Beijing 2022: An Adequate Downhill Course for 90mph?

The Beijing Winter Olympics start on February 4, 2022.  It will be the first city to have hosted a summer and then a winter Olympics.  As a skier this has me quite curious on how the alpine events will be accommodated, particularly the downhill discipline.  The Beijing (and surrounding area’s) climate and geography is in fact conducive to host a winter Olympics.  And the Chinese government is making sure that the infrastructure, logistics, support, and manufactured snow can be arranged, but I’m still left intrigued as the the design and suitability of the downhill race course.

Why the Downhill?…

In alpine ski racing there is a spectrum of disciplines (in ascending order of speed): slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and downhill. Slalom being the most technical/twisty, and downhill at the other end with the least amount of turns (meaning the highest speeds) and generally just follows the contours of the mountain.

Downhill is…

  • 90+ mph from gravity and waxed/slick skis pointed nearly straight downhill
  • Racers descend around 900 vertical meters (2900 feet) in about 2 minutes
  • Continuously oscillating squats of -1x (airtime)and 5x body-weight, also alternating leg to leg in the turns
  • 60 meter jumps
  • Two two-meter long, double-sided, razor sharp blades (skis) are bolted to the athletes’ feet
  • Protection: skin tight suit for aerodynamics (i.e. not protection), a helmet, and lots of faith in the run-off areas and safety netting

I posit that there is no greater test of a human’s courage, planning, nerves, execution, stamina, and power.  And with life-threatening consequences for even small mistakes any given course had better be world-class, tested, and accommodating with the latest in safety considerations and features.

The Downhill Establishment

There are downhill venues which are both historic and regular stops on the World Cup calendar: they have an indefinite hold on their respective winter weekends when the world’s elite racers arrive and are delighted to race on courses they grew up dreaming about. Some examples:

  • Kitzbuhel, Austria’s famous Streif course (since 1937)
  • Wengen, Switzerland’s Lauberhorn downhill (since the 1930’s)
  • Beaver Creek’s (Colorado) Birds of Prey downhill (since 1997, relatively new but now regular)
  • (Here’s a beautiful histogram on Wikipedia of Men’s downhill races.  Sadly I could not find an analogous page for Women’s races.)

These courses are time tested and continually tweaked for safety and technology improvements.  The Olympics run counter to this regularity, and most of the time necessitating a new venue to be purpose built for the particular winter Olympics.  Question: can a world class downhill be built safely for a one-off use?

Design, Build, Test…

It’s the classic project delivery cycle.  And absolutely a necessity if the world’s best (i.e. fastest) ski racers will be flying 90 miles per hour down a brand new Olympic race course.  It had better be fully vetted and adequately tested…

The Salt Lake City (USA) 2002 Olympics were similar circumstances to Beijing 2022.  Snowbasin (Utah) was identified for the downhill and super-G courses.  New trails were cut and a new ski lift was installed to bring personnel to the top of the course.  A national level (NorAm) competition was held, then a World Cup event hosted but only two days of training runs were completed before the rest of that World Cup race had to be cancelled.  With only training runs it still meant that world class skiers were racing the course and looking for speed in any angle, approach, nook, and cranny.  (And that included the legendary Herman Maier, who was the skier hurtling through the safety netting in a linked video earlier in this post!)  That’s the crux.  If a World Cup racer can find 0.4 more mph in a particular turn (e.g. 89.7 vs. 90.1mph) than national level competitors, how much more dangerous are the turns and jumps given that speed delta?  Has the course been engineered correctly for the elite level?

Are the run-off areas wide enough? Is the safety netting tall enough? Is the geometry of the landing areas at risk of not being long enough?

Is a downhill course fully vetted and adequately tested if it has only hosted national level competition?

Yanqing Alpine Ski Center

Located approximately 50 miles north of the city of Beijing, the Beijing 2022 organization has thoroughly showcased their focus and accomplishments on the supporting infrastructure (e.g. transportation) and logistics enhancement of their new world class venue.

The region and mountains selected for the downhill and super-G courses actually do not receive enough natural snowfall. While counterintuitively this can be good (because ski racers and organizers appreciate icey/rockhard courses which don’t change during the course of a race day), it can simply feel wrong and counter to the spirit of the winter Olympic games.  Ultimately this was a decision by the International Olympic Committee and Beijing’s proposal, that a successful games could still be hosted given the lack of natural snow.  At elite levels of competition it’s common to rely on artificial snow.  Such as in my home state of Vermont which hosts early season women’s races at Killington who are always eager to announce when ‘positive snow control’ is achieved.  But Vermont is a place associated with large quantities of snow.  Yanqing doesn’t receive much, and officials needed to start making snow on November 15 ahead of the February competition.

