Swivelling in his chair, in the premises of the organizing committee for the world championships, Sébastien Santon has a direct view of a setting that occupies his mind almost full time: the Eclipse track, setting for the five men’s races ( downhill, super-G, giant, combined and slalom) in Courchevel. Its “wall of the brave”, in the lower part, is aptly named. The slope is extreme. “Even to go down on foot, in summer, it’s limited, testifies the one who is director of the gentlemen’s events. It is the track with the highest drop in the world. »
A descent at nearly 150 km/h
For the longest race, the descent, the skiers will set off at an altitude of 2,230 meters to finish 940 meters lower and 3.2 kilometers further on, in the hamlet of Le Praz. Along the way, they will have flirted with 150 km/h, swallowed big curves at high speed and taken jumps of more than 40 meters. “There will be no surprises, it’s technical and physical, the best will be in front”, predicts Sébastien Santon. “It’s really a beautiful track, well designed”confirms Xavier Fournier-Bidoz, head of the France team’s speed group.
The Eclipse was specially cut for the event, based on an older track, the Jockeys. Chainsaw and construction machinery engines came into action to widen the initial corridor and create the steep final straight, fully visible to spectators from the finish area. It was also necessary to bury kilometers of optical fiber and plan the locations of the 48 cameras. An investment of 17 million euros excluding tax, including the development of the water reservoir dug at the Col de la Loze to supply the 140 “snow guns”, which distributed artificial snowflakes from November to prepare the ground.
“You need turns to slow down skiers”
The track has only been used in competition once, for the finals of the Alpine Skiing World Cup, organized in March 2022. The test validated four years of work to find the right balance between entertainment and security. “Given the slope, you need turns to slow down the skiersrecalls Sébastien Santon. But a track must first stick to the terrain as it is. » On D-Day, more than 300 people will be mobilized to smooth the surface, put the doors back in place or control access.
In Méribel, the organizers were not starting from scratch. The Roc de Fer track, the scene of women’s races and parallel slaloms, has already been used for the 1992 Olympic Games and for the World Cup (in 2013 and 2015). The bottom of the course is also a permanent slalom stadium. “We did little work, only small improvements”says Yannick Favières, the director of the ladies’ events, from the timing booth overlooking the finish line.
“The closer we get to the deadline, the more snow is an enemy”
Like his counterpart in Courchevel, this other former competitor can count on battalions of volunteers to smooth and secure this track, which starts gently like a “blue” and ends steep like a “black”. The hard core of team members and instructors is organized into “commandos”. All are likely to intervene 24 hours a day, day and night. The tempo of their work will be given by the weather. “It is she who makes things simple or very complicated”sums up the man from Méribel.
The two event directors will constantly monitor the information provided by a meteorological expert, in particular snowfall forecasts. “The closer we get to the deadline, the more the snow is an enemy for us”, summarizes Yannick Favières. It will then be necessary to remove this layer of powder and, possibly, to redo the “base” of the track, a packed, moistened and icy surface which must withstand the repeated passages of the ski edges. Vacationers will have to wait. The Eclipse and the Roc de Fer will only be returned to them at the end of the world championships.