Canada calls on Utah snow experts

Monday, April 28th 2008, 2:04 pm
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- In Nordic skiing events at the Olympics, every second -- and every degree of temperature -- counts.

That's why Canada, which is hosting the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, is bringing in University of Utah experts to train its team of forecasters in the science of reading and predicting snow temperatures.

Understanding the temperature on the snow's surface helps athletes and coaches make critical decisions about what kind of wax to use and how it should be layered.

"Just slight differences in wax can make a big difference," said John Horel, a professor at the university's Department of Meteorology.

It may seem counterintuitive that Canada, no stranger to frigid conditions, would come calling to the United States for snow experts. But Horel helped develop high-tech modeling techniques used in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City that were later the basis for similar work at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. Sensors placed about a meter apart over the entire course provide a temperature map and help predict how snow conditions will change throughout the day.

"John's group at the University of Utah, this is the center of expertise for this kind of work," said Chris Doyle, Environment Canada's chief meteorologist for the 2010 Games.

Wendy Wagner, a former member of the U.S. Olympic ski team and now a graduate student at the university, began collecting data in February at Callaghan Valley near Whistler, British Columbia, where many of the Nordic events will be held.

She'll return to Canada in August to help train Environment Canada teams to forecast snow temperatures.

Environment Canada will have a team of three forecasters at each venue and will be assisted by volunteers collecting real-time measurements. Forecasts and other information will be shared with all teams. Some also bring their own forecasters, Doyle said.

Wagner, a 2002 Olympian, is able to describe both the science of snow forecasting and the information needed as an athlete, Horel said.

"It's kind of unique to have that perspective of an Olympic athlete," he said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)