Ski cross: Five ways to get down the hill in one piece

The Winter Olympics' newest event began. Ski cross, like its snowboarding cousin, is a four-man melée down bumpy, jumpy slopes. American Olympian Casey Puckett offers his tips.

Casey Puckett competes in the ski cross qualification runs at the Vancouver Winter Olympics Sunday. This is the first Olympics that has included ski cross.
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Up to four racers battling it out on a narrow course over a variety of obstacles and terrain. High-speed crashes are common - but intentional contact illegal.

Ski cross made its debut at the Winter Olympics Sunday, with the men skiing first.

After snowboardcross made its bow at the Turin Winter Olympics four years ago, ski cross will look familiar. It’s the same format, only on skis, with four skiers going down a slope studded with bank turns and jumps. First one down wins.

Getting down, however, is where the fun comes in.

Following in the new Winter Olympics roller-derby spirit of short track speedskating and snowboardcross, ski cross can be a rough ride for competitors – jounced by bumps and elbowed by other skiers.

The US team is made up of two former Olympic alpine skiers who switched over once their careers going down the mountain solo were over: Casey Puckett and Daron Rahlves.

This is Puckett’s fifth Winter Olympics, tying him with bobsled driver Brian Shimer for the most Winter Olympic appearances all-time by an American. As an alpine skier, he made his name as a risk-taker – actually crashing out of all his races in the 1992 Albertville Games.

Here, he talks about how to stay upright in the Olympics’ newest event:

1. Have a plan

With three jostling skiers around you, things are bound to change as you go down the hill, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a game plan.
“Your game plan is done before you get into the gate,” Puckett said before the Olympics began.

The key is to know the course well enough to know where you can make a move, and where you have to stay conservative.

2. Start fast

As with BMX, which made its debut at the Beijing Olympics, the start can be everything. The skier who races from the front has an advantage, given that he can often stay ahead of all the jockeying – and all the argy-bargy that goes along with it.

“If I win the start, I’m probably going to win the race,” said Puckett.

3. Don’t do anything stupid

Everyone wants to finish first. But to do that, you can’t crash, and no one wants an opponent to take him out.

With skiers going four wide over jumps and through compression turns, “sometimes it’s important to talk,” said Puckett. “You want to make sure nothing stupid happens.”

There are unwritten rules of etiquette to ski cross, actually. “If you’re going into a corner, whoever is behind in that situation – who could cause a crash – should back off,” he said.

4. Brace yourself

But those rules are unwritten. “Right now, [the rules] are pretty loose”, Puckett said.

Of course, “there’s a lot of flailing poles out there, but that’s what makes it fun,” he smiles.

The less obvious shenanigans are going on down below, like kicking each other skis.

“It’s difficult to referee,” he said. “There are not too many disqualifications.”

5. Watch out for the wild ones

Still, the veterans tend to manage the course pretty well, generally. The problem is when a young guy “comes out trying to make a name for himself by taking risks,” Puckett said.

“You have to take him aside and say, ‘No, this is not the way it’s done,’ ” he adds. “If I take you out, then someone is going to take me out. It doesn’t work.”

Women’s ski cross, in which two Canadians and the Frenchwoman Ophelia David are the favorites, is scheduled for Tuesday.


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