Bernhard Russi (an Olympic downhill course designer) lauded the Yanqing mountain (and the possibility of the ultimate course) back in 2019. A member of the design team for Yanqing’s downhill is Tom Johnson (US Team alpine technical advisor), who acknowledged the limitations on access and testing.

Formal testing?  The Chinese Winter Games (national level) hosted a downhill on the course in January 2020 (similar to the pattern of testing for Salt Lake City 2002).  But COVID and the pandemic precluded the arrival and racing by world class athletes for subsequent events.

  • A Men’s downhill and super-G were cancelled, originally scheduled for February 15, 2020.
  • A Women’s downhill and super-G were also cancelled, originally scheduled for February 27, 2021.


Nestled somewhere in the summits and topography of the new Yanqing Alpine Ski Center is a high speed downhill course. The Men’s downhill is scheduled for February 6, 2022 and the Women’s for February 15, 2022. At the very least I hope to have imparted an appreciation for the risk, racing peril, and logistics involved in the downhill event.  If you find yourself cheering on your respective compatriots during the downhill or super-G, please pause to consider that these are amazing athletes, made up of the right stuff, risking life and pushing the limit in extraordinary ways.

Britishized Slogans of American Companies

In a previous post, I had written (humorously, hopefully) on the contrast between American and European restaurant culture. Recently I’ve been digging through my Google drive and found a list I had written of corporate slogans and their respective translations into British parlance. The humor is all in the contrast IMHO, and how the British are quite particular and politic with any public messaging. My favorite British word: ‘sorted‘. I highly recommend giving it a try in your next professional conversation.


Original: Just do it

British: Say ‘sorted’ sooner


Original: Think different

British: Mind other potentially revealing perspectives


Original: It’s finger lickin’ good

British: So tasteful your fingers will be improperly dirty

Coca cola

Original: Open happiness

British: After opening, feel fresher


Original: I’m loving it

British: Difficult to detest

Dunkin Donuts

Original: America runs on Dunkin

British: Enjoy an American size portion of caffeine, and with a donut


Original: Get in the zone

British: Be immersed and focused with your automobile

Aflac (supplemental health insurance)

Original: Ask about it at work

British: You already have NHS

Quest Diagnostics

Original: The patient comes first

British: First the Queen, then wherever the patient is in queue. Please mind the queue.

Home depot

Original: More saving. More doing.

British: Be efficient with both your money and labor

Tractor Supply Company

Original: For life out here

British: For the Cotswolds or even further…

Wells Fargo

Original: Together we’ll go far

British: Banking so proper you won’t want to try anywhere else.

… how about the other way while we’re here …

Americanized slogans of British companies:

BT (British Telecom)

Original: It’s good to talk

American: Never miss an important post, DM, or stream. Ever.

Tesco (super and express markets)

Original: Every little helps

American: Everything you need, quickly

British Airways

Original: The world’s favorite airline

American: The best airline in the universe

Marks & Spencer (grocer and department store)

Original: The customer is always and completely right

American: We promise you won’t go wrong


Original: Make the most now

American: Grab life and do your thing


Original: Own a Jaguar at a price of a car

American: Get in a Jag now, we’ll figure out the financing (subject to terms and conditions, assuming an 84.7 month lease, medium-good credit score or verbally stated income stream(s), and variable interest financing adjusting every 39 days but not to exceed 200 basis points movement or fall below the predominant Greek 10 years bond rate whichever is higher, subject to cancellation and not available in the states of Idaho, Florida, or Reno Nevada due to ongoing litigation)

From London to Applebees

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

This post requires a little bit of context. At the end of 2019 my wife and I were preparing to move back to the USA after more than two years living and working in central London. It was a very fun and educational time with lots of travel, but there were cultural things I missed back in the USA. I wrote the following missive and shared with a thousand strong social media group of American ex-pats. If you have ever lived or worked in Europe I would hope you could recognize the humorous contrast, or otherwise enjoy how much fun a trip to Applebees actually is…

I’m an American who has been living abroad in London for the past 10 months.  There are some things I really miss.  But this is why I love to travel: because while you’re learning about your destination, you’re also learning about where you came from.

