ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — According to one study, the Yupik dialect in central Siberia contains around 50 words for snow, whether it be the fluffy stuff, the mushy type or just the downright slippery variety.
Some of those descriptions might come in handy at the Sochi Olympics Alpine skiing center over the next few days, where snow conditions are dominating conversations and dividing opinions among the world’s top racers.
Ted Ligety, triple world champion and favorite for Friday’s super combined, joined the debate on Tuesday after getting his first feel of the snow since jetting in from Switzerland, and seemed happy enough.
Teammate Bode Miller, of Franconia, N.H., never short of a few words when discussing snowflakes, especially since rising temperatures softened the Rosa Khutor slope too much for his liking in Sunday’s downhill, was less enthusiastic.
The 36-year-old Miller blamed the weather for wrecking his hopes of gold in the downhill and fears the warmer conditions may harm his hopes of successfully defending his super combined title, saying softer snow favored slalom technicians such as Ligety.
An icy, unforgiving downhill gives speed specialists more of a chance in the super combined, allowing them to build larger time gaps over those who excel at zig-zagging between poles.
“There’s no difficult parts anymore. This whole course now is manageable for anybody,” said Miller, who was quickest in training under grey skies on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a tough race for me. When the conditions get like this, it’s just everything gets more even. It’s hard to make up time on anybody.”
Ligety, favorite for Friday’s race, famously won super combined gold in Turin in 2006 after coming back from a three-second deficit in the downhill.
The 29-year-old, who has been training in Austria in the past week, was 4.5 seconds slower than Miller on Tuesday but was relaxed about the conditions.
“I’m just getting a feeling for the speed of the hill and hopefully I can start ratcheting it up a notch,” said Ligety, who missed fellow American Julia Mancuso winning a bronze medal in the women’s super combined on Monday.
“Actually the snow on the hill is really good. They did a great job preparing the races so far.
“We’ll see. It could change a lot if it starts to rain and it gets warmer and stays cloudy.
“Hopefully, we’ll get some cold nights and it stays hard and compact otherwise it could get beat up pretty quickly.”
He also played down Miller’s assertion that the downhill course had transformed from a Siberian tiger into a pussy cat.
“It’s a challenging downhill,” Ligety, who won the super combined, super-G and giant slalom at last year’s world championships, said.
“That makes it all a bit up in the air. There are really no truly distinct favorites because someone like myself or (Alexis) Pinturault, we can have big swings in our downhill ability whereas someone like Bode can have huge swings on his slalom ability. I think that’s what makes it cool.”