Skiing, snowboarding courses ready
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- A clattering helicopter and a rumbling truck dumped more snow on Cypress Mountain, the warm weather-plagued venue where the first Winter Olympic event is just four days away.
Olympic organizers opened parts of the mountain to media for the first time Tuesday, showing off a snow-covered moguls course with big patches of dirt on either side. The snowboard halfpipe remained off limits.
"All in all, I think we are very positive about how things have come together," said Dick Vollet, the Vancouver organizing committee's head of mountain operations. "We are quite happy with where we are given that we are fighting Mother Nature, and sometimes she can be very unforgiving."
The steep slope got a mixed reception from skiers after training.
"Everybody needs to adapt to that course," 2009 World Cup champion Alexandre Bilodeau of Canada said. "It's obviously not the best course we've had this year, and it's not the type of skiing we're used to."
American athlete Bryon Wilson, however, said the course was shaping up well.
"It's a little different to anything we've been on before, but it's soft and it's pretty ripping," he said.
The conditions on Cypress Mountain have been the most dominant concern leading up to the Games, which open Friday.
VANOC chief executive officer Jack Furlong described the efforts to get the venue prepared as being organizers' greatest challenge.
Rainfall and the warmest January on record in the region have forced crews to work around the clock to prepare the tracks.
"The amount of work that has been done against these conditions is really hard to believe," Furlong said.
As reporters walked into the resort just under an hour's drive from Vancouver, blue-clad workers with brooms were sweeping snow around the top of the moguls course and a helicopter ferried back and forth with crateloads of snow dangling beneath it from a long rope.
Flags and fences already line the course, which was hosting its second day of training Tuesday. A giant scoreboard stood atop a rocky outcrop that was completely free of snow.
Vollet said about 170 truckloads of snow have arrived from three hours away to help build up and maintain the courses and halfpipe. He repeatedly had to halt his news conference because of a helicopter landing and taking off nearby.
Temperatures dipped below freezing overnight, Vollet said. Long-range forecasts are mixed and include the possibility of rain through Saturday, the day of the first event -- qualification and finals of the women's freestyle moguls. The men's freestyle moguls follow Sunday.
Wilson wasn't worried about the forecast.
"If it rains, it probably won't do too much to this thing," he said. "The only thing that would change it would be if it got really cold -- that would make it a little more difficult. It would freeze it, and that would be a little harder."
Ramone Cooper of Australia said the conditions were great.
"The snow's strange though. It's like a sand almost," Cooper said. "Every single mogul is like a mini sand castle. It's a bit difficult in parts, but overall it's super good."
Two days of training already have been canceled to help maintain the snowboard halfpipe, and organizers are ready to drape tarps over the entire halfpipe if it starts raining.
"Rain is always not a very good thing up here," Vollet said.
Vollet did manage to find one upside of the lack of snow around the mountain.
"Conditions are going to be great for spectators," he said. "They're going to be walking on gravel paths, not snow."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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