I’m looking forward to being home.  I still am enjoying my time abroad, but there are things I will certainly cherish when I get home.

I want to share a story of how I want my first Friday to go when I get back Stateside.  I want to do something so ordinary, and just enjoy it because the following simply isn’t possible in Europe.

I want to go to Applebees.

I’ll drive my car into the dedicated parking lot, and find a spot that is astronomically wide.

As I walk through the front door, I am enveloped by the aroma of hamburger.  I will be greeted by a high-school aged host/ess with a huge amount of cheerfulness and acne.  Directly behind said hostess will be an employee in training awkwardly trying not to be awkward.

My friends and I shall be seated in a booth with seat backs that are six feet tall, and I will sit down and sink a full five inches into the cushioning.

The menus will already be at the table, filed neatly behind the salt and pepper shakers.  But before I can reach for the menu, a bus-person brings a 40 oz plastic cup of iced water, and leaves me with a giant straw, and then drops four spare straws on the table just-in-case.

The menus are opened, and they contain more pictures than words.  I don’t need to try to visualize what is offered by the menu, the pictures do that for me.  Every word on the menu is in English.

The waiter/waitress arrives and as I order my burger, I am delightfully informed that I can substitute sweet potato fries, and I will accept the offer.  Guacamole will only be $1 extra, and I will take that as well.

The waiter rushes away with our order.  Suddenly five other wait staff members emerge from the kitchen, all clapping in unison.  Hooting and hollering they proceed to the table next to my booth, and surround one of the guests.  A baritone and multi-tune rendition of “The Happy Birthday Song” is sung.  Not “Happy Birthday” because that’s still under copyright and Applebees’ lawyers have wisely sidestepped that liability.  And as an American, I greatly appreciate that legal distinction and make comments about it to the rest of the people at my table.

Beer arrives within 67 seconds, served in a super-chilled mug that causes some of the water content to freeze on the surface.  Someone at the table will assuredly remark that the freezing temperature of alcohol is “actually wicked lower than when water freezes.”  (This Applebees is located in Massachusetts.)

My burger arrives, and I know it’s mine and with the correct temperature because stuck in the top of the bun is a color coded toothpick.  Only now is the full design of the booth appreciated.  After initially sliding and sinking into said booth, the level of the table is perfect so that one can place forearms against the edge of the table, hold a burger, gently lean in, and form a perfect triangle with torso, arms & table so that the burger hovers over the plate and catches all over-spilling condiments and toppings.

The waiter will perform two perfectly timed flybys of the table to ask how things are going.  (Both times, my mouth will be full and mid-chew, but a quick glance and a sigh will convey the message.)  The ketchup bottle is empty but a new one appears within 9.4 seconds.  Usain Bolt ran 100 meters in a lethargic 9.58 seconds.

Plates are cleared as soon as we finish, and my forearms can now stretch out across the table as I lean back.  I sink even further into the booth’s cushioning, achieving post-meal Stage 2 depth.

“Would you like some dessert?”  It’s the most delightful upsell attempt, but the answer is always ‘no’ and the next step in the protocol will be “I’ll get your check right away.”  Note, to get the check I did not have to do any of the following (as one might do in Europe): sit idly for 2 hours, chase down the waiter at the other end of the restaurant, or stay past the closing time of the restaurant.

Credit cards are swiped, and I’m back on my feet no more than 36 minutes after I first sank into the booth for the meal.  The question: where besides the USA can you do a sit-down meal in half an hour?  The correct answer is not France.

The food portions were just a little bit more than I needed, and as a result it’s a relaxed and careful walking pace as we make our way out the front door.  An utmost attempt is made to avoid eye-contact with the dozen people waiting for a table, who are murderously envious of our condition.

Outside, it’s sunny, and hot.  Probably really hot and humid.  The car is two first-downs away from the restaurant front door, while walking it’s just enough time to situate your sunglasses on the bridge of your nose and run your hand through your hair.  We slide into the car, which is an oven, but one minute later we’re bathed in Air Conditioning powered by a large V6 engine.

I pop the car into ‘D’ for Drive, glide out of the parking lot, and make a right onto Main Street and half a mile later merge onto the highway.  Then it’s 70 mph all the way home.

I love America.