It has been fashionable before recent Winter Olympics to criticize the Alpine skiing courses, and the trend is continuing at Calgary, site of the 1988 Games. This time, however, the organizers appear to be getting the jump on the critics.
In 1980, many European racers called the men's downhill at Lake Placid, N.Y., too easy. In 1984, the men's downhill at Sarajevo was "not challenging enough," and the sour grapes continued after American Bill Johnson won the gold medal. Johnson won because he was a good "glider," according to more than one Austrian.
Then last year, Serge Lang, founder of ski racing's World Cup circuit, said the proposed Olympic downhill courses on Mt. Allan, near Calgary, were "Mickey Mouse." He wondered why the '88 Alpine races couldn't be held on established, tested slopes such as those at Lake Louise or Banff, about 100 miles west of Calgary.
The reason, according to Norm Weiss, minister of recreation and parks for Alberta, is that these ski areas are within Canadian national parks and governed directly from Ottawa. International Olympic Committee rules require that the Games be organized by cities, not national governmental bodies.
So, according to Weiss, who was in the Southland this week along with several other Canadian Olympic officials, the decision was made to carve out totally new ski runs on the slopes of Mt. Allan, about an hour's drive southwest of Calgary.
"Too windy at the top and too flat at the bottom," was the initial reaction of Lang and some other Europeans to the downhill courses.
Said Weiss: "That's all behind us now. We officially opened the Olympic runs with the North American Trophy races earlier this month, and the skiers praised the courses."
Canadian Todd Brooker, a top World Cup downhiller, was quoted as saying: "I had heard the flats were really flat, and that's not the case at all. It's not over once you get halfway down, by any means."
His countryman, Rob Boyd, who won a World Cup downhill recently at Val Gardena, Italy, added: "It's very challenging up top, to say the least. It's exciting the whole way down."
And Canada's Laurie Graham, third in last season's World Cup women's downhill standings, said: "I'm pleasantly surprised. I don't know why it got such bad reviews. It's very challenging."
Of course, one might expect Canadians not to rap anything Canadian. The true test will come March 7-8 and again March 14-15, when first the men and then the women skiers on the World Cup tour--including those from Europe--will compete in downhill and super giant slalom races.
The degree of difficulty of the courses hasn't been the only controversy surrounding the '88 Winter Games, but Weiss and the other Calgary visitors said everything is in order now, citing the following:
--The ticket scandal last fall set back sales in the United States "about 30 days" while records were straightened out, but the program is "on track."
--Scare stories of possible weather problems that might occur during the period from Feb. 13 to Feb. 28 in 1988 due to the threat of warm Chinook winds have been exaggerated, and Weiss said: "We have spent $5 million on a snow-making system that is capable of covering the runs from top to bottom."
--Recent complaints by some ski jumpers that the top of the 90-meter tower is buffeted by severe winds and that the landing area is unsafe were investigated and changes were made to re-contour the runout, but Weiss said: "It's always windy at the top of ski jumps; there's not much we can do about that."
Five Southland ski areas--Goldmine, Snow Summit, Snow Forest, Mountain High and Ski Sunrise--continue to operate daily, with 6 to 36 inches of mainly man-made snow on their slopes. The High Sierra is currently receiving some snow showers, but as of Wednesday, only June Mountain, Boreal, Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Ski Incline and Heavenly Valley were in limited operation. They reported depths of 12 to 30 inches. A Mammoth Mountain spokeswoman said the resort still needs another 18 inches to open for the season. . . . The World Cup circuit picks up after the holiday break with the men scheduled to compete in a downhill Sunday at Laax and a slalom Tuesday at Ebnat-Kappel, both in Switzerland, the women due to go in a slalom and a giant slalom Saturday and Sunday at Maribor, Yugoslavia, and a super giant slalom Tuesday at Saalbach, Austria. . . . Richard Pramatton of Italy tops the men's overall standings with 118 points, six more than runner-up Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland, and Maria Walliser of Switzerland is the women's leader with 110 points, four ahead of countrywoman Vreni Schneider. . . . Women's Pro Ski Racing will start its 10th season with a $20,000 event Saturday and Sunday at Vail, Colo. . . . The U.S. Men's Pro Ski Tour will get under way the next weekend at Vail.