Winter Olympics 2006 Blogspot

Follow all the action from Turin and the Piedmont Alps as the 20th Winter Olympics gets underway in Italy

Winter Olympics Blogs by Date:

February 25, 2006
The End of the Olympics—and the Continuation of Winter

February 22, 2006
Leaving the Olympic Circus for Alpine Powder Paradise

February 21, 2006
It's the Small Things that Matter in the Giant Slalom

February 20, 2006
North American Ice Hockey Gets a Euro Grounding

February 17, 2006
Hockey, Cinema, Culture, and Cuisine in Turin

February 16, 2006
Mountain Drama Dissipates as Downtown Turin Events Gear Up

February 15, 2006
Ted Ligety's Gold Brings Alpine Glow to U.S. Ski-Racing Team

February 14, 2006
U.S. Snowboarding Dominance Continues with a Ladies One-Two

February 12, 2006
Winter Olympics Showpiece Event Produces Rich Drama

February 10, 2006
Bring On Sestriere and Super Sunday’s Downhill

February 9, 2006
Pre-Opening Ceremonies, Our Man is Ticketless but Well-Fed

February 3, 2006
The Anatomy of an Italian Meal

February 1, 2006
Turin Gets Ready to Greet the World

Turin Gets Ready to Greet the World

Despite some expected naysayers and the brunt of Old Man Winter’s first big hit, Turin and Piedmont are gearing up for the main event on February 10.

View across the Piazza Castello, venue for the Winter Olympics' Medals Plaza (Filippo Gallino/courtesy, Citta' di Torino)

A Turin Olympics Glossary
Tune in over the Winter Olympics as we take an alphabetical wander through the highlights of Turin and some of the buzzwords you’ll hear over the media airwaves.

"Neve Inferno" screamed the Torino Cronaca's January 28 headline, this neve referring to the heavy snow that had paralyzed northwestern Italy's Piedmont region just 12 days before the start of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin. And questions were being asked about the region's capacity to pull off a successful Games if a foot of snow was able to inflict such chaos. The Torino Cronaca's lead story reported, "Traffico in tilt, scule chiuse, la citta' Olimpica cominica male."

Traffic jammed, schools closed, the Olympic city starts badly.

Stalled on the interstate for over two hours and barely able to make progress up into the main valley, our media group abandoned its attempt to get a sneak preview of the Olympic venues in the mountains west of Turin. Disappointed, we wondered what the chaos might look like if another storm hits when one million spectators and the world's media are on the ground.

Ironically, I'd asked Francesca Mei of the Turin Olympics Regional Organizing Committee the day before about the well-reported lack of snow at skiing and snowboarding venues like Bardonecchia and Sestriere. Snow was being made around the clock to prep the slopes, so "the only problem could be for television reasons," she smiled. NBC will now get their snowy Alpine panoramas and the venues their much-needed snow, but Turin's transport system also got a shot in the arm for its chaotic dress rehearsal.

Yet despite these pre-Games headaches, things will be ready for the opening ceremonies on February 10. Better still, Turin promises to be a richly rewarding venue for a number of fascinating reasons that go beyond seeing Bode Miller burning up the piste or Michelle Kwan finally picking up her long-awaited gold.

Tough Crowd
Culturally, this northern home of Italy's auto- and textile-manufacturing industries is nothing like the flamboyant, hot-blooded provinces in the south. More reserved and conservative, it seems the locals, the Torinese, have been something of a hard sell when it comes to the joys of hosting one of the world's biggest sporting events. "Buja né" is the Piedmontese phrase used by Christian Mezerra, a spokesman for the city's gabled Olympic Pavilion (officially named the Torino Atrium), to describe the outlook of his fellow citizens. It means "no budging."

And they may have good reason for being circumspect about the approaching Olympic juggernaut, having endured years of transport headaches, political wrangling, and a costly $2.5-billion reconfiguration of their entire city in the run-up to the quadrennial snow- and ice-fest. Even on the day of the storm, with local buses running behind schedule all over the city, already overwrought Torinese on one city bus were informed halfway through its route that it was cancelled for snow reasons—and because the road had been shut to complete last-minute Olympic preparations.

Disgruntled commuters aside, however, plans are falling into place to deal with the roadshow that's about to roll into town. Some 2,000 taxis will be deployed to roam the streets, up from a fleet of only several hundred; some 37 miles of Olympic travel lanes will be sectioned off to ease the flow of shuttles and official transport; and certain facilities around the city have been rigged with the motherlode of cabling to feed the media's need for instant Internet access.

No doubt, there are wrinkles that still need ironing, but officials will tell you that this was the same for Athens, Salt Lake, and most, if not all, Olympic host cities. One Olympics spokesperson told ESPN that Turin's state of readiness was akin to a party host straightening his necktie before the guests arrive, though in some cases it may be that most unfinished business will just be hidden.

A City on the Rebound
It's also true that the blueprint for this Olympics has always been about more than just putting on a good show. Nothing short of a 21st-century renaissance, Turin's tired industrial footprint has been transformed by a bold project of urban revitalization. The Olympics play an integral part in this reinvention, though the big show isn't intended to be the final word. Turin's industrial arteries and factories, the legacy of its place as the home of Italy's Fiat auto-making industry, stood as "sad ornaments to what the city once was, not what it is and will be," says Torino Atrium's Christian Mezerra. The Olympics will "upgrade the city to a higher level," he enthuses, one that will attract tourists, investors, and the world's big cultural, sporting, and business events. The Olympics, organizers hope, will be the springboard to a bright new future for Turin.

The central tenet of Turin's successful Olympics bid was, in fact, predicated around construction and facilities that would meld into a cityscape of medieval, Baroque, and Belle Époque architecture. All development, bar speed skating's new Oval Lingotto, reuses existing spaces and will be repurposed once the five-ring circus leaves town. The units in the athletes' Olympic Village will be sold off as condos, Torino soccer club will move into the Olympic Stadium, the Medals Plaza and sponsors' Olympic Pavilion will melt away, as if unworthy to offset the beauty of the city's elegant piazzas and Baroque arcades for any significant length of time. The 2006 Winter Olympics will put Turin on the map as a modern, dynamic city, but life after the Olympics is what many civic leaders—and no doubt a contingent of Olympics-weary Torinese—are really dreaming about.

Tourism will play a big part in this future, and Turin is certainly something of a diamond in the rough, often overlooked for the international fashion repute of Milan two hours east or the historic draw of Genoa on the Mediterranean coast several hours southeast of Turin. The city's tourism board estimates some 850,000 visitors for 2006, while Giuliana Manaca, Regione Piemonte's sports and tourism minister, targets a doubling of tourism revenue from 1.5 percent to 3 percent of overall GDP as a result of the Games.

Host It and They Will Come
"It's a beautiful city with more than 2,000 years of history," notes Christian Mezerra. And he's right, Turin does have its beauty, even if it's not as visually arresting as, say, Rome or Florence. Elegant arcades march down the stately Piazza Vittorio Veneta toward the Po River and hills beyond, ornate palaces and apartments of Savoy royalty greet you at near every turn, and the 2,000-year-old shoulders of the original Roman city gate stand as an almost forgotten reminder of how long this city has lived.

But ultimately it's the people, fiercely proud of their region, their cuisine, and their part in the birth of the modern Italian republic, who'll be Turin's best ambassadors. Rarely exuberant yet quietly generous, they exude a sincerity that tells you they're happy you're discovering what they've known all along.

And as for the Olympics? Sure, the Torinese have taken their own sweet time putting on their party face—but this is Italy, remember, and there's always time.

On the same evening that sub-zero temps and a frigid weather front was about to unleash il neve and the chaos of January 28, we came across long lines of huddled locals queuing under the porticos of Piazza San Carlo and Piazza Castello. What were they waiting for? our guide asked one middle-aged man. Tickets to the nightly medal ceremonies and concerts at the still-unfinished Medals Plaza on Piazza Castello. Thousands of people were waiting patiently in the numbing cold, some for as long as eight hours, to get their hands on that once-in-a-lifetime Olympic memory. And when people finally walked out into the cold evening air with their tickets, a cheer from the crowd would ring out across the piazza in celebration.

