The Hill is Flat — An Oxymoron?

2010 WINTER OLYMPICS
2010 WINTER OLYMPICS
In the downhill portion of today’s women’s super-combined ski competition the commentators were saying something that may have sounded odd to the non-skier: the hill was very flat. I can not recall if she was saying the lighting was flat but in any event that needs explanation. For today, while the sun was out, the downhill was in the shade and as a skier I am not real fond of skiing in the shade on a sunny day.


The photo (yes, the colors are too cool I forgot to adjust my lighting type to sunlight) above was taken in March or late February (of 2005). During the middle of the day the skiing is fantastic, it is warm, and there is that sunlight all over. If this photo were from about a month ago, the shade would have covered the all of the slopes (I know, I skied in such conditions about one month ago).

These conditions resemble the conditions the women were skiing under during the downhill portion of the super-combined event. Bright sun, but skiing in the shade.

When you are skiing in bright sunshine every little flake of snow sticking out above its neighbors leaps out at you. They could be a mountain and it would not be anymore obvious. However, when skiing in the shade a mountain would appear a plain.

In the photo above between the two red lines, the hill looks as flat as a piece of paper, let me assure you it only looks flat. One can be surprised very easily by a bump, a pile of snow, a big gouge, or patches of exposed ice. You can wear clear lenses, amber lenses, rose lenses, etc but none of them do a whole lot to bring out the relief. That is what is meant by a flat hill. In fact, you can see for yourself how you can see every set of tracks through the snow in the sunshine, but in the shade it all looks uniform.

Now, I have been measured moving 40+ mph at the bottom of the run on the left side. Despite that relatively high speed, I can handle the surprises. I am on my edges and usually well balanced and poised over my skis. I cut right through or ride out any bumps, edge right over ice, and ride through depressions. Occasionally, I do get caught by suprise and put into the backseat (i.e. off balance to the rear). It is only when I lose the edge, i.e. I am tiring and I am on the flats of my skis more than the edges, do I consider quitting in such conditions.

The women today were skiing at speeds pushing two times the speed I ski at and they had lighting every bit as flat as I have seen. When skiing at such speeds small bumps make a large impact and need to be anticipated. Not all irregularities are there when they are inspecting and practicing, some may form during the course of the event and hitting them at 80 mph or so by surprise is I am guessing every bit as unsettling for them as it is for myself.

Below we have the same location but under different lighting conditions. Hard to tell, but I will tell you, this is preferable to skiing in shade. Maybe it isn’t better but you don’t have brilliant light one instant and ultra flat the next, instead you have even light all around.

Flat but better than sun shade
Flat but better than shade

Good Stuff!

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