It's about to get serious for athletes trying to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics that open Feb. 6 in southern Russia.
A whirlwind two weeks starting Wednesday will determine whether a handful of Northern Californians reach the Sochi Games next month in the Caucasus Mountains. Bobsledders, figure skaters, snowboarders and skiers need top results in a string of competitions over snow and ice that serve as their last chances to qualify.
Here's the lowdown:
The fifth of eight World Cup events is scheduled Friday through Sunday at St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The competition gives Monterey pilot Nick Cunningham another opportunity to regroup to earn an Olympic berth in the four-man sled. Despite a strong start in the two-man, Cunningham has struggled in the bigger sled.
He is confident of moving into the top six after switching sleds. The pilot is using the Bo-Dyn "Night Train" that Steven Holcomb drove to a gold medal in Vancouver.
"We are comfortable in the sled but I might have been overdriving," said Cunningham, who is ranked fifth in the world in the two-man, 16th in four-man.
Two other Bay Area athletes have their Olympic hopes in the hands of pilot Cory Butner of Yucaipa. Chuck Berkeley of Walnut Creek is Butner's pusher in the two-man sled and Andreas Drbal of Belmont is part of the four-man crew.
The Olympic team is scheduled to be named Jan. 19, and the United States hopes to qualify three sleds in both events.
The Bay Area is well-represented at the U.S. Olympic trials Thursday through Saturday in Boston. Polina Edmunds of San Jose and Stanford's Rachael Flatt, a 2010 Olympian, are entered in the 21-skater field for senior ladies.
Edmunds has an outside chance of earning one of three Olympic berths. Robbie Przepioski of Newark is competing in the men's event while Madeline Heritage and Nathaniel Fast, who train at Sharks Ice San Jose, are performing in ice dance.
The new Olympic discipline is sharing the qualifying stage with snowboarders at Breckenridge this week and will conclude with two competitions Jan. 16-19 at Park City, Utah.
Halfpipe star Maddie Bowman of South Lake Tahoe is battling for the top spot with Carmel's Brita Sigourney, a former UC Davis water polo player. They enter this week's event one and two, respectively, with four Olympic spots available.
Dave Wise, a Tahoe skier from Reno, is one of the favorites in the men's halfpipe. But he trails current leader Aaron Blunck, of Vail, Colo. Kyle Smaine, who comes out of Sierra-at-Tahoe as does Bowman, has an outside chance sitting in sixth.
Mammoth's Sammy Carlson is ninth in slopestyle, another new sport.
Piedmont's K.C. Oakley hopes to recover from health issues to earn an Olympic berth in moguls with a World Cup on Wednesday through Sunday at Deer Valley, Utah, and Jan. 15-18 at Lake Placid, N.Y. The four-skier team is expected to be named Jan 19.
South Lake Tahoe's Sho Kashima made a big statement last weekend in Calgary with a fifth-place finish after entering the event trailing six Americans in World Cup mogul rankings. He now is second among American skiers while ranked 11th in the world.
Tahoe City's Scotty Barhke, brother of Olympic medalist Shannon Barhke, trails seven Americans in aerials.
Oakley almost certainly needs a podium finish in one of the next two World Cup events to reach Sochi. She is far behind four other Americans after finishing 21st in Calgary.
"I am an underdog on my team," she said. "When my legs somewhat cooperate, I am more confident than ever with my skiing."
But Oakley, who graduated from Cal in 31/2 years, has not had much cooperation from her body. She had surgery last year for compartment syndrome but since recovering has struggled with lower leg problems.
"We have been theorizing and doing everything we can to get to the bottom of the problem," Oakley said. "I don't really like talking about it at this point because it is not going to solve anything. For now, I just need to be mentally strong and positive for the upcoming World Cups and to push through the pain."
The third of five qualifiers for halfpipe and slopestyle will be held Wednesday-Sunday in Breckenridge, Colo., moved because of a lack of snow in Lake Tahoe.
The big question involves Shaun White's ankle. The Tahoe-based snowboard star reinjured his left ankle last month after winning the first halfpipe qualifier. He also is trying to qualify in the new slopestyle event.
Mammoth Lake's Greg Bretz leads in the men's halfpipe standings with Truckee's Danny Davis in sixth, just ahead of White, who won the only contest he has entered so far.
It's tough to pick four U.S. women for Russia because 14 of the top 16 in the world are Americans. Two-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark of Mammoth swept the first qualifiers to secure one of the four spots.
Two-time Olympian Elena Hight of South Lake Tahoe is fifth. Another two-time Olympic medalist, Hannah Teter of South Lake Tahoe, is ninth.
In slopestyle, X-Games star Jamie Anderson of South Lake Tahoe leads the pack among the women while Brandon Davis of Mammoth Lakes is fourth in the men's standings. The U.S. team can field four slopestyle snowboarders for men and women.
Mammoth will play host to the final two qualifiers Jan. 15-19 for halfpipe and slopestyle.
In snowboardcross, Nate Holland of Squaw Valley hopes to recover from a Dec. 7 surgery for a fractured clavicle to make a run at his third consecutive Olympics.
The six-time X-Games snowboardcross champion has two World Cups to prove he's recovered: Friday and Saturday in Vallnord-Arcalís Andorra, and Jan. 17-19 in Veysonnaz, Switzerland.
Other Sierra boarders trying to earn spots: Tahoe's Ross Andrews and Jayson Hale and Mammoth's Trevor Jacob.