Finally, it seems, the Torinese are now ready to party with the world.

Pre-Opening Ceremonies, Our Man is Ticketless but Well-Fed

Outside Online's on-the-ground Winter Olympics correspondent arrives in Turin in time for rush-hour—and the nightly Fiat horn symphony.

A Turin Olympics Glossary
Tune in over the Winter Olympics as we take an alphabetical wander through the highlights of Turin and some of the buzzwords you’ll hear over the media airwaves.

I left Verbier, Switzerland, on Thursday afternoon and crossed into Italy through the St. Bernard tunnel. The second you come out of the tunnel and into Valle d'Aosta you know you aren't in the land of Swiss precision anymore. Everything in Italy is a little looser; at times almost rundown but with that Old World charm that just reeks of the pervading dolce vita. Every strategic hillside throughout Piedmont and Aosta is dominated by a decrepit Savoyard castle, remnants of their rule through the 16th to 18th centuries in northern Italy. As the valleys widened, the gnarled winter vines of area vineyards, dormant and stretched in orderly rows lined with crumbling stone walls, ushered me south toward Turin and my first sight of the 2006 Olympics scene.

I managed to hit Turin in a little under two hours just before 5 p.m., but rush hour was well underway and Olympic traffic only compounded the problem. It took me 90 minutes to find my hotel, far from the action in the San Paolo district southwest of the city center. I swear the national anthem of Italy is a Fiat horn, constantly blaring as if it actually makes a difference and gets you there any quicker.

Trying to track down the media center was no breeze, either. Although there are thousands of helpful volunteers in Torino 2006 gear all over the city, they all manage to tell you something different and don't appear to be all that well coordinated (beyond the fashion get up, that is). After being booted from the "official" accreditation center (I have the distinction of being "non-accredited media"), I gave up and headed towards the Piazza Castello, where the Medals Plaza is set up in the heart of the old city.

Despite the busy, industrial feel of the southern part of town, Turin's town center and the ancient Roman quarter are distinctly more happening and aesthetically pleasing. The Via Roma and Via Garibaldi are glitzy window-shopping zones, while the quadrilatero Romano is a funky neighborhood of twisting narrow alleyways full of winebars and shoe shops.

I asked my cab driver for the name of a good-value restaurant that the locals rate. He delivered with the molto authentico Da Mauro, a favorite of the city's Juventus soccer team, whose photos from the last three decades line the walls. A hand-typed menu (Olivetti HQ is in Turin) had incredible primis of pasta, secondis of meat and fish (I went with the vitello con rucola), and nothing was over ten Euros. A big Peroni, a half-bottle of Barbera, and I was out for less than 30 bucks.

Just as I was leaving, I overheard some English from behind me and looked to see the familiar face of Billy Bush walk in the door. A friend of a friend and the mouthpiece of Access Hollywood, he was in town covering the human element of the Games for NBC and stumbled into Da Mauro much as I had. I joined them for another glass of wine and a digestif, then made my way back to the hotel.

Opening ceremonies go down tomorrow and I don't have a single ticket in hand as of yet. I need to figure out the city, public transportation, and find out where I can actually access a press area.

Bring On Sestriere and Super Sunday's Downhill

A first taste of mountain air following the "rhythm, passion, speed"... and Eurotrash pop spectacle that is the Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

Winter Olympics 2006
Frutte del Mare: Indoor market stall at Turin's Piazza della Republicca (Jack Shaw)

A Turin Olympics Glossary
Tune in over the Winter Olympics as we take an alphabetical wander through the highlights of Turin and some of the buzzwords you’ll hear over the media airwaves.

Opening Ceremonies went down last night and the center of the city actually quieted down for a few hours. I picked my girlfriend up yesterday at the aeroporto, which was an adventure within itself. Another example of Turin rushing to update their transportation system at the last minute, it hardly resembles any international airport I have ever seen.

We caught a few minutes of the Opening Ceremonies in the downtown Piazza San Carlo, which has a big screen broadcasting non-stop Olympics action on RAI Sport (Italy's main sport broadcaster). After that, we watched the teams' entrances and the lighting of the torch from the hotel bar; missed the big man Luciano Pavoratti but managed to catch the Yoko Ono segment. I know the whole world is watching, but the OC always seems to be a sad representation of what passes for worldwide pop culture. I need to see some sports soon.

It has been a week since I left my home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where we're experiencing our best winter in a decade. The Alps are looking pretty dry, but I'm feeling the pull of the mountains regardless and need to get out of the city. The Downhill is Sunday in Sestriere, and that's the main event of these games as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday morning we went to the Piazza della Republicca, where Europe's biggest market happens daily. There are people hawking everything you can imagine, from knock-off sunglasses and jeans to fish, fruit, and cuts of meat you can't imagine people actually eat. It is such a trip to have vendors hollering at you about their wares and teasing you in Italian. The Pescheria (fish market) was especially outrageous, with the pungent odor and visual buffet creating a sensory overload. We stocked up on Prosciutto San Daniele and Grana Padano cheese and headed to Sestriere for the Men's DH tomorrow.

I was told you couldn't park in Oulx, the mountain gateway about 50 miles west of Turin, without a permit, but we breezed right in and located the shuttle bus to the mountain events fairly easily. Scalpers were all over the parking area, selling luge, ski jumping, and freestyle tickets. It was reassuring to see that there were tickets available, but I still felt an urgency to get up to the alpine base and square away seats for tomorrow.

Getting up to Sestriere took about an hour, passing through Cesana (home to the biathalon and luge) along the way. Thankfully, we scored tickets to the DH with no problem, worked our way into the USA house, and met up with the Ski Racing magazine crew, Jonny Moseley, Resi Steigler, and Ted Ligety. Big things are expected of Team USA and there is an exciting air of anticipation here in Sestriere. I can't wait until tomorrow... it feels like Christmas Eve up here.

Winter Olympics Showpiece Event Produces Rich Drama

A red, white, and blue day—but not for U.S. stars Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller—as Frenchman Antoine Deneriaz storms to a stunning victory in the Men’s Downhill.

A Turin Olympics Glossary
Tune in over the Winter Olympics as we take an alphabetical wander through the highlights of Turin and some of the buzzwords you’ll hear over the media airwaves.
Winter Olympics 2006
Allez! Allez!: Boisterous Frenchman celebrating Antoine Deneriaz's victory, despite the attentions of a Caribinieri in hot pursuit.

The atmosphere in Sestriere on Men's Downhill day was alive with the festival-like scene that can only be witnessed in a European ski village during a race. Fan clubs from all over the Alps sported their favorite skiers' names on their outfits, and ranged from Rahlves' Squaw Valley army of American flag-waving ski bums to the Swiss supporters of Didier Defago and Bruno Kernen, already half-mashed on eau de vie with matching hats and cowbells, singing "Svizzera, Svizzera, Svizzeraaaa..."

Consistent with organizational efforts witnessed in the past few days, the entrances were barely manned and multiple gates were unused, so it took over an hour in line just to get in. Inside the gates, you had to walk a half-mile down a steep, icy, muddy trail to the spectator area at Borgata, which definitely weeded out the punters. We made it down the hill unscathed and found our seats in the "category A" zone. It's frustrating to find tickets for sale in the cheap seats, but "temporarily unavailable" once you get to the point of sale. The standing-room seats are where the rowdy fans gather, and only cost 30 Euros, as opposed to 110 Euros for the stands.

It was a perfect bluebird day, and not too cold when the forerunners started about ten minutes before showtime. Bode Miller drew the 18th starting spot and Ralves got 20th, not too late but definitely a ways behind the Austrian favorites like Fritz Strobl (fourth) and Michael Walchhofer (tenth). The course looked icy and firm at a distance from the weeks' worth of impregnation from the water jets. One of the last forerunners had a helmetcam and it was incredibly chattery from his POV.

You couldn't see much of the course from the spectator area, only after about the one-minute-thirty mark. But a jumbo-tron at the scoreboard picked up all the rest of the action and the crowd reached a frenzy by the time Australia's Craig Branch lined up to start. He skied a respectable run, but his lead wouldn't last long.

