Lack of snow ahead of Winter Games has organizers making contingency plans

By Jeremy Hainsworth, AP
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Organizers deal with a lack of snow ahead of games

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Winter Olympics are coming to Vancouver in three weeks. The snow has no such timetable.

Cypress Mountain, the venue for snowboarding and freestyle skiing events, is bare and muddy in parts. It closed to the public two and a half weeks earlier than planned due to unseasonably warm and wet weather.

The head of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association said Tuesday organizers are using contingency plans due to the lack of snow for freestyle and snowboarding events.

“They’re kind of in crisis mode,” Peter Judge said.

However, Judge is confident snowboarding and freestyle skiing events will proceed.

The mountain had 11 inches of new snow at higher elevations on Monday, said Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald. He said it’s part of a cooling trend after a wet month.

“We had an extremely wet and warm January,” MacDonald said. “When it was raining through last week, everyone was freaking out, for sure.”

Freezing temperatures are expected at the base of Cypress this weekend, he said.

“It looks like the bad weather, Olympic-wise, is done with,” he said.

MacDonald said recent warm weather is attributed to El Nino and, to a lesser degree, to what locals call “pineapple express” weather patterns. Both bring warm weather and rain from the Pacific to the west coast of North America, he said. Cypress provides stunning views of Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean.

But organizers are using wood and hay bales as a base for courses there. That will be covered with stockpiled natural and man-made snow brought in by truck or snowcat from higher elevations. Helicopters are also being used to move materials.

Organizing committee spokeswoman Mary Fraser confirmed contingency work is under way and competition will proceed as planned.

“This is a normal course of action in temperate conditions, and we have all the technology, equipment, people and expertise to deliver the Games,” Fraser said.

Crews are working 24 hours a day to “preserve and protect the snow,” she said.

“Their work will ensure there is enough snow on the mountain to deliver an exceptional field of play,” Fraser said.

Judge said freestyle skiers are used to such conditions.

“This snow makes for a great base. Much more durable than fresh snow,” he said. “We train on glaciers all summer long. We don’t need a lot of snow.”

Cypress’ alpine area has been closed to skiers since Jan. 13.

Last February, a parallel giant slalom event at Cypress had to be canceled due to poor snow conditions. Cypress officials were referring all calls to Olympic organizers Tuesday.

This isn’t the first time a Winter Games has faced a lack of snow.

In 1998, Nagano, Japan, had major concerns in the months before the Games, though eventually wound up with heavy snowfall.

And, the International Olympic Committee Web site notes, the 1964 Innsbruck Games also faced a lack of snow. The Austrian army rushed to the rescue, carving out 20,000 blocks of ice from the mountain side and transporting them down to the luge and bobsled tracks, the IOC site says.

Rumors have swirled that the Cypress events would be moved elsewhere in British Columbia. Judge finds the rumors laughable.

“What are they going to do?” Judge said. “Charter 20 777s and fly everyone there?”

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