At Winter Games, some may turn to golf

Warm, wet weather forcing Vancouver to truck in snow

February 12, 2010|By Lisa Dillman | Tribune olympic bureau

VANCOUVER — — Nothing quite like the stunning vision of Vancouver from an airplane.

The arriving U.S. Olympic snowboarders spotted the usual breathtaking vistas this week: picture-perfect mountains, pristine valleys and water everywhere.

And golfers.

In February.

"We were joking about maybe getting a tee time," said Nick Baumgartner of Iron River, Mich., who will be competing in men's snowboard cross.

This is, quite clearly, not your father's Winter Olympics. Already, there have been jokes about the Winter/Summer Olympics in temperate Vancouver, and the Lithuanian team was cracking jokes about the Spring Olympics.

In Vancouver, it was 46 degrees and rainy Wednesday. There is rain, front and center, the next few days. Prepare for mind-numbing predictability of rain here.

Unfortunately, predictability has not been the case in terms of winter weather in Vancouver, coming off its warmest January on record. This has forced organizers to continually audible at nearby Cypress Mountain, the venue for snowboarding and freestyle skiing.

Snow is being trucked in from higher elevations, a three-hour trip from Allison Pass in Manning Park, a provincial park. Helicopters have been dumping snow at the venue and on Wednesday were assisted by a light mix of the real stuff.

The Vancouver Olympic Committee held a news conference Tuesday at Cypress Mountain, detailing operational activities and maintaining that there is no plan to move any events to Whistler, which is farther north and at higher altitude. It has plenty of snow.

"We're very positive about how the venue is coming together, since we're fighting Mother Nature and sometimes she's not so forgiving," said Dick Vollet, the group's vice president of mountain operations.

Speaking of Whistler, why weren't the action-sport events held there in the first place?

"It's the mountain experience in the city," Vollet said. "If we had the snow we had last season, it would be a whole different story."

Said U.S. Ski & Snowboard CEO Bill Marolt: "The weather is the unknown factor."

Mild weather is not unprecedented for the Winter Olympics. Olympic veterans remembered waiting for buses in shirt-sleeves at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, but those warm Chinook winds were more like a few hours, not a few weeks.

An almost superhuman effort was required to pull off the alpine events at the 1964 Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria. It took more than a village to build a slope - in fact, it took an army. Snow was imported, and soldiers cut ice blocks higher up on the mountain and brought them down to pack the course, by hand.

No call has gone out for the Canadian Mounties just yet.

The snowboarders have received assurances about the course, though they have yet to see it. Baumgartner exchanged messages with one of the course builders and said he was satisfied.

"I've heard from the Canadians that everything is coming together very well," said Lindsey Jacobellis, a silver medalist four years ago. "We knew they would do everything in their power to make it."

Still, all the 24/7 preparations could take a hit if the rain keeps falling.

"I guess there will be rain on our course," said Peter Foley, coach of the U.S. snowboarding team. "From the snow standpoint, it's usually not that big a deal. Our wax techs will wax for it and try to make the boards fast for that condition. The one issue is visibility. If your goggles are getting covered in water, that's hard."

Snowboarder Graham Watanabe was taking a long-term view.

"Down here, it's looking pretty nice," he said. "As soon as I'm done competing, I'm going to find a golf course nearby and try to go out and hit some balls. It's looking pretty green."


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