Strobl held the early lead by skiing a clean and smooth run, typical of a former Olympic champion. His teammate Michael Walchhofer took a different approach, skiing loose and gambling, but kept it together to take the lead convincingly. This year's DH points leader looked like he would be wearing gold unless Bode or Daron could knock him off the podium.

Bode skied a loose run, relaxed but not necessarily taking the chances that he has made his trademark. It left him .41 seconds behind Walchhofer and in fourth place. Rahlves was visibly amped in the starthouse but his split times showed that he was losing speed the whole way down the course. He finished a disappointing tenth. "I think D may have just been too psyched up," said Ski Racing's Gary Black after the race.

But it was a Frenchman who stunned the crowd, many of whom began to leave after Rahlves' run. The clouds came in briefly around 1 p.m., putting a chill in the air that cooled the course briefly. Antoine Deneriaz, starting from the hinterlands in 30th position, had an astonishing first split time and the French fans surrounding me began to scream and yell. "Mon dieu," I said, when he reached the midpoint and his time was a half-second ahead of the Austrian. He crossed the finish .72 ahead, a lifetime by DH standards, and the crowd went wild.

I relocated to where the fan clubs were massed in the "pits" to get a look at the Deneriaz camp celebrations. They had his dad on their shoulders, the Tricolore was flying high, and one excited Frenchman had climbed a lift tower to wave the flag for his countryman. The Caribinieri were having none of that, and despite a volley of snowballs from the crowd, they eventually coerced him down and took him away.

After the race I ran into Picabo Street, who said she had talked to all of the U.S. boys after the race. "They told me they left it all on the hill today," she said. "It coulda been wax or weather, but every time you roll the dice, anything can happen. Antoine skied a technically perfect run and it was an abrasive, chattery course up there. Really hard to hold a line and you gotta give him credit for that."

Later, I bumped into Baby Huey, the U.S. Ski Team's "starthouse motivator" and Daron's strength coach, who told me about some debacle with Atomic skis the night before the race. Apparently they dropped off new cap-technology skis for Bode and Daron to use (the Austrians had the same offer but declined). After Bode's run, Daron switched back to a trusted pair with less than two minutes to go before his run. I'll see if I can find out more on this later.

All in all, an amazing day up at Sestriere. The same stroke of luck that finds many Olympians found Antoine Deneriaz today, and he was a graceful champion. It has been his dream since exploding his knee on the Chamonix course last season to win the Olympic gold, and he did it in a big way. As Tommy Moe told me, "You don't have to be the fastest guy in the world, you just have to be the fastest that one day..."

U.S. Snowboarding Dominance Continues with a Ladies One-Two

Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler ape the men's snowboarding team's success, while the hunt for (reasonably priced) tickets goes on in the melée that is Olimpico Torino.

Winter Olympics 2006
The Bardonecchia halfpipe in a moment of calm before Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler shredded to a U.S. top-two finish. (Paolo Libertini)

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
We continue our alphabetical odyssey through the Turin Winter Olympics' lexicon. Today:

Tuesday, February 14th

Valentine's Day. No Alpine events yesterday, but the girls kicked ass in the halfpipe, further underscoring U.S. snowboarding dominance. After Shaun White and Danny Kass took gold and silver in the men's event on Sunday, expectations were high for the ladies. With returning champion Kelly Clark, teen upstart Hannah Teter, and veteran Gretchen Bleiler (all of 26 years old) on the team roster, there was a more than compelling case for a clean sweep by Team USA. But it wasn't to be, as Clark took a fall on a 900-degree aerial attempt at the end of her second run and got bumped off the podium by Norway's Kjersti Buaas.

Back in Turin, the hunt for tickets continued. There were a couple of makeshift scalper offices that had sprouted up in the shops around the Medals Plaza, boosted by American salesmen and an army of the best field agents in the game, all on working "holiday" from the States. One fight even broke out in the RazorGator office, as two of the scalpers vied for the distinction of "best in the world." I think it was Fat Tony from Atlanta who won, but I can't be sure.

Tickets are available for everything, if you're willing to pay the price. I saw figure-skating tix go for 450 Euros, but other events are surprisingly close to face-value. The most frustrating thing is the huge blocks of corporate tickets and sponsor/VIP seats that either go unused or that people bring in to the scalpers' offices to sell or trade. And the agents in the official ticket sales outlets are typically Italian; one salesperson with 100 people in line. If I hear "dispiace, but the computers are down" again I may lose it. Incredibly inefficient. But I did find out that you can buy tickets in every San Paolo bank, which has somewhat reliable computers.

I may just stick with the scalpers. But they don't have many of the mountain events covered down in Turin, so the best bet is to go back up to Sestriere to score some tickets for the Men's Combined and the Women's DH.

So last night after scrambling for more ski tickets, we found a Slow Food restaurant off Via Garibaldi called Taverna dei Giutti. "Slow Food" was a concept hatched here in Piedmont, and is an association of restaurants that have an esteemed following and very strict code of quality. This place didn't disappoint, as we had a "Degustazione Menu" for 22 Euros each and a 19-Euro Nebbiolo wine. The chef and two servers ran the place by themselves and kept us occupied with outrageous dishes like a soft-boiled egg en croute with a black truffle sauce, and an incredible gnocchi naturale. If it weren't for the Grappa Miele (with honey) to break it all down, I would have rolled out of there.

We walked dinner off with a stroll down the Via Po and strolled along the river, which usually tees off every night with dozens of nightclubs. I guess Mondays are the same for the clubs as with the museums—chiuso. Oh well, everyone needs a day off.

At the moment I am back in Sestriere, having scored a pair of tickets to the Combined an hour before the Downhill portion. Actually, my girl got them for us as a Valentine's present, which is a now tradition now after I did the same for her in Salt Lake in 2002. More on how things shake out in this event tomorrow...

Ted Ligety's Gold Brings Alpine Glow to U.S. Ski-Racing Team

Following favorite Bode Miller's dramatic disqualification, 21-year-old Ted Ligety steps up to win only the fourth U.S. Alpine skiing gold ever and the first for the American team in the 2006 Games.

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
We continue our alphabetical odyssey through the Turin Winter Olympics' lexicon. Today:
Sestriere Borgata's Slalom course
Field of Dreams: Sestriere Borgata's Slalom course on Men's Combined night

Wednesday, February 15

I am a bit dinged up this morning after a big night at the USA house, which is actually a bar called the Irish Igloo that serves as the hospitality center for the duration of the Games. One of our boys finally cracked the podium yesterday, but it wasn't who you'd think. And it was definitely cause for celebration.

After the Downhill run of the Men's Combined, Bode Miller sat comfortably in the lead by a margin of 0.32 seconds. He was still using his new skis, but substantial edge damage from hitting a rock in Sunday's disappointing DH had his technicians scrambling to grind them down to make them race-ready. They seemed to work for him, and he skied a run that ironed out all of Sunday's kinks. Austrian Benny Raich loomed in second, and Ivica Kostelic of Croatia was still in the hunt.

As I mentioned Sunday, Sestriere Borgata, the site of the speed events, is at the bottom of a steep hill and the access is a half-mile muddy trail. The preferred footwear for these Winter Olympics appears to be Moon Boots, still alive and well in northern Italy. By the end of the DH run the entire venue was a mud bog, so we opted to take a chairlift up to town that was moving as slow as a dog with fleas. It did afford us a great view of the masses, trudging uphill through the muck.

The slalom runs didn't begin until 5 p.m., so everyone filtered back out into town and filled the restaurants and bars and spilled out into the streets. Not near as rowdy a crowd as for the DH, but a carnival nonetheless. I grabbed a quick plate of raclette cheese at the Swiss hospitality house with a vin chaud, and we bought some beers to take into the Slalom.

The security here at the Games is on display, though there's a certain Italian flavor to less cataclysmic acts of civil disobedience. In fact, I saw two Caribinieri buying beers at 10:30 a.m. before the DH at the market, then stuffing them into their pockets and smiling at us.

