Calvary Park in the Scottish Highlands is set to host the FIBT men’s World Cup alpine skiing World Cup on Friday.
As ever, Alpine skiers don’t need a sniff of the sky to race a course.
But the last time a competition was staged there – the FIBT men’s World Cup finals in 2015 – was the lowest-attended ski event in Scotland for almost 30 years.
It was all because of the Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHHD), which has wiped out thousands of alpine ski slopes across the globe in the past two decades.
Organisers of this weekend’s event at Calvary Park have had to introduce new safety procedures in the event of any repeat of the outbreak.
EHHD is caused by a blood disorder that threatens the production of platelets, key components in blood clotting. While rare, alpine races do lead to potentially fatal injuries.
Only 5,100 of the world’s 82,000 snow-based slopes have been declared safe – all in snow-covered areas of North America and Europe.
But in what is claimed to be the first public showing of the crisis on Scottish soil, scale-wide measures of uniform size and design have been introduced for the FIBT championships to make sure any “reinfection” has no chance of spreading.
“We’ve really drawn a line in the sand on safety,” says Scottish Ski Racing chief executive John McMeel.
“In the United States, for example, they’ve built redundant poles in their runs to allow a quicker retrieval of fallen skiers.
“We’ve also been able to retool the sport by developing parallel gates to reduce the risk of reinfection.
“As a spectator sport, spectators certainly appreciate the extra resource that we have brought in, particularly on security.
“We don’t need to encourage people coming down to see skiers go down.
“The competition will still be great – two great Italian skiers, one Austrian and a very Scottish Sam Neill are all in the field.
“But we’d like to have had 20,000 on hand anyway.”
Alpine skiers have experienced and survived airborne crashes
McMeel, the husband of former Olympic skier Liz Brennan, was at the Calvary Park arena watching the 1996 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
In 1994, Brennan won two gold medals and a silver medal in the slalom and giant slalom disciplines respectively.
“That was very pre-EBHD,” McMeel says. “We still carry a load of petrol rods around here for fear of potential re-infection.
“We have a special note on every centre of the mountain warning skiers of any potential signs of EBH.
“We always have a card reading ‘dangerous’ if you notice anything unexplained.
“We’ve had six fires in the past two years.
“What we’re most pleased with, though, is that an additional 1,000 pieces of equipment are now winter-specific for our slopes.”