Organizers for the 2010 Winter Olympics are pulling out all stops at troubled Cypress Mountain, including a snow-hardening technique designed to battle the unseasonably warm temperatures.
Two fields of play at Cypress Mountain are being artificially frozen by the new technique, the latest in a series of measures taken to improve conditions at the Olympic home of freestyle skiing and snowboard. Above-freezing temperatures and a paucity of snow have forced the cancellation of official training days and recreational skiing for Olympians, and organizers have admitted they are "knee deep" in contingency planning, working around the clock to get Cypress ready.
Training for moguls competitors begins today, with the women's competition scheduled for Saturday, while training on the parallel giant slalom snowboard course has now been pushed back by two days. But organizers say that will still give athletes ample time to prepare before the competition. Parallel giant slalom doesn't begin until Feb. 26.
Media will not be allowed on the mountain until tomorrow.
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games is using corrugated pipes, buried beneath the snow on the aerials and moguls fields of play. The pipes are filled with dry ice, which freezes or hardens the snow from the inside out.
"It's something we haven't done before, so, for us, it's quite interesting," said Peter Judge, chief executive officer of the Canadian Freestyle Association.
The technique creates a more consistent surface because the snow is sapped of moisture and becomes more granular than the sticky fresh stuff, which has been in short supply.
"It's something they have looked at and have had good success with," said Tim Gayda, vice-president of sport for VANOC.
Mr. Judge said snow hardening poses no safety concerns for athletes, and actually improves safety in aerials, where competitors prefer a fast surface on their descent to the jump, in order to gather enough air to perform their tricks. He said snow hardening is producing 10 to 12 hours worth of hard surface, and that pipes are embedded into the jumps on the moguls course, which will allow competitors to "open the throttle" beginning Saturday.
VANOC spokeswoman Mar Fraser said that dry-ice piping can preserve quality snow for up to two days, and that the aerials jump is also being covered with a tarp to trap the cold. She said the ski-cross and snowboard-cross courses at Cypress do not require snow hardening because they are located at higher elevations and are freezing naturally.
VANOC said that the piping technique is only being used at the aerials site, but Mr. Judge said it was originally tested on the moguls course and that work continues on both fields of play.
"They're going full bore on the moguls hill," Mr. Judge said. "I have pictures."
VANOC refused to make an expert on snow hardening available for interviews because, according to spokespeople, they are too busy working on the mountain.
Both Mr. Judge and Mr. Gayda said that the technique is impractical for halfpipe because of the immensity of the pipe, which stands 22 feet high.
Concerns about the condition of the pipe forced the cancellation of scheduled training days Friday and Saturday. Halfpipe competitors will now have three training days instead of five.
Also, the work at Cypress scuttled plans to allow athletes to "free ski" at the mountain this past weekend. VANOC offered to move athletes to Whistler and pay for their transportation, lunches and lift tickets.
The fast and rolling Upper Springboard run on Blackcomb Mountain was fenced off yesterday for Olympic athletes but the slope was empty. Canada's freestyle team and snowboard team, as well as the U.S. snowboard team, had no plan to send athletes to Whistler. Many won't arrive in Vancouver until mid-week.
Reduced training days in the snowboard halfpipe at Cypress has not rattled Olympics riders, who often only get a day or two to train at other major competitions.
"We're not worried at all. If VANOC hadn't been this prepared, we'd be in big trouble," said Guy Napert-Frenette, spokesman for Canada's snowboard team.
A Snowboard Canada official on Saturday inspected the pipe said and relayed an "A-plus report," Mr. Napart-Frenette added.
Whistler has had a lot of snow this year (with a record 10 metres to the end of January) and on Whistler Mountain yesterday preparations for the alpine races were quiet, with small groups of workers completing the course fencing. Near the bottom of the mountain, the snow was very soft and wouldn't be ready to race without special preparation.
Organizers are importing snow from three locations, including two high-elevation locales in the B.C. interior, by helicopter. That is expected to continue into today, according to Mr. Gayda, with more than 5,000 cubic metres of snow being dumped on the West Vancouver mountain.
Mr. Gayda said snow harvesting is for the finish areas and access routes for the VANOC work force, but that the fields of play are in good shape. He said scheduled events at Cypress will not be relocated.