The Slalom course was lit up and shined with an icy glaze. We walked up to a vantage point about 400 meters above the finish line for the first run. While it isn't my favorite discipline, you can't help but be amazed by the speed and precision of these guys. They dice up that course with short little Ginsu skis, hammering the gates. It is impressive to watch up close.

I couldn't see the big-screens from where we were, but a roar from the crowd meant Bode was on course. He came into view with that distinctive back-seat style that has revolutionized ski racing, upper body smooth and still with his legs swinging wide and impossibly making every gate. Or so it seemed. He blazed by and at the finish another loud cheer meant he still had first place. A gold was inevitable at this point.

By the time we reached our seats, his name was no longer on the leaderboard. Benjamin Raich was in first, followed by Kostelic, and American Ted Ligety sitting in third. A half-hour had gone by with Bode in the lead, so what could have happened? Apparently one of the coaches (Austrian, I believe... go figure) demanded a video review of his run and he'd "straddled" a gate by an inch. At the speeds they go, and as many gates they have to make, it's not hard to do. But yet again, the FIS gods frowned on Miller and he was disqualified.

It would be an hour before the second course was set, so the crowd again dispersed into town and continued to party. We checked into the Igloo to warm up, get a bowl of Barilla pasta, and watch the replays on TV. Despite an air of disappointment from Bode's DQ, hopes in the USA house were still high for Ligety, who has been skiing very well this season and was due a big finish. Before I knew it, the second run was beginning and I figured this was as good a place as any to watch it from.

The top 30 go in reverse order, so with every racer the margin of lead increases over the last. A lot of racers were pushing it too hard, which never really works in slalom to make up time, and they got bucked off course. Tension built steadily in the bar, with racers like Resi Steigler and Ski Team alumnus Jeremy Nobis providing commentary for the rest of the crowd. Steve Nyman missed a gate and Austrian Michael Walchhofer took the lead. Ted jumped out of the starthouse with a smooth, confident style. He gained speed at every split, crossing the finish in first place. The place erupted. You always see the footage from a place like that during a televised race, and I have to admit, it was pretty cool to be in the middle of it. Everyone was hugging, high-fiving, and screaming at the top of their lungs.

But the Austrian favorite Raich was still to run, and about 15 gates in, he pushed too hard and went off course. The place went wild again—the kid from Park City had won gold at age 21.

Later that night, with the entire U.S. Ski Team in the house, Nobis said the word was that the Austrian coach was very worried about Ligety, and he told Raich that he had to really go for it if he wanted to win.

Ski Team photog Jonathan Selkowitz told me a few days ago that Ligety would be the one to watch during the Combined. "This summer at Portillo," he said, "everyone else was doing three, four runs of slalom and GS, and a couple of runs of downhill a day. But Ted was doing six to eight runs of each, every day. He's just a kid that still really loves to ski."

As the party ramped up around midnight, Ligety was posing for his hundredth photo op with ski team supporters, a bewildered grin on his face. Bode walked over, grabbed him around the shoulders, whispering something to him for a minute. He slapped him on the back with a smile and walked out the door. It was Ted's party, after all.

Mountain Drama Dissipates as Downtown Turin Events Gear Up

Lindsey Kildow's brave return to the San Sicario piste is second only to the career-capping gold for Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister.

Slick!: San Sicario's ethereal lines belie a tough DH course for the women's Olympic elite (Paolo Libertini)

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
The Turin Winter Olympics' A-to-Z marathon marches on. Today:

Thursday, February 16

Snow has finally returned to the western Alps. Actually it's pouring rain at the moment down here in Cesana, in the valley below Sestriere. But the snowline looks to be about 500 meters up the hill. I haven't had skis on for almost two weeks, and it's driving me crazy. All of the Olympic ski areas are closed for security purposes during the Games, and bulletproof conditions haven't made skiing anywhere else all that appealing anyway. But at least things are improving.

I wound up here in Cesana for the last two days after Ted Ligety took the gold in the Men's Combined on Tuesday night. Fully booked in Sestriere, we couldn't stomach another grueling drive back into Turin at midnight given the celebration that was about to go down, so yet another shuttle bus down the 20-switchback road to the valley put us in the sleepy little roadblock town of Cesana. A couple of inquiries about rooms in hotels turned up nothing available, but we got a lead: check with the guy at the gelateria about a room to let, or affitacamere. He had a room upstairs, beautifully renovated and cozy for 35 Euros a night per person.

So we woke up well rested for the Ladies' DH yesterday, but one ticket short. On the ride up the brand-new gondola constructed for the Olympics from Cesana to San Sicario (luge, bobsled, cross-country, and women's alpine site), I jumped in a cabin with Bryon Freidman, member of the U.S. Ski Team. Out with an injury for the Games, "Freedog" is covering the games for Yahoo and was feeling a little rough around the edges like me after Ligety's celebration the night before. One of his posse had an extra, and gave it to me just like that, free of charge. Things were looking up.

"I seriously doubt that there'll be any more World-Cup caliber events here in Sestriere," said Freidman. "This place is kind of a junkshow." He wasn't kidding. The entrance to the Downhill was another portrait of inefficiency, as only half of the gates were being used, and literally dozens of cops and Caribinieri and "volunteers" stood around listlessly, watching the crowd grow.

If I have learned anything about lines in Europe, you have to be aggressive, moving forward into any available space and using your elbows like a hockey defenseman in the corners. We didn't move for about 20 minutes, and the start time was rapidly approaching. I swear these "volunteers" are multiplying by the day, and none of them have a clue. If I could find one of those jackets, I could get into every event, organize the troops, and make the Olympics run like a well-oiled machine. But I have spent most of my time standing in line with that army of spectators.

We got in with about five minutes to go, but at least 1,500 people were still stuck outside the gates when the first racer went off. The San Sicario course was notably criticized before the Games by a consortium of World Cup racers, prompting officials to redesign the course. What it lacked in steeps it made up for in gnarly, rough turns and flat light conditions.

Lindsey Kildow was the notable news of the day, having decided to start after a terrible training crash only two days before that had her medevaced off the course to a Turin hospital. Veteran Kirsten Clark, Julia Mancuso, and 22-year-old Stacey Cook rounded out the USA racers.

Clark was the first to go with bib number 13. We sat with her brother Sean, who has the distinction of being one of the fastest guys in Jackson Hole, having beaten Tommy Moe in the prestigious Town Downhill. He reported that she was feeling good, but wasn't very confident in her skis this season. Clark appeared to be attacking the course and skied a good line, but her time wouldn't hold up. She wound up in 21st position.

Michaela Dorfmeister, the Austrian team's dominant downhiller, came out of the gate like a bulldog and pushed every split time. She crossed the finish with a time of 1:56:49 that would be next to impossible to beat.

Mancuso skied a good race, and had the Azzuro (Italian) fans behind her, having adopted her as a fellow Italiano, despite her being of Californian descent. She took seventh. Kildow, whose horrible crash has been replayed ad nausea, also skied well to a credible eighth, given her banged-up chassis.

To see the slow-mo replays of the big sweeping turns near the top, and to see how those board-stiff DH skis flop around like pieces of pappardelle, it's no surprise that a skier with a build like Dorfmeister is the only one that can hold a line on that kind of course. Swiss Martina Schild surprised with the silver, and Anja Paerson of Sweden goes home with the bronze.

After the race, we headed back to Cesana to explore the town as the impending storm came in. The wind was up, the tops of the peaks just obscured by clouds, and the temperature dropped by ten degrees. As we wandered the alleyways, we came upon an impromptu tent village of local food purveyors. They had set up outside a parking lot that was inexplicably behind the roadblock; another example of poor planning. We felt sorry for their lack of business and checked out their wares.

One booth, selling sausages and cheese, had a very persuasive lady who tracked us down to try their specialty. "This is a very particular type of sausage, to the Val Susa," she said, as she cut us each a slice. Not one to be rude, I put it in my mouth suspiciously. Hmmm, hard to put your finger on that taste. "What is it?" I asked. "Donkey!" I took a big swig off my beer, trying desperately to wash Eeyore out of my mouth. "You want to buy a whole sausage?" she asked. While it would make for a good joke gift for some of our friends back home, I didn't have the heart. "No, grazie," I said and we left her to a couple of new potential customers.

