Lots of snow, cold nights and little wind – the early season conditions have been ideal in Åre this year. The slope crew is already busy at work to spread the snow and prepare the base of the race courses for the Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals in March.
It’s -16C outside but comfortably warm inside the snowcat being ably maneuvered over the piles of snow by Lars Mattsson, a 25-year veteran with the Åre SkiStar resort crew. Everyone calls him ”Laffa.”
This November, the weather for snow-making has been outstanding with natural snowfall and cold nights ideal for operating the snow guns. Massive snow depots are now spread around the resort in Åre and they will be used to create the base to last until the end of the ski season.
– We already cover the entire width at Gästrappet all the way down. There is still some detailed work left but for our season opening, this is great, says Laffa.
The man-made snow has ended up in the right places thanks to light wind conditions, and on average there is now a 50-centimeter base in both the downhills. The work to spread the snow around is done with a total of 11 snowcats from November until 1st February. For Laffa and the rest of his team this means a lot of work but it’s work they enjoy.
– It is fun to prepare a great slope. I enjoy creating something good and having the sense of accomplishment, feeling that “I am good at this.”
Laffa approaches a high pile of snow that needs to be spread out. A layman would get the chills but Laffa is a professional. He has been driving a snowcat at SkiStar Åre for the last eight years and has also helped prepare the Hammarbybacken slope for the World Cup event in Stockholm in the last two years. Yet he still sees himself as a ”newbie.”
– I am quite new here. Some of the team working to prepare the slopes for the FIS World Cup races have been doing the job for 15 years, he notes and pushes snow all the way to the permanent grandstand by the Arena House in the Åre finish area.
Laffa is also working to shape the finish jump to make the “racers fly even farther,” in collaboration with the Åre 2019 sports department. Both the ladies and men’s downhill courses have been designed by the ski racing legend Bernhard Russi, currently chair of the FIS Alpine Committee, after whom the classic “Russi Jump” is named. The FIS International Competition Rules (ICR) require that downhill courses must include various elements designed to test the racers’ skill, such as jumps, curves, and sections for high speed, courage and tactics.
– All jumps are going to be built so that the racers fly far but land safely (not on a flat). The jumps being built by Laffa now will still need to be tested before the Finals, says Anders Sundqvist, Åre 2019 Sports Director.
– This is an initiative we launched together with the FIS Race Directors, adds Sundqvist.
He explains that much more terrain will still be created especially on the downhill courses. In other words, more contours or uneven spots on the slopes that will challenge the racers further and will look spectacular on television. The FIS World Cup Finals in March 2018 will be a true dress rehearsal in proper race mode for the 2019 World Championships. What Laffa and his colleagues are doing to prepare the season finale, together with a number of other slope and snow experts working for the resort, is a great example of the smooth cooperation with the resort owner SkiStar.
– Our cooperation with SkiStar is truly excellent. We have regular meetings every other week and almost daily contact with the team, emphasizes Anders Sundqvist.