South Korean Olympics officials preparing for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games arrive in La Plagne this week for expert training on maintaining its world-class bobsleigh run.
Built for the 1992 Albertville Olympics, the 1.5km track featuring 19 smooth curves is one of just a few built to such a high standard in the world. World-renowned for their specialist expertise, the team of Glaciers that tend it were chosen to work on the Sochi Olympic track for the last Winter Games, and now they’ve been called in by the South Koreans.
La Plagne’s dedicated team of track caretakers travelled to Pyeongchang in September and October to oversee the first ice-making on the new Olympic run. The job was made more difficult as they had to adapt their techniques to the different climate, which could throw hot winds or high humidity at them!
But thanks to their efforts the new track has now been approved by all official Olympic bodies, and the 10-strong South Korean team are in France to pick up tips on its maintenance.
La Plagne is proud of its ice track, which is open to the public for luge, bobsleigh and skeleton experiences all winter, and kept in tip-top condition for world racing championships. Former World Champion Bruno Mingeon, who grew up on the track, says: “Everyone likes La Plagne – there are lots of corners but they’re not dangerous, they’re quite safe.”
The expert team of Glaciers is led by Alain Bessard, who started in the role when the track opened in 1992.
He said: “We are the best in the world in La Plagne. When there’s a competition we’re up at 5am scraping the track with a knife also used for carving wood, and spraying it with water. Our team are dotted along the track watching closely for jumps. If a sled jumps it cuts into the ice and could split the track so we’re straight in there to smooth it out.”
The ice is usually 3cm thick – thicker on curves. The 30 Glaciers employed to look after the track play a significant role in the results table too – the smoother the track, the faster the sled.
Good care of the track to reduce the danger level is even more important to the teams. The sport’s last fatality was in 2004, but injuries are a regular occurrance.
French captain Loic Costerg, from La Plagne, says: “What makes La Plagne’s track great is that fact that its covered, north facing so its always cold and in a valley, so it’s protected from sun and wind.”