Hockey, Cinema, Culture, and Cuisine in Turin

Time in the Winter Olympics host city unveils a new side to organized Olympic chaos, from celluloid treasures at the Mole Antonelliana to the post-industrial rebirth of Fiat's former production test facility.

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
The Turin Winter Olympics' A-to-Z marathon marches on. Today:

Friday, February 17

Back into Turin, and time for some hockey and a little culture. The Swiss stunned the Czechs yesterday behind the goaltending of David Aebischer (the NHL's Colorado Avalanche 'keeper), and the Canadians, Finns, and surprise contenders Slovakia are the only undefeated teams remaining. With Team USA eking out a tie with Latvia in the opening game, and Russia suffering a loss to Slovakia, it's a wide-open race for the hardware.

The U.S. is still hanging on at the top of the medals table, with gold from Seth Wescott in Snowboard Cross, a new sport to the Olympics born out of the X-Games generation. In the Women's edizione, Lindsey Jacobellis made a much-criticized decision to go for a method grab over the last jump, caught an edge, and fell; she gave up the gold to Switzerland's Tanja Frieden. Monday-morning snowboard coaches (read: uninformed members of the mainstream press) have called this mistake "hot-dogging" and showing off, further setting back snowboarding's credibility in the Games. Maybe it was better when it wasn't an Olympic sport.

Heavy snow and wind in Sestriere and San Sicario cancelled training runs and postponed the Women's DH portion of the Combined, set to run Saturday, February 18, shortly following the Men's Super-G. Twenty-year-old Resi Stiegler leads the U.S. ladies, sitting in ninth going into the DH Saturday, 1.53 seconds back from Austrian Marlies Schild. Lindsey Kildow hooked a tip on a gate and had another brutal fall on the icy Sestriere slalom course and will have to sit out the DH.

Meanwhile in the city, I feel like I have finally dialed in the public transportation system. I got hold of a map that feels like the Holy Grail; all of the bus and tram lines clearly detailed... I guess it would be too much for the Tourism Office to have one of these available. So we had a full cultural day today, crisscrossing all over the city from market to museum and back.

One of the coolest museums I have ever been inside has to be the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, housed inside the Mole Antonelliana, Turin's signature building. With dozens of themed "screening rooms," the museum presents a history of filmmaking and a comprehensive look at the elements that go into a film in one incredible space. In the center of the great hall, an unreal glass elevator climbs impossibly though the ceiling to a viewing platform atop the 548-foot-tall Mole. Inside, modern Italian lounge chairs point viewers at two massive screens running a continuous loop of film clips. Today's montage was the automobile, and it had shots from almost every car chase imaginable. We grabbed a quick lunch for five Euros in the café in the basement, a very chic place that also has interactive screens in the tables. The Mole is not to be missed.

After lunch, another trip to the marketplace was hatched, but this time we decided to go to the Borga Dora, or antique row. Normally held on the second Saturday of the month, vendors have all of their wares on show for the duration of the Games, including vintage clothing, used books, and classic posters alongside furniture and everything else you could imagine. You could fill your house with a day's findings, if only you had a house in Italy. This funky neighborhood was a pleasant surprise, an oasis of quiet browsing only a few blocks from the bustling Porta Palazzo market.

We jumped back on the tram (or streetcar) and headed down to the Lingotto, formerly the Fiat manufacturing plant, but now housing a shopping mall, the swishy Meridian hotel, and the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli. This small but rich collection of paintings sits atop the factory, overlooking the city and the rooftop test track seen briefly in a getaway scene from Michael Caine's 1969 heist flick, The Italian Job. A recent exhibit of Canaletto's amazing Venetian landscapes and a half-dozen Matisse paintings were highlights. We walked back along the Po, through one of the city's larger parks, rowers gliding past silently in the sun.

To top off a virtually ideal cultural day, we drove south shortly after rush hour towards the wine region of Asti. In search of another Slow Food experience, we sought out the Osteria delle Diavolo, a tiny eatery tucked into a sleepy neighborhood of Asti. Again, the food was outrageous, impeccably prepared and simple yet extraordinary as only Piedmontese cuisine can deliver. We feasted on vitello tonatto, tenderloin of coniglio (rabbit), an amazing rosemary ravioli, and beef in Barolo sauce. Accompanied by a 2003 Barbera d'Asti, it was as perfect a meal as I have ever had. If eating was an Olympic sport, I feel confident we would have been on the podium. When you see that sticker of the Slow Food snail on the door of a restaurant, don't think about it, just see if you can get a table.

North American Ice Hockey Gets a Euro Grounding

Tense match-ups and stunning upsets on the ice enliven things in the Torino Esposizioni ice-hockey arena, while poor tickets sales continue to dog attendance at the Winter Olympics.

Winter Olympics ice hockey
The Ice Palace: Canada takes on Finland in the snug, 5,500-capacity Torino Esposizioni arena. (Jack Shaw)

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
As the Turin Winter Olympics races to the finish line with the élan of speedster Shani Davis, we countdown to an alphabetical crescendo of all things Olympian, Italian, and semantically significant. Today:

Monday, February 20

Turin hit full stride this weekend, jammed with people as the XX Giochi Olimpici Invernali passed the mezzo point. Heavy snow in the mountains forced the postponement of several of the Alpine events, including both Men's and Women's Super-G and the Women's Combined. But in the city that meant rain—a cold, soaking rain that made it very difficult to work the hockey arenas looking for spare tickets.

Late last week, the Italian government raided the "legitimate" scalping shops that served as clearinghouses for the blocks of unused sponsor tickets that have plagued the Games with low attendance. They confiscated over 3,500 tickets at one shop alone. Scalping is illegal in Italy, and as much as I hate the agencies that buy up all of the Rolling Stones tickets and hawk them on eBay for a grand a seat, seems they are an unavoidable cog in the supply and demand chain at these Olympics.

Go to any NBA or NFL game and you'll probably see the same impact corporate sponsorship has on attendance as you do here: fans outside desperate for tickets but unused blocks of seats inside belying the idea of a sellout crowd. Batches of tickets at every event are provided to the Olympic sponsors and the "Olympic Family," many of which seem to me to go unused. If they do make their way on to the market illegally, the ticket is essentially being sold twice, so the authorities have put the kibosh on it altogether. Which explains why I was having trouble getting in to see any ice-hockey games.

On the ice, Switzerland continues to play the Torino giant-killer, and after defeating the Czechs, I knew their game against Canada was going to be a good match. I arrived at the Torino Esposizioni arena three hours before the game, confident that I would get in. I met a bunch of Canadians who had been to three, four games, never paying more than face value for a seat. Some even got ten-Euro tickets five minutes after the puck dropped. But Saturday was different. Polizia were everywhere, making the few scalpers very nervous.

Asking price for Category A (80-Euro face value) was 200 Euros and up. And there just weren't any cheap seats available. About a half-hour before the game started, the cops rounded up a dozen of the scalpers, the bagarino, and carted them off. That meant a couple hundred less tickets available for the crowd of soaked and desperate fans. After a half-hour past the start of the game, I caught a tram to the Centro to watch the postponed Men's Super-G on the big screen in the Piazza San Carlo, feeling like a kicked puppy.

The race was re-run after heavy snow and poor visibility forced judges to call it off after 17 racers had completed their runs in the morning. But the course wasn't changed, which prompted the notion that racers who had gone earlier had an unfair advantage. Regardless, it began at 2:30 and everyone had another shot.

Soaked, I arrived just in time to watch Bode's disappointing "Did Not Finish" and Daron Rahlves come in out of the money as well. But the story on the hill was veteran Kjetil Andre Aamodt, the five-time Olympic veteran, winning his record eighth medal. He edged out Austrian Hermann Maier—the Hermanator—by 0.13seconds, and Swiss Ambrosi Hoffman took home the bronze. The U.S. ski team's sole shining moment continues to be Ligety's gold in the Combined. It may well be all we have to cheer about.

