Sliding events at the Winter Olympics — bobsled, skeleton and luge — depend on outdoor tracks made of concrete and ice. Track officials, maintenance crews and athletes are constantly monitoring dew point, humidity and air temperature to ensure safety and to encourage record-breaking speed at the same time.
Canada’s Nick Poloniato and Lascelles Brown speed down the track during the first run of the 2-man Bobsleigh World Cup competition at the Alpensia Sliding Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Saturday, March 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Among all venues in PyeongChang, South Korea, the Alpensia Sliding Centre requires the most advanced technology and engineering, according to a PyeongChang Organizing Committee newsletter. And since run times are recorded in hundredths of seconds, keeping a track at peak-performance level takes a lot of work.
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According to Olympic officials, roofs and shades have been installed above the track at Alpensia to block sunlight, snow and rain. The roofs are high and the shades can be opened or closed, which means spectators and broadcasters will still be able to see the action.
This file photo shows the Alpensia Sliding Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
AccuWeather asked Amanda Bird, marketing and communications director for USA Bobsled & Skeleton about how different types of weather situations affect the sport. Her answers were edited for clarity.
What are the ideal weather conditions for bobsled events at the upcoming Winter Olympics? Clear, sunny, 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
What do athletes do to prepare for changing weather conditions? They are always monitoring the weather to determine which runners they use because the weather makes a huge impact on the ice conditions.
What happens when it is too warm? What temperature is too warm? It’s ideal if it’s 32 F or below, but the track is refrigerated and can withstand higher temperatures to a point. When the refrigeration is turned up, it makes the track frosty, which slows it down.
What happens if it is too cold? If temperatures are too low, it can actually make the ice sticky. [Temperatures in the mid- to low 20s F create good ice conditions.] Humidity is also a concern because it causes frost as well.
Does snow cause problems? The tracks are largely covered, so most of the snow does not get into the track. But there are portions that accumulate snow, and if it’s windy, snow can be blown into the track. This can do two things: slow down the track and lessen steerability of the sleds.
How do crews prepare and maintain the track? The ice thickens throughout the season and they spray water throughout the weeks. The material underneath is concrete. Crews chisel the track to form the entries and exits of the corners, and they also use brooms and snow blowers to sweep out debris or snow.
What are your thoughts about weather in PyeongChang for the games? At the moment, the weather is ideal. If we have some cold, sunny days, we will see fast ice!
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The two-man bobsled competition will take place Feb. 18 and 19, while the women’s bobsled competition will take place Feb. 20 and 21. The four-man races will conclude the Olympic sliding events on Feb. 24 and 25.
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