Ice is fast. Ice is hard. And ice is...safe? Racers’ edges and snowcats clearing fresh snow cause ruts that can launch skiers off-course. So techs actually inject the course with water to make it as hard as possible, says Peter Bosinger, the IOC course manager for alpine skiing. Using a 16-foot “water bar” with nozzles at the bottom, techs inject water 10 inches into the snowpack in eight-inch increments down the hill. “It’s very labor-intensive,” Bosinger says. The first round occurs two weeks prior to race day, with touch-ups the day before. Weather is the biggest variable affecting course conditions. At one World Cup race early this season, “they added too much water,” causing many women on the U.S. team to slide off course.
If you listen closely to the commentators at an alpine World Cup race, you'll likely hear talk about course injection, a process during which water is injected into the snow in order to make a harder surface. While the practice is often discussed, the injectors themselves are seldom seen. Here's an up-close look at what they are and how they work.