I went back to my hotel to warm up and come up with a plan for the rest of the evening. USA was to play Slovakia on the ice at 8 p.m., but I knew that without those extra tickets floating around, it was going to take more than just luck to get in. The kicker was that there wasn't any coverage on RAI 2, Italy's Olympic network; they were showing curling instead. So I changed clothes and headed back to the rink.

The exiting crowd from the Canada-Switzerland game had astounding news: Canada lost 2-0. I was twitching; I needed to see some hockey. But nobody was selling. Finally, fate smiled on me and five minutes to eight, a group of super-cool execs from Sports Market walked up with a wad of extras. A horde of agro Slovakian fans descended on them, demanding and waving Euros in their faces. One guy said something ugly and the Americans said, "You know what, we're NOT selling them to you..." One of them asked me if I needed a ticket, and told me to come along. For free. He said, "Buy me a beer, and we're all good."

Fourth row, blue line! The game was epic. I was surrounded by a sea of Slovaks, singing incomprehensible songs and waving flags. The U.S. came out hard and the first period was as good as hockey gets. Rick DiPietro was playing out of his head in the goal, and it was tied 1-1 after the first 40 minutes. But the Slovakians had the jump on us and Peter Bondra stuffed another one past Team USA in the third, and the boys were stunned and played on their heels the rest of the game. Brian Ralston hit a post that would have tied it with five left in the third, and just like that, it was over and the Slovaks were still undefeated. As for USA, we were still in the hunt but beginning a backslide that could put us dangerously close to going home early.

After the game, downtown Turin had transformed into a street party, with the entire Centro closed to traffic. Concerts, DJ's, laser shows, and people. Hundreds of thousands of people. It was a zoo. I wished I had some more stamina, but after standing around in the rain all day, I was whooped. I passed through the periphery for a little while, then took it back to the hotel.

The next day, the rain continued and the snow piled up in the mountains. I had a ticket in hand for the Canada-Finland ice-hockey game at 9 p.m., as a group of Canuck and Finnish ski-bum friends from Verbier were on their way down to the game and had me covered. So I took the afternoon to visit the Museo Nazionale della Montagna, overlooking Turin from the other side of the Po. Founded in 1874 by the Club Alpini d'Italia, the museum is a gorgeous space dedicated to Italy's rich mountaineering heritage. Scale 3-D models of the Alps, Monte Bianco, Monte Rosa, and Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn) were interspersed with the photography of Vittorio Sella and a special exhibit on classic ski resort poster art of the prewar era. From the observation deck on the roof, on a clear day you can see all of those peaks. But the rain had turned to snow, and you could barely see Turin.

Walking back through town before dinner, you can't help but think about when a good dump hits a big, dirty city. It's like New York; it never looks so clean as when it's snowing. And as soon as it stops, it turns into the nastiest, filthy sludge you've ever seen.

The Verbier crew pulled into town and met me, but not without incident. My friend Sammy got pick pocketed on the streetcar. He actually got off and chased the guy down and got his wallet back. They asked me if we had time to grab a bite and I couldn't resist taking them back to Da Mauro. Another excellent meal, served promptly, and we were at the game on time.

The same problems we had with Slovakia the Canadians were having with Finland. On that bigger international ice, it is difficult to play a hard-checking North American-style game. And the Europeans pass so well and skate so fast, size and strength doesn't match up well.

As Wayne Gretzky's team struggled to a 2-0 deficit in the first period, we noticed his father Walter, the Great Dad sitting in front of us. Only Canadian hockey fans would get the Great One's dad to sign autographs, and they did all game long. Up in the VIP seats, Wayne continued to scratch his head.

The game finished 2-0, and there was an army of devastated red jerseys in the crowd. With USA losing another game to Sweden as well, North America wasn't faring very well in the meat of Round 1. It could be an all-Euro medal fight for the first time since North American professional dream teams have competed in the Games.

The Men's GS goes off today (Monday) and it is Daron Rahlves' last chance to get some hardware in these games. The women race Super-G as well, and Kirsten Clark is in the same boat. It's time for the U.S. to live up to their motto: Best in the World.

It's the Small Things that Matter in the Giant Slalom

Technical ski racing and perfect bluebird weather shine a light on winter-sports perfection, often lost amidst the five-ring circus that is the modern Olympics.

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
As the Turin Winter Olympics races to the finish line with the élan of speedster Shani Davis (pouting included), we countdown to an alphabetical crescendo of all things Olympian, Italian, and semantically significant. Today:

Tuesday, February 21

I'm back up in Sestriere, where the skies have gone bluebird and there is a fresh coat of paint on the mountains. Course workers pulled an all-nighter to prepare the Giant Slalom course for yesterday's race, trying to get rid of all the powder and scrape it down to that bulletproof ice that only a ski racer could love. Giant cat-mounted snowblowers and an army of Italian Alpini troops had the course ready just an hour off schedule, and I arrived at Sestriere Colle just as the first skiers made their starts.

The Canadian coach set a particularly difficult course, and from outside the arena, I could easily see that several racers were skiing out, missing gates and falling. It became an epidemic, as it seemed that every couple of racers got the big DNF—did not finish—against their names. I got as close as I could without a ticket and watched as Rahlves and Ligety both went off-course, able to hear the call from the loudspeakers. A disappointing Olympics for Daron after such a promising season; it's a rough way for him to end his career. Probably the best speed skier that the U.S. has ever produced, he wanted a medal so badly, but it just kept slipping away from him. Ligety remains the only alpine-skiing star of the Games for Team USA, and still has another shot at glory in the Slalom on Saturday.

I walked over to the Hotel Cristallo, where the USSA has a hospitality suite, which was a great place to watch the race on Eurosport (with actual English-speaking commentators) alongside former U.S .Ski Team GS racer Jeremy Nobis, now one of the foremost extreme skiers in the world. Nobis always has good commentary, and had raced against many of the veterans during his career. I missed Bode Miller's run, but Nobis told me he was still in the hunt despite hooking a gate with his arm in the flats and losing substantial time.

The disastrous first run continued, with 35 of 82 racers falling or missing gates. Despite the remarkable job of coursework, the combination of new snow on top of the water-injected ice made for deep ruts that proved difficult given the nature of the gate layout. Racers were just stepping out of their skis as they tried to make a late turn and hit the ruts sideways, and one skier even ripped his binding plate clear off of his ski. Others just missed gates, swinging too wide, and were unable to compensate for their next gate.

Amazingly, there were several Canadians in the top 20 after one run, including François Bourque in first, while Eric Schlopy and Bode were still alive for the U.S. Other contenders were the ever-threatening Hermanator and Benjamin Raich, and Frenchman Joel Chenal.

Nobis took me to his favorite restaurant here in Sestriere, La Baita, where the owner sat us in the back dining room and prepared our food without my ever seeing a menu. A spicy pasta all'arrabiatta with a Bolognese sauce on the side and a bottle of Barbera d'Asti was a perfect mid-afternoon snack before round two, which was to start at 1:45pm.

We walked up to the gates just before 1:30 and I lost Nobis in the crowd. I wasn't too worried about whether or not I found a ticket; it was such a nice day that sitting anywhere would have been fine. But I scored again as someone walked up holding a ticket over their head and I asked them what they wanted for it. "Nothing, it's yours," the kind stranger said. Another example of too many tickets and no way to get rid of them.

With the fresh snow everywhere in the Alps, it has become harder and harder for me to concentrate on watching guys in tight suits skiing gates while I see fresh trenches all over the place. I haven't had my boots on for two weeks now and it's killing me. Just before the race, I noticed a trio of beautiful turns right down the gut of a distant north-facing peak. That's it. I'm skiing tomorrow.

The second run went off in a reverse-30 order, so Bode and the Austrians wouldn't run for a while. The course was set by an American coach, and seemed to be more manageable and really allowed the racers to capitalize on their strengths. The GS is such a precision event, where racers make such deep, carving turns at speed, putting incredible G-forces into their skis. The ruts they leave in the rink-hard snow is a testament to their ability.

