Pulling into Killington Resort on Friday afternoon, you could feel the hum of excitement as vendors set up their tents, volunteers raised the finish banner, and competitors free skied down the race slope.
The familiar World Cup award music played in the finish corral as the announcer began to rehearse the ceremony for the next day. Everything functioned as it would on race day except for the fact that the people on the podium and a few officials were stand-ins. FIS Media Coordinator Christine Feehan took the win over two U.S. Ski & Snowboard employees – in case you’re curious. With less than 24 hours until show time, the TV production crew, which consists of about 50 people, was busy testing out cameras, sound, and controls for the better part of the afternoon.
While fans see cameramen wandering around the finish area and on scaffolding on the slopes at World Cup races, a good chunk of the TV crew is hidden away in a truck behind the grandstands, easily identified by a few large satellite disks. When Saturday rolled around, these were the trucks that allowed the world to see Viktoria Rebensburg from Germany stand atop the GS podium, her face broadcast around the world. She was joined by American Mikaela Shiffrin in second place, and Manuela Moelgg of Italy in third.
But let’s first rewind the tapes because there is a lot of work that went on in the days before Rebensburg won.
On Friday, DC Robbins sat inside the TV truck, staring at a wall littered with small screens, each showing a unique live camera feed. Sporting khaki shorts, long underwear, and a dark green fleece, he was a bold presence in the TV truck, clearly comfortable in the narrow trailer that on first glance resembles the control room for the Starship Enterprise.
Robbins – the producer for the World Feed – and his crew were preparing to orchestrate the show for international fans who could not attend the Beast World Cup in person. They spent days building towers along the course and making sure the cameras could cover the length of the slope. That particular project is overseen by Director Spence Volla, who explained that a lot of the decisions about camera placement are made just days before the race. This is because so much is unknown about what the Superstar slope will look like based on early season conditions.
During Friday’s rehearsal and on race day, Robbins was accompanied in the truck by Volla and a team of about 15 other people including Tape Producer Andrea Anderson. Robbins, Volla, and Anderson all describe the crew as a family. Many of them have worked together producing World Cup alpine skiing events in the U.S. as well as events like freestyle competitions and the XGames.
Everyone from the cameramen to the director worked as a well-oiled machine. Almost as soon as the director gave a command to one his 13 cameras such as “pan” or “go wide,” the shot appeared on a screen just in front of him. These deep relationships go beyond the TV production crew. This production team has also partnered with U.S. Ski & Snowboard – who owns the TV rights – since the early 2000s.
“The reason why we have been partnered with Echo – beyond my deep love of Spence Volla – is it’s the classic definition of a partnership, where we have a group that has an innate understanding of our sport and our athletes, and also, really sees their success through our success and work really hard to produce the best possible images for our sport, often in really, really challenging environments and both from a budgetary standpoint and also an environmental standpoint,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Vice President of Events Calum Clark.
Echo Entertainment depends on ConCom for staffing and technical support for the broadcasts in order to deliver on the deal with U.S. Ski & Snowboard. They have also spent countless races coordinating the World Feed with InFront Sports & Media and the NBC Feed with none other than NBC for races like Beaver Creek. It’s these trusting ties that make for smooth broadcasts. The slow-mo replays of athletes breaking over the knoll and the sweeping shots from the hill to the valley from the jib would not be possible without their careful calculations.
Saturday was show time and the mood was more tense in the trailer, though still light-hearted – a luxury of experience. Before the countdown began, the director played “Turn Up The Radio” by Autograph through the communication system, a tradition for this crew. Then, the team chimed in, “10, 9, 8…” At 9:45 a.m., the producer called for the FIS World Cup intro animation to the begin the prescribed series of graphics, which are designated by InFront, so that international broadcasters know what they are getting.
“Then, we go through the whole sequence that InFront sends out,” Robbins explained. “InFront creates that format so that all the broadcasters around the world know what’s coming. If you’re a little light here or there, it’s OK. You’re in range. But ultimately, if you do something different, the Turkish broadcasters are like, ‘What the hell?’ They have no idea what’s happening.”
Like racing, their intervals are measured in seconds. Things like “40 seconds to start” and “Minute-10 until we’re back” are announced through their headsets. The race kicked off at 10 a.m. as planned and a pattern emerged in the truck. Volla queued up camera one to show Eva-Maria Brem of Austria in the gate. Mid-way down the course, Robbins asked for a replay, which Anderson and her team queued up. The graphics came in on command from a man named Francesco located in another truck. The process continued like this, racer after racer, until American AJ Hurt crossed the finish line.
The first-run broadcast is capped off by a highlight reel that the tape producer’s team creates. The tape producer is a high-pressure role. Anderson runs a team that ensures the show is recording correctly as well as puts together replay packages.
“Right now, in this truck, I have three operators, and they have specific cameras coming into their machines, and so, if the producer wants a replay from camera one, it would be a specific EVS op that replays that specific camera, and then there are different speeds that we can replay things at,” Anderson said. “Some producers want to replay full speed, so you can hear that nat sound as it really happened. We’ll do that with crashed sometimes. Otherwise, there’s the super slow-mo and that is a really beautiful slow-mo shot.”
In case you’re not a production expert, here’s the breakdown on that lingo. “Nat sound” means natural sound like the skis scratching against the ice. An “EVS op” refers to the operator who uses an EVS machine, which allows them to scroll through footage and pull up replay video.
The broadcast ran fairly smoothly on Saturday aside from a brief hiccup measuring the commercial break after bib 15 and occasional tense moments getting the timing of the graphics right. Of course, those are not really things you’d notice if you were sitting at home on your couch. Instead, fans saw the cameras capture the moment when Great Britain’s Alexandra Tilley reacted to her amazing first run result, and when the U.S. Ski Team’s Patricia Mangan flew through the air like a rag doll. They caught independent U.S. skier Megan McJames scoring her first World Cup points of the season.
Then, as the rain started to fall in the finish area around 2:30 p.m., it was a wrap as they say in the movie industry, and that team recorded a little piece of history.
- Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) – Stoeckli / Lange / Marker
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) – Atomic / Atomic / Atomic
- Manuela Moelgg (ITA) – Dynastar / Lange / Look
- Stephanie Brunner (AUT) – Head / Head / Head
- Federica Brignone (ITA) – Rossignol / Look / Rossignol
- Tessa Worley (FRA) – Rossignol / Look / Rossignol
- Frida Hansdotter (SWE) – Rossignol / Look / Rossignol
- Ana Drev (SLO) – Volkl / Dalbello / Marker
- Melanie Meillard (SUI) –Rossignol / Look / Rossignol
- Petra Vlhova (SLK) – Rossignol / Look / Rossignol
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points||WC Points|
|17||44||426100||HOLTMANN Mina Fuerst||1995||NOR||1:01.13||59.56||2:00.69||+3.06||25.49||14.00|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|65||6536392||HURT A J||2000||USA||1:02.74|
|53||506146||SWENN LARSSON Anna||1991||SWE||1:02.96|
|45||6535773||O BRIEN Nina||1997||USA||1:02.12|
|42||425921||HAUGEN Kristine Gjelsten||1992||NOR||1:01.63|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|21||197319||BAUD MUGNIER Adeline||1992||FRA|