Snow, fog, rain, mush wreak havoc on moguls, downhill courses, and the elements aren’t done

By Eddie Pells, AP
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ski courses have it all: snow, fog, rain and mush

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — His goggles splattered with rain, his teammates still on the course training, Nate Roberts bailed to the athletes’ lounge and started peeling off the soaking layers.

Veteran move.

“It’s soupy, it’s mushy, it’s mashed potatoes,” the 27-year-old U.S. Olympian said Thursday, describing the snow on the moguls course at Cypress Mountain, where the cold, heavy raindrops lashed down sideways.

Roberts, like many of the other 66 skiers who will head to the mountain this weekend, was invoking the power of positive thinking, in part because everyone has seen the forecast for the freestyle and snowboarding venue — more of the same.

Further up in the mountains in Whistler, the home of the Alpine courses, snow, fog and rain messed with the schedule and put one of the signature events of the Olympics, the men’s downhill, in flux. The opening men’s practice was canceled Wednesday, and the women’s training got wiped out Thursday.

“We know we have more bad weather ahead, and it isn’t going to be as easy as we had hoped,” said Peter Bosinger, the Vancouver organizing committee’s sport manager for Alpine skiing.

At Cypress, the rain helped soften the snow and smooth out the turns, which almost always makes moguls skiers happy. Race director Joe Fitzgerald said he could all but guarantee the moguls course at Cypress — where they recently trucked in 3,000 cubic meters of snow after going without a significant storm since Jan. 15 — would hold up through the weekend.

“It’s not going away,” he said.

One thing he can’t control, however, is the kind of fog that rolled in Thursday night, obscuring the top of the mountain. Those conditions would make it impossible for judges at the bottom to do their job if they exist Saturday night when Jenn Heil is a favorite, and could be the first Canadian to win Olympic gold on her home turf.

“I had my coach coming with me with an umbrella on the chair,” Heil said. “First time I’ve skied with an umbrella. We’re seeing all kinds of different things.”

Trying to ensure the course’s two takeoff areas would remain frozen, organizers installed long tubes filled with dry ice beneath the jumps — one of dozens of extraordinary efforts they’ve taken to get Cypress ready despite temperatures in the 40s for most of the winter.

The halfpipe has been built but is being covered with tarps to repel the snow-eroding rain. Training for next Wednesday’s competition is scheduled to start Sunday.

Meanwhile, knowing that fog and rain are still in the forecast, organizers published a detailed list of contingency plans that included mention of running multiple events on the same day, along with the highly unlikely chance of cancellation.

“The rules make the decision for us,” Fitzgerald said.

As is the case in Cypress, more precipitation is forecast through the weekend in Whistler, raising fears that the men’s downhill could be postponed.

The forecast at the Alpine venues calls for up to 4 inches of fresh snow overnight on the top of the course. The snow is expected to stop by about 7 a.m. Friday, but then more fog could roll in.

“Today we experienced what we knew could happen in Whistler,” Bosinger said. “Unfortunately we can’t control all the variables out there, and the weather has been one of them.”

AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Whistler contributed to this report.

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