Schlopy skied a clean run and briefly had a spot on the leaderboard, but it was short-lived and he would finish 13th. Bode skied a clean run, making up for the time he lost in the first run, and he seemed to be headed for the podium. But Hermann Maier knocked him out of first easily, by a margin of 0.9 seconds. Aksel Lund Svindal of Sweden added insult to injury, tying Miller's time, and they had a brief stint in the bronze position before winding up in sixth. It always amazes me that two skiers with different skis, body weights, and styles can ski two runs and finish with exactly the same time, down to the hundredth of a second.

Benny Raich had a blistering run that was as clean as it gets, and it was obvious he was going home with the gold again, while Frenchman Joel Chenal took the silver. Maier took bronze for his fifth career Olympic medal.

We headed back to the Cristallo and watched the Women's Super-G, seeing another average performance from our girls although they skied good, clean runs. Michaela Dorfmeister took gold again for Austria, adding another substantial souvenir to her retirement run here at the Games. I ran into Sean Clark, U.S. ski-racer Kirsten Clark's brother, at the USA house later that night, and he said his sister's spirits were high after a tough day. "On another course, she would have been in the hunt," he said. "But the middle of that course is pretty flat and she just isn't as heavy as those other girls to carry speed there."

Another disappointing day for the U.S., despite good runs from Bode and Schlopy, but the festivities in the Austria house were much more exciting. I got that report from Pepi Stiegler, father of U.S. technical skiing sweetheart Resi, and a former Olympic champion himself for Austria in 1964. Pepi, the founder of the Jackson Hole ski school, was having a difficult time finding tickets for himself at these Games, but found an oasis of hospitality at the Austrian HQ despite not recognizing many faces. "[Franz] Klammer was the only person I knew there," said Stiegler. "But they had a lot of really good food that came out after Dorfmeister won the second gold of the day."

How cool is that? Two ex-Olympic champions watching a race on TV amidst all of the hype; guys that did it for the love of the sport long before the Games became the media circus they are now.

Late that night, I wound up at photog Jonathan Selkowitz's apartment to crash. He came back late from the Men's Freestyle Aerials competition and had yet to review any of his shots from the GS. As he downloaded them onto his laptop, we looked closely at the skis of each racer, seeing where they made mistakes and who was skiing well. To see Bode's skis, both in identical parallel arc, his body fully extended and hammering through the gate, gives you an insight that you miss when watching real-time. Ligety also had great form, in just the right place over his skis and in command of the carve. But the most impressive shots were of Maier, his face contorted like a weightlifter, putting every ounce of his considerable frame into every turn. If GS races were judged like so many of these other sports we see in the Winter Games, he would have gone home with the gold. But thankfully the race is judged by the clock, and he still took a bronze away.

Leaving the Olympic Circus for Alpine Powder Paradise

Getting the hell out of Dodge for a day's carving high in the Valle d'Aosta brings our man the powder fix he craves.

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
As the Turin Winter Olympics races to the finish line with the élan of speedster Shani Davis (pouting included), we countdown to an alphabetical crescendo of all things Olympian, Italian, and semantically significant. Today:
skiing in italy
Soul Shack: Aostan abode that screams pastoral as much as Turin screams industrial.

Wednesday, February 22

Woke up Tuesday and felt like I had to get on the hill. Any hill. Without any alpine skiing events, there was no reason to hang in Sestriere. Women's Slalom was Wednesday afternoon, and could just as easily be watched from afar, on RaiDue television. So I packed up my VW Golf diesel wagon and headed north.

A few nights ago at the USA House, I met Eric Rhinehardt, an American from Crested Butte who is a World Cup ski tech for the Australian team. His plight at the games was similar to mine: no official credentials and left to his own resources to find his way as best he could. We compared notes.

Apparently, team credentials are divvied based on the number of athletes, and Australia only had four alpine skiers, therefore very few passes for coaches and techs. So Eric was unable to get into the Wax Bins, the area where the teams' tuners do their thing. In fact, their main slalom guy, Jono Brauer, was having to tune his own skis, unheard of outside of junior-level ski racing. And Eric was watching races with me, in the USA House (over another bowl of free Barilla pasta), or from the stands at the race. Not on the hill.

But he did score a "Gucci parking pass," found face down in a mud puddle in a lot down in the valley. Recognizing its value, he cleaned it up a little, slapped it on his windshield, and tried his luck. Full access. So he had that going for him.

But I have been parking in Cesana, grabbing a spot behind the Norway House for the last two weeks without any problem. Cesana is the last town before the absolute roadblock up to Sestriere, and the 15-minute bus ride isn't too bad—except when you have a full load of Torino volunteers elbowing you and pushing to get on.

So now I'm past Turin, my iPod doing its best to keep me sane and free of those awful Italian radio stations. I mean, does anyone in Italy like decent rock 'n' roll? Apparently not. I breezed up the Autostrada at 140 km/h headed towards Aosta. Just before passing that famous Roman road city, I peeled off and climbed into a little valley that I had heard a lot about, but never visited. The last few seasons had been stingy snow-wise in this region, but I hoped that the recent storms had improved the situation.

Every village I passed through got tighter and more rootsy than the last. Little Aostan soul shacks were scattered all over the hillsides, some even built under giant boulders that seemed to form part of the roof. I got to the head of the valley and there were trams and gondolas stretching skyward in every direction. Skiers, not chasing gates. No Caribineri to be seen. And huge friggin' mountains everywhere. I was as far from the Turin maelstrom as I could be. And it felt good.

I checked into an historic hotel called the Lyskamm, named after one of the daunting peaks at the head of the valley. It was warm and comfortable, even felt a little Swiss, which is no surprise. The border was only a few klicks to the north. I wandered around the village square, a tidy circuit of stone chalets and shop fronts, a few other hotels and restaurants scattered nearby. I walked down crooked little alleys, Aostan architecture even more apparent as cow barns and hay lofts blended seamlessly with the farmers' homes.

This was one of those true gems that you stumble upon when skiing in the Alps, a place that had been a village for hundreds of years before ski tourism was even a thought. Where Sestriere was a purpose-built resort conceived by Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli, constructed of hideous concrete monoliths, this was a real mountain hamlet that reeked of authenticity. People were friendly and their smiles were genuine. I couldn't wait to ski and find out what lay in store up on the hill.

That night, I passed on the full-pension dinner at the hotel and checked out a tiny little restaurant that came highly recommended. The Nordkapp was as soulful a joint as you would imagine in a town like this. Managed by the team of Luca Malberti and his wife Priya Serra, they run a tight little crew that puts out some of the best food in the Valle d'Aosta. I started with an incredible rabbit dish that came with a salty homemade foccacia. My pasta dish was a pheasant ravioli with a sage-brown butter-parmesan sauce. Absolutely out of this world. I probably should have stopped there, but I went in for the slow-roasted lamb shank that fell off the bone. The wine of the day was an Aostan Nus that lubricated me with a happy glow. Priya brought me a plate of tiny amaretti cookies because she though I needed something sweet. I poured myself out into the street and tried to walk it off. I slept well.

At 6:30 a.m., I awoke with the anticipation of my first ski day in weeks. Breakfast (can you believe I was going to eat something else?) wasn't until eight, so I flipped on the tube and caught my first televised hockey game in a while. It was Italy-Switzerland from the night before, and it was obvious that the Swiss had run out of big games. They trailed Italy, the whipping-boy team of the hockey tourney, 2-1 and would have lost if Italy hadn't coughed up the puck with three minutes left to give Switzerland a tie. That was the last game I would see of the prelim round; from now on it was for the medals.

I headed up to the lifts and bought my pass and the optional "insurance." In the Alps, you never know what could happen to you while skiing. For two extra Euros a day, it's always nice to have the ability to get a free helicopter ride if something bad goes down. It was looking pretty socked-in up high, a challenging giorno bianco where the lack of trees makes it feel like skiing inside a ping-pong ball. No definition or contrast to help you feel where you are and where you're going. Skiing by Braille, if you will.

