A glimpse of the Dave Murray Downhill, site of the marquee 2010 Olympic event BY HANK MCKEE Whistler’s Mother
The Whistler downhill track — the site of the 2010 Olympic Winter
Games main event — is known with no small amount of local affection as
the Dave Murray Downhill. It’s named for one of the original Crazy Canucks, the band of Canadians in yellow spandex that turned the ski racing
world on its ear in the 1970s and 80s with their daring and fast exploits on
the greatest downhill courses of the world.
Accordingly, the test provided by Murray’s course will reward daring, but
it will take more than a huge set of orbs to win Olympic gold. “A smart skier
more than a brute skier will win the thing,” says Steven Nyman, one of the
American skiers who hopes to be among the men on the Olympic team.
We’ll add to that diagnosis: The winner will be smart, skilled and strong.
The course is designed to test all facets of downhill racing.
For one thing, the Murray is long — a few yards short of two miles in length,
second only to the fabled Lauberhorn at Wengen, Switzerland, among approved downhill tracks. That calls for endurance and strength.
“The Whistler track has every downhill element,” says Paul Kristofic, the
man who, as the head men’s coach of the Canadian team, may have analyzed
how to run the course more than any other. “It’s maybe a little more biased
to gliding, but there are big jumps and some technical sections as well,” he
says. “It has elements of Lake Louise, but it’s more difficult. It’s similar to
Kvitfjell in that there are a couple of critical turns and big jumps that take
And there are many nuances packed into those two miles.
“The cool thing about it is the terrain,” says Nyman. “It’s not the steepest
out there but there is a lot of terrain and compression turns. It’s a very tactical course. You have to be smart. You can’t just be ballsy and charge on it.
You have to be precise with your line. It will be tough to be fast on because
of the subtleties.”
Racers say that the course as the sum of its parts — rather than individual
features — is what stands out.
“It’s somewhat similar to Lake Louise and Val Gardena in the style and
feel of it,” says Scott Macartney, another U.S. team candidate for the Games.
“There are a bunch of sections you have to link up and really carry speed on.
It doesn’t have the huge jumps and frequency of Val Gardena, but you have
to link sections over terrain and blind rolls and carry speed in order to be
fast. That’s kind of like Lake Louise [in that there are] connected pitches,
not long steeps. [Instead there are] shorter drops and then turns. It’s unique
in that it gets narrow [with] sharp turns.”
Sharp turns mean centrifugal forces that compound to hurl skiers toward
any of the 15 “A” nets that line the course from the Caddy Shack to Boyd’s
Bump. It’s a testament to the radius of the turns that many of the course’s
features have multiple “A” nets. Toilet Bowl has three; Weasel and Boyd’s
Bump each have two.
A racer blows a turn and he can pay the price with a waffle-pattern bruising from the netting. Nail all the turns, and it’s only half the battle.
“Like Chamonix, Whistler is going to be one of those courses with a lot of
gliding and carrying speed in different sections,” says Macartney. “It’s not a
course where you can out-ski somebody in one or two places and win. You
have to link up the whole course and execute from top to bottom. Lose time
and there are not many places to get it back. It’s similar in that way to Val
d’Isere and Chamonix.”
Nyman adds that the course favors the Americans. “Our boys are good at
gliding and we focus a lot on line,” says Nyman. “We have a variety of different techniques, but a good sense of speed, and this course is all about speed
This Olympic track, Nyman says: “is actually quite similar to Torino’s
Olympic course. It winds and moves and there’s enough room that (the
course setter) can get creative with it.”
It is also going to favor the home-court Canadians, who easily have the
most experience on the course’s flanks. “Our guys have had a decent amount
of experience there,” says Macartney, “in NorAms and Canadian Nationals,
etcetera, but really for a downhill there, it’s fewer than it seems. I don’t think
I’ve had a full-length downhill there. The last few times I’ve been there isn’t
not been full length. At least we’ll know where we’re going.”
If the synopsis of these skiers and coaches are correct, there is history in
support of the theory they’ll do well. Lake Louise, Wengen, Val Gardena and
Chamonix are the courses most mentioned as being similar to The Murray.
Bode Miller has won at Lake Louise, and Marco Sullivan has been second.
That same duo were both on the podium at last season’s test in Wengen and,
also last season, the U.S. men had that remarkable result at Val Gardena
with Miller, Sullivan, Erik Fisher, Nyman and TJ Lanning all among the top
10. Sullivan won the last time the tour visited Chamonix. So there are plenty
of reasons to be excited about the U.S. chances at the Vancouver Olympic
Winter Games. Like we needed more reasons.