By Martyn Herman
ROSA KHUTOR (Reuters) - Switzerland's Lara Gut said it was like water skiing as warm sunshine produced "tropical snow" on the lower regions of the women's Olympic super-G course on Saturday.
Only one of the first nine starters completed the 2.1km course with the gates on the final run-in to the finish particularly troublesome as the snow turned to mush.
Pre-race favorite Gut, third in the downhill, lost crucial time through a tricky series of turns late on to miss a bronze medal by less than one tenth of a second.
"Down there it's water, it's not snow anymore," Gut told reporters. "It's not much fun to ski in that. It's going to be getting bad for the giant slalom.
"I don't know if this is the best way to show off our skiing. This is a disaster, it was a shame for everybody."
Britain's Chemmy Alcott was in tears after slowing in the slush and missing a top-20 placing.
"I'm gutted," she said. "In the last pitch I got on to the tropical snow and it beat me down here. I lost tons of time."
Not all the skiers were bothered by the conditions though.
"The course was very easy," Italian Nadia Fanchini said. "At the beginning the snow looked like soap a little bit but at the end it was more difficult."
Course workers have been working manfully to hold back nature and keep the race slopes compact despite the punishment they take from skis and the temperatures.
Using salt and injecting water into critical points has helped while start times have been changed with Sunday's men's super-G now getting under way at 10am.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman. Editing by Patrick Johnston)