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Organizers moving mountains - of snow Add to ...

Olympic organizers have surrendered to the snow gods at one of the key venues for the 2010 Winter Games and are now resigned to bulldozing, trucking and even helicoptering in large amounts of snow to salvage a host of freestyle and boarding events on Cypress Mountain overlooking Vancouver.

"The forecast is not looking in our favour," VANOC executive vice-president Cathy Priestner Allinger admitted yesterday, as a spell of mild, dry weather descended on the city, after days of heavy rain washed away most of the snow on the mountain's Olympic venues.

"So we are actually planning that we will not have snow, and the temperatures may not be agreeable to making snow."

As a result, with the Games just three weeks away, Ms. Priestner Allinger said crews are placing wood and straw on the freestyle, moguls, ski and snowboard cross venues. The wood and straw will then be covered with snow brought in from higher elevations on Cypress.

The end result may be events taking place on snow, watched by spectators seated amid a sea of dirt.

"We are focusing entirely on the field of play. That's where the cameras are, for the most part," Ms. Priestner Allinger said. "The areas around the courses may look different than they did a few weeks ago, after some heavy snowfalls. But we are confident the athletes are going to feel they are in a winter wonderland when they're competing."

Weather woes were not confined to Cypress.

Heavy fog rolled over the Olympic ski jumps at Whistler earlier in the day, just as VANOC brought local and international media to take a look.

Within minutes, the fog shrouded more than half the spectacular structures.

But organizers dismissed any suggestion that similar conditions during the Games could affect events. "You can jump in heavy, heavy fog," said John Heilig, VANOC's ski sites manager. "Today, you could absolutely be ski jumping."

Shortly afterwards, big fat raindrops began to fall. "You cannot control the weather," Dick Violet, vice-president of the mountain operations, said with a resigned smile.

Rare is the Winter Olympics that have not had at least one alpine skiing event rescheduled because of poor weather. "There is always time to postpone," Mr. Violet said.

At Cypress, Kent Rideout, communications manager of the ski resort, said there was a heavy snowfall on the mountain last weekend, but the white stuff did not reach lower elevations where Olympic events will be staged. "Looking out the window I can still see a patch of snow, but a bit further down it's pretty lean," he said.

Ms. Priestner Allinger said VANOC's task is to move the snow from the tops of the mountain to "where we need it. We are confident we are going to build a fantastic field of play." Sno-Cats, trucks and helicopters "to transport snow from other places we can't get to" will be used for the salvage operation, she said.

VANOC chief John Furlong said steps will also be taken to ensure that spectators don't mess up the courses by raising clouds of dust. "If we have to, we'll clean up the outside using gravel, so that the site is beautiful for the athletes and those watching on TV," he said.

Organizers have always known weather could bedevil the Games, and so far, Mr. Furlong said, only one of six outdoor venues has run into problems.

"Everyone is working flat out up there," he said of Cypress. "It's a full-court press, and we are confident we will deliver events on the dates they are scheduled."

VANOC disclosed the snow problem after its final pre-Olympic board meeting.

As the Games approach, organizers are still having trouble getting residents to prepare for the Olympics. So-called "Challenge Fridays" for commuters to test how they will get to work during the Games have fallen far short of the 30-per-cent reduction in car traffic that VANOC says is needed to avoid gridlock.

And only 50 per cent of Cypress event ticket holders have so far bought their mandatory bus tickets to get to the venue.

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