KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — A look at how warmer weather affects athletes in various outdoor sports at the Winter Olympics:
ALPINE SKIING: Cold keeps the snow along the course icier and therefore more compact and slick. Warm temperatures can melt and soften the snow, which changes the way a skier approaches a run, and sometimes which particular skis they decide to use. During a race, softer snow means it's easier to make turns, but it also slows skiers down, so they can take more risks and be more aggressive — and they need to attack more, because otherwise they won't generate the necessary speed, particularly in an event such as the downhill, which the women race Wednesday.
HALFPIPE: There's a phrase riders use when the temperature soars and the condition of the halfpipe wanes: mashed potatoes. That mush slows riders down, making it harder to get enough air to pull off all the flips and twists required to wow the crowd. It's sort of like the difference between backing your car out of your driveway with 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground, then trying the same thing in slush; the car slides through hard-packed snow, but sinks in the goopy stuff. As the temperature climbs toward freezing or above, the halfpipe gets slower.
SLOPESTYLE: The firmer the snow surface, the better it is for slopestyle skiers and snowboarders, because it gives the athletes a truer takeoff point, and as in halfpipe, less speed means less air for tricks.
SNOWBOARDCROSS: The athletes in snowboarding's version of NASCAR aren't quite as finicky as their halfpipe and slopestyle counterparts. Racing down a mountain several times a day under constantly changing conditions makes riders make quick adjustments, particularly with what kind of wax is on their board. It can be overcast and below freezing in the morning, then sunny and balmy in the afternoon. Soft snow can slow things down considerably and turn races into more as much about strategy as speed. Alex Deibold of the U.S. brought eight boards to Sochi, double his usual number, so he and the team wax technician can find the right setup.
SKI JUMPING: When the artificial snow in the landing area for the jump hill softens under the sun, there are injury risks for the athletes. Landing becomes bumpy, which can throw competitors off-balance and make them fall. Also, their skis could dig too far into the snow. The ramp itself is unaffected by temperatures, because it's kept cool by a refrigeration unit.