long way towards giving an athlete the edge. However, athletes and their support teams cannot make the right choices if they do not know exactly what the snow and weather conditions will be like during the competition.
This is where SLF comes in: we are heading out to South Korea in February 2018 to support the Swiss athletes at the Winter Olympics, just like we did at Vancouver and Sochi. At the behest of Swiss Olympic, one member of our snow sports research team will study snow conditions on the course and calculate how they are likely to develop around 24 hours ahead of each competition. The information will be given exclusively to Switzerland’s cross-country, biathlon, ski cross, snowboard cross and alpine snowboarding teams.
Extensive advance testing
To ensure that the forecasts are as accurate as possible, researchers have been taking measurements on the race tracks in Pyeongchang for the past two years. Their calculations also draw on data from terrain models, satellite images, weather forecasts and field weather stations. All of this information is fed into two computer models developed by SLF: SNOWPACK and Alpine 3D. SNOWPACK works out how the properties of the snow will evolve at a set point in the snow pack, while Alpine 3D makes the same calculations for entire sections of terrain.
The snow temperature forecasts already proved their worth at Vancouver and Sochi: they provided valuable information that helped the support teams to work more effectively and efficiently. SLF has focused more heavily on testing ahead of this year’s Olympics than in previous years. The World Championships in St Moritz, the Snowboard World Cup in Montafon and the Cross-Country Skiing World Cup in Davos were among the events that served as trial runs for SLF in 2017 and enabled the researchers to establish a partnership with the support teams ahead of the Games. All of this means that SLF’s forecasts should be even better integrated into the support teams’ work processes than at the last two Winter Olympics. While this may not seem like much, it may well make all the difference for Switzerland’s athletes as they go for gold.