Published: May 1, 2018

JT Abate skiingJT Abate, a junior mechanical engineering student, was invited to serve as forerunner for the ski events at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. He's spending 21 days in South Korea forerunning the downhill, super-G and super combined for both the men and women's events.

Q: What does an Olympic forerunner do?

A: A forerunner's job is to ski a course before the main competition starts. The purpose of this is to ensure the track is safe, the timing works, and act as a preview for the competitors to see and then make adjustments to their own tactics, technique or equipment. Forerunning a World Cup is an incredible honor to anyone who never quite made it to the World Cup themselves and has been the highlight of my skiing career.

Q: How were you selected for this honor?

A: I received a surprise offer from an old coach the week before the Olympics started. Short notice! The host nation is usually in charge of supplying forerunners, but two of their athletes were recently drafted into the Army (service is mandatory in Korea), so they needed two qualified forerunners fast. The head coach of the Korean team is American, so he contacted his old colleagues on the U.S. Ski Team, and those U.S. team coaches recommended me!

Q: How long have you been skiing?

A: I started ski racing when I was 12, which is when I moved to Park City, Utah. I am a part of the CU Club Ski team (not NCAA), Colorado Ski Racing.

Q: Have you been able to interact with the athletes?

A: Yes, I am around the alpine athletes all day. Us forerunners tested the course before the competitors could even look at it, so the first few days I was being asked many questions about the track by the athletes.

Q: What has the experience been like so far?

A: Skiing downhill is the best part about being here. I thought my days of skiing downhill were over, so I'm very happy to be back up to speed, literally and figuratively, again. The feeling of laying a perfect arc in the snow is absolutely intoxicating, and it only becomes better when you're able to do it on a professional course at the Olympics.

JT Abate with Colorado flag at the OlympicsSouth Korea has its quirks, too. Here’s a few of them:

  • The automatic slidey doors operate at a one-second delayed pace. So when you step up to one, you must stop and wave at the sensor and then are allowed in.
  • Sleeping “Korean style” is a euphemism for sleeping on the floor with a small cotton pad.
  • You need to deposit a quarter to use a shopping cart at the grocery store. The shopping carts have free wheels in both the front and back, making them very maneuverable. They are the sports cart to America’s dump truck grocery carts.
  • No grocery bags. You must build your own box at the grocery store, much like Costco, but you have to build the box yourself, too.
  • No such thing as a shower towel here. You must use a hand towel to dry yourself off – can't make a towel skirt.

Q: Many of the early ski events were rescheduled or modified due to high winds. What's it been like on the course?

A: Weather was really tough for a few days, but it has been great since. Wind is a danger, especially in downhill, because we are sending 130-foot jumps. When flying that far, significant wind can easily push you off balance, making for some gnarly crashes. Also, wind can make the race unfair because of uneven head winds, tail winds, etc.

You can especially feel the wind when in the gondola; we've been swinging pretty bad as we move into the exposed area at the top of the ridge. One of the days there was no chance for a race since it was too windy for the gondola to even run.

Q: How did you swing the time off from classes?

A: My professors have been supportive and mostly helpful. I think they realize the honor in attending the Olympics, even as a forerunner. I'm working my butt off here to try and keep up, and it's been especially hard with all the opportunity for distractions since most of my teammates are not in school. But I'm doing my best. We'll see how it goes. I hope to recover by the end of the semester.