Snow Day! Cypress Mountain gets much-needed break, thanks to healthy dose of the white stuff

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow showers give Cypress Mountain big assist

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A good day for Cypress Mountain, with plenty of snow. Whistler was another matter — fog ruled with heavy snow coming soon to likely disrupt the Alpine skiing schedule.

Cypress was hit with a surprise snow storm Wednesday, giving the home of the Olympic freestyle and snowboarding venues a big boost a few days before competition begins. The snow was falling steadily as the Canadian moguls team arrived for practice.

“It makes everything look white, so that’s a good thing,” said race director Joe Fitzgerald.

But the snow won’t be sticking around.

Fitzgerald is preparing for rain — lots of it — over the next three days. He said the forecast calls for conditions to be wet and borderline miserable until early next week.

An uncommonly warm winter has forced officials to truck in snow from other parts of the mountain to help build the courses at the venue. The biggest problem at Cypress has been forming the halfpipe, where two days of practice have been canceled.

Michelle Roark was the only American on the moguls course Wednesday and simply shrugged when asked about the potential for a soggy run Saturday.

“That’s something out of our control,” she said. “We deal with it all the time in World Cup, it just kind of goes with the territory.”

Fitzgerald, however, isn’t worried about how the rain could affect the quality and the quantity of the snow on the course. He’s concerned that precipitation could lead to fog, which could lead to postponements.

“If we can’t see the start, we can’t move forward,” Fitzgerald said. “The judges have to be able to see.”

The 800-foot long course drops 300 vertical feet from start to finish.

The first freestyle competition is Saturday — women’s moguls. The schedule does allow for some wiggle room. The women’s moguls could be run Sunday before the men’s event begins or Monday or Tuesday if things deteriorate over the weekend.

At Whistler, fog forced the first men’s downhill training run to be canceled after only 42 of the 87 racers completed the Olympic course.

Race organizers were immediately put under further pressure by a “significant storm cycle” expected to affect the Alpine venue through Saturday.

In an Olympic first, men’s and women’s downhill racers will attempt to train on their adjoining slopes at the same time Thursday morning before the weather closes a window of opportunity to ski safely.

The two courses share a common finish area, so the men’s run will end higher up the mountain to avoid potential crashes.

“It’s a terrible situation for everybody,” said men’s race director Guenter Hujara. “We’re trying to be as creative as possible.”

The women will be getting their first extended look at the Franz’s Run course, where the first medal race, the super-combined event, is scheduled for Sunday.

The schedule squeeze was suggested after a forecast for 2.2 inches of wet snow on the lower part of the mountain by late Thursday afternoon and twice that amount in the top half.

“The weather doesn’t give us a chance later on,” Hujara said. “If we wait, we lose.”

Heavy snowfall also is expected early Friday from a front coming in off the Pacific Ocean and worse is set to follow overnight.

Team coaches were told to expect “a challenging day” Saturday when the men’s downhill medal race is scheduled.

The signature event — which had three training days scheduled — cannot be held until at least one valid practice session is completed.

Olympic rules do not recognize a training run unless the entire field races on the same day.

Canadian Alpine star Manuel Osborne-Paradis, a Vancouver native, doesn’t think the lack of multiple training runs will have a major effect on the race.

“Some guys probably want another one, but it’s not a very difficult course to figure out,” he said.

If there are delays, skiers aren’t particularly worried about how to spend the down time.

“With this team I’ll bet a lot of us will be out powder skiing if the race got delayed, so we’re not just going to be sitting watching TV,” said American skier Marco Sullivan.

Whistler, with fronts coming off the nearby Pacific Ocean, has a long relationship with uncooperative weather. World Cup race weekends were canceled in three straight seasons from 1996-98 before the venue was removed from the schedule.

Whistler successfully returned to the circuit in Feb. 2008 in separate weekends of racing for men and women as test events for the Winter Olympics.

AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf and Graham Dunbar in Whistler, British Columbia, contributed to this report.

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