I boarded the gondola and headed up into the clouds, snow falling heavier the higher I got. My first run I felt a little rusty but found boot-top powder on the piste, marked by fluorescent sticks that oddly enough resembled slalom gates. It soon became apparent that with this visibility, that would be all I was going to do all day. There was no way, given the low-tide snow cover off piste, as well as the minefield of crevasses, that I was going to poke around without a guide in a whiteout. But it wound up being pretty good regardless. I explored the entire upper mountain, occasionally sinking knee-deep in light, dry snow. Once in a while a sucker hole would illuminate a ridgeline and the potential that this place held was unmistakable.

I heard a bunch of dogs barking on one of the runs, and I came upon a group of ski patrollers and rescue workers in the middle of a training exercise. Actually it was some sort of avalanche dog competition, and about 20 of the highly-trained pooches were doing their thing, finding buried "victims" against the clock. Now this was a sport that had some appeal. A couple of runs later, they were done and the dogs chased their owners down the piste, a powder day of their own.

At the end of the day, I needed to suss out an aprés-ski beer. I heard some Bob Marley coming from a nearby building, and found a diverse crew of skiers and snowboarders inside the funky Core Bar. It was just what I was looking for. Patrick, the bartender was super friendly and asked me what I was doing there. Once he sorted out that I was a journalist and who I had written for, he produced a Powder magazine and found one of my pieces. I then had a new best friend.

Patrick, a local from just down the valley, told me that they had very few ski bums there but this season a group of Scandinavians had come for the winter. Often that is the first sign of a resort's demise as far as powder goes. They go home in the summer, tell their friends, and the next year, there's twice as many. It is an epidemic in the Alps. Just look at Chamonix, Verbier, or Engelberg. But he still estimated less than 100 ski bums there total. My mind reeled. I downed another beer, complimentary at this point due to my "notoriety," and considered a season here for myself.

Later that night, I watched the U.S. and Canada both get eliminated from the Olympic ice-hockey tournament. Team USA fell victim to still-unbeaten Finland, and the Russians got the best of the Canucks. It seemed a fitting end for two teams who couldn't get it going the entire Games. Sweden and the Czech Republic rounded out the rest of the semifinalists, which will be a showcase of great European hockey.

And if you think for a second that I'm going to say where I was, you're dead wrong. If you do your homework, look at a map, and search out some of the peaks that shadow the valley, you might find it. And if you do, you deserve to. But this will be one part of my Olympic experience that will remain a mystery.

The End of the Olympics—and the Continuation of Winter

As the glow of the Games fades from Turin, our man on the scene reflects on the hits and misses of the U.S. Alpine Team, plots his way to Switzerland, and dances with demonic winter spirits.

Jack Shaw
Jack Shaw, getting into the spirit in the Tschäggättä Festival

Turin Olympics Glossary & Map
Our alphabetical journey through of all things Olympian, Italian, and semantically significant ends:

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Olympic trip came full circle today as I woke up in Verbier, Switzerland. After two magical ski days in an undisclosed location, and with no lodging anywhere near Torino or Sestriere available without forking out an arm and a leg, I retreated to the safety bubble of Switzerland, where I could watch hockey in French and have a free couch to crash on.

Just before driving back through the St. Bernard Tunnel, I could tell that a lot of snow had hit the region in my absence. When I emerged to the Swiss side, I stopped in at the Super St. Bernard ski area for a before/after snow check. This is one of those little areas of the Alps that you can have a powder day with hardly any others to share it with; a single, diesel-powered gondola delivers 3,000 feet of wide-open terrain that you'll never forget if you catch it right. It was totally filled in, and a score of knee-deep tracks on the front face above the parking lot were evidence that the same storms that plagued the race crews at Sestriere had brought the goods to the Valais Alps as well.

A lot has happened in the last few days at the games, though. As predicted, North America will be a no-show in the hockey medals round, for the first time since 1976. Both Canada (versus Russia, a 2-0 loss) and team USA (Finland a more respectable 5-4 loss) couldn't make their brand of hard-hitting hockey pay off, and goals were hard to come by for the entire tournament. Maybe it was better when the teams were filled with younger, hungry players, but the "dream team" era had been kind to North American teams in the past. There will definitely be some reevaluating in both camps.

So that meant an all-Euro semifinal, with Sweden playing the Czechs and Russia matching up with Finland. Without Dominik Hasek in the goal, the Czech team would have a hard time keeping Forsberg and company from racking up goals. They did, and lost easily 7-3. The Russia-Finland game held a great deal of historic importance. Since holding off a Russian invasion in the Winter War of 1939, the Finns have remained fiercely independent, and wary of their neighbor to the east. And while their style of play may be similar, it was the skills of veterans like Satu Koivu and Teemu Selanne that would carry the Finns into the final. Seven straight wins for the Finns…could they possibly play a perfect Olympic tournament? Sunday's game against the Swedes will be a test.

Despite nothing but disappointment from our marquee skiers, USA still had the golden performance from Ted "Shred" Ligety to take comfort in. But until Friday, there was little to cheer about on the women's team. Although rookie Resi Stiegler gave a solid performance in her first Olympic Slalom, finishing 12th just behind Sarah Schleper (10th) and ahead of Lindsey Kildow (14th), the team had been beleaguered with nagging injuries (Koznick), terrible crashes (Kildow), and generally failing to meet expectations. But finally in the women's GS, Julia Mancuso uncorked a couple of runs that left the Austrians in the dust. Befitting that she was the only American athlete that the host Italians had embraced as one of their own, she stunned the field in a driving snowstorm, and hardly could believe it herself.

It's great to see a couple of kids that aren't trash-talkers, don't carry the weight of an enormous ego on their shoulders, and work hard to put in a performance that beats the pants off the world's best. They will definitely be the foundation of our ski team in Vancouver in 2010.

So now the next stage of my winter begins. I left Verbier and headed to the Geneva Airport to drop off my car, and pick up a van along with a crew of skiers. Not racers, but professional freeskiers, in Switzerland for three weeks to film for Teton Gravity Research. We linked up, loaded the van as full as humanly possible, and headed into one of the darkest corners of the Swiss Alps, the Lötschental Valley. We were planning on taking part in a Carnivale celebration, a centuries-old tradition involving hideous masks and costumes that represented the evil spirits of the winter.

After a three-hour drive up the Rhone Valley, we arrived in Wiler, the village where the Tschäggättä festival takes place. Where Aostan mountain villages are constructed of stone, these Valais mountain villages are like gingerbread houses, built from rough-hewn timbers propped up on giant, pizza-shaped flagstones (to keep the rats out). We met up with Andy Reider, a local whose father carves the intricate masks year round in preparation for this weekend's festivities. Some of the other villagers were already working on their buzz, halfway-dressed in their costumes in his basement.

He set all of us up with the obligatory gear, starting with wool or burlap pants and a WWII-era Swiss army jacket turned inside out. We then put on the shoulder padding and goatskins, and I began to resemble a central casting reject from the Star Wars bar scene. A cowbell, cinched incredibly tight around my waist (by two strong, drunk Swiss men and a pair of vice-grips) and all that was left to do was to pick out my mask. When you see these terrifying wood carvings, you can only wonder what demons haunted the men that make these things.

After everyone was done getting dressed, we stood around and laughed at each other for a while, then donned our heavy masks and headed out into the street for the parade. Every villager in the valley packs the streets for the festival, and you basically run amok, ringing your bell and scaring children. I know for a fact that I made at least a half-dozen cry, and probably gave more than a few nightmares. And I wasn't anywhere near as scary as some of the others.

Tomorrow we meet up with a guide and set out to film in the high peaks that line this valley. These are big, glaciated mountains with postcard views and a fresh coat of paint, and we can't wait to get into them. While Torino was a very cool multi-national experience, two weeks is enough, and I am ready to get on with the rest of the winter. If I don't have to watch another minute of curling or ice dancing for four more years, it'll be too soon. It's snowing in the Alps again, there isn't a racing gate in sight, and the closing ceremonies will be over tomorrow night. The Torinese can get back to normal life, while enjoying the brief urban renewal that the Games brought their city. Whether Passion will Continue to Live There remains to be seen, but in another four winters, we'll be back at it again in Vancouver.

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