Local man changes the face of Olympic downhill skiing
By the time Olympic skiers scream down a challenging men’s downhill course for the Winter Games, Steve Young will know whether he’s tamed the grizzly.
The Kirkwood Mountain Resort groomer has smoothed over the aptly named racing course at Snowbasin since he reported for duty Jan. 26. The run is long and steep with “no flat spots,” Young said.
The 40-year-old Gardnerville man, a groomer at the Alpine County ski resort for a dozen years, was selected by Bombardier as one in 20 groomers from across the nation to work the Games. More than 300 applicants tried out.
The day after he arrived at Snowbasin, it snowed 18 inches.
“I thought it was quite a privilege to be selected,” Young said.
He aimed for a personal best by putting in 12-hour days to keep the tough racing course up to par.
“Preparing a world-class race course is different. You have to be precise to make it hard enough for (the skiers),” he said.
One of those skiers is Tahoe City’s Marco Sullivan, 21. He will compete at Snowbasin Sunday in the men’s downhill competition.
The snow that drops in the Wasatch Mountains holds a reputation for as some of the lightest in the nation. That’s why the saying, “the greatest snow on Earth,” may be easy for the skiers and boarders to deal with. But it presents a challenge for a groomer trying to gauge how it will be distributed over the slopes.
The current snowpack on the mountain amounts to 4 to 6 feet.
The race director once asked Young to shave off a half inch at Snowbasin’s Buffalo Jump, where he’s spent much of his time. Skiers are expected to approach the jump at 60 mph.
In the first six seconds on the course, the racers will hit 75 mph and finish at a fierce pace of 85 mph.
“I feel the pressure because I know what’s going on and how fast they’re going to be going,” Young said. “They brought (the groomers) in as an insurance policy.”
In a way, he’s already received the ultimate compliment on his work.
A representative with the International Skiing Federation told the groomers the course was “too perfect and not rough enough,” Young said.
He said he could tell his counterparts are top notch “by the way they work the machinery and the way they talk.”
The true test of a groomed course will come from watching the men with nerves of steel, who train to hurl their bodies down an elevator-shaft drop at the top. The summit is 9,286 feet, just below Mount Allen.
“This course is definitely the most challenging course I’ve ever had to operate a snowcat on,” Young said. “It’s neat to see them ski it. But I wouldn’t do what they do.”
He said both the initial pitch at the top called Ephraim’s Face and the Buffalo Jump section near the bottom are steeper than The Wall at Kirkwood.
U.S. downhiller and Truckee resident Daron Rahlves told Sports Illustrated the course offers “top-to-bottom action, like a roller coaster.”
The course is currently prepped. If it snows 6 inches or more, the snow cats will come out again.
Young, who said he gets in about 150 ski days a year, will ride the slopes for fun when the Olympic Games are over. He’s staying in Layton through February.