Snow inspection team OKs downhill start at 1,765

A snow inspection team for the Nagano Olympic men's downhill confirmed Monday that there is enough snow at 1,765 meters above sea level to begin preparing the course for the Feb. 8 race.

The group, which inspected the site on the Happo-one ridge in the ski resort village of Hakuba, said it would begin preparing the course Wednesday, using snow-packing machines and human power.

The start of the men's downhill was a compromise point in a five-year-long dispute between the Nagano Olympic organizing committee (NAOC) and the International Ski Federation (FIS).

NAOC had insisted upon a start at 1,680 meters above sea level, saying that going any higher would encroach upon a protected national park area, while FIS wanted the start at 1,800 meters to make the race more of an Olympic challenge.

The two sides agreed Dec. 1 to set the starting gate at 1,765 meters with the condition that if there was not enough snow at the start, it would be lowered again to the original 1,680 meters.

The inspection team looked at the amount of snow that had fallen on the popular ski area, which had been lacking up to one week ago but had been helped by a major snowfall over the weekend.

''We worried that there might not be enough snow, but there's now an accumulation of 4 meters of snow and we're sure that this is enough not to have any effect on the alpine foliage there,'' adviser Norio Yamamoto said.

The inspection group decided that two tents would be set up outside of the national park area for the Olympic racers and that snow would be used to build a jump from which the athletes would jump over one part of the restricted area.

The team determined that there would be no negative impact on the environment from starting at 1,765 meters.

Meanwhile, Nagano Prefecture decided to allocate 21.6 million yen for fiscal 1998 for the revival of mountain trails through the Happo-one national park area.

The money will be used to replace dirt along the paths that have been eroded away by wind and rain, and to develop measures to deal with run-off water which harms the alpine vegetations by carrying away the soil.

The prefecture also decided to launch a council, including intellectuals and local officials, to consider ways to preserve the environment on Happo-one. (Kyodo News)

(January 26, 1998)