Vancouver preparations down to last straw

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Rather than stage the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events with the rest of the mountain activities in Whistler, British Columbia, a resort town 70 miles north of Vancouver, the Vancouver Organizing Committee el...

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Rather than stage the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events with the rest of the mountain activities in Whistler, British Columbia, a resort town 70 miles north of Vancouver, the Vancouver Organizing Committee elected to hold them just 20 minutes outside of town at Cypress Mountain.

They have been paying the price for months now.

That's what happens when Canada's warmest city is picked to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. In fact, Vancouver has a warmer average temperature in the month of February (39.7 degrees) than any other city that has hosted the Winter Games since 1924.

To boot, last month was one of the warmest and wettest Januarys on record in Vancouver.

That means crews have been working -- and stomachs have been churning at VANOC and the International Olympic Committee -- around the clock to make sure the Games go off without a hitch in 10 days.


So far, VANOC has done an impressive job of reassuring fans and broadcast partners that there will be no problems come Feb. 12 at Cypress Mountain, where it has been too warm to make snow.

"There is no intention of moving from this venue," VANOC's vice president of sport Tim Gayda said last week in a statement. "We've had the courses inspected by the IOC and the international federations for snowboard and freestyle. They were very, very happy with what they saw."

The VANOC crew on the mountain might tell you otherwise. The design of the competition courses already has been redrawn. Cypress, which was supposed to remain open leading up to the Games, was closed to the public a few weeks ago.

Since then, a team of 45 people has been working 24/7 to build a foundation by pushing snow from the top of the mountain down to the base.

By last Friday, more than 1,065 bales of straw -- used to shape the courses in the absence of snow -- had been dropped into place by helicopters. The straw, which also acts as an insulator, will be covered by hundreds of truckloads of snow from nearby Black Mountain.

The latest long-term forecast for Cypress shows a cooler stretch but doesn't leave much hope for new snow.

The reasoning behind staging freestyle and snowboard events at Cypress was to bring these mountain events closer to the ice hockey, curling and skating events in the city.

By contrast, Whistler Blackcomb Mountain -- where the other alpine skiing, jumping and sliding events will be held -- has seen the largest amount of snow by the end of January since snow reporting first began in 1980, according to VANOC.


In all, 30 medals will be awarded from the events due to be held at Cypress: moguls, aerials, ski cross, snowboard cross, halfpipe and parallel giant slalom.

"We are very, very confident that we have enough snow to be able to weather any kind of inclement weather we have rolling into the Games," Gayda told the Vancouver Sun. "The plan to stage the freestyle and snowboard events on Cypress Mountain is continuing full steam ahead."

Steam, ironically, is just about the only sure thing at Cypress Mountain this winter.


Playing in the Northwest Division, without an opponent closer than 700 miles away, travel is a given for the Vancouver Canucks.

The Olympics took it to a whole new level this year for the Canucks, whose home arena, General Motors Place, is being transformed into Hockey Canada Place to host Olympic hockey.

The Canucks embarked on the NHL's longest road trip in history last Thursday: a 14-game, 12,885- mile journey that spans 42 days -- and that doesn't count the two-week Olympic break.

"It really helps that we've got it cut in two," forward Alex Burrows told reporters. "I think those first eight games are going to be hard, then we've got a little time to rest, then we go back at it, if you look at it that way ... it shouldn't be too bad."


Seven Canucks players will don their country's colors on home ice during the break. The other side of the trip has Vancouver visiting six cities in nine days.

Back at GM Place, every piece of signage and advertising needs to be removed, the benches and broadcast areas need to be redesigned and 14 temporary locker rooms need to be added. That all needs to be reversed after the Games, too.

Thankfully for the Canucks, the trip would have been longer had the IOC decided to remove seats and make the rink 15-feet wider for a true Olympic-sized sheet of ice instead of the regular NHL size.

In 2005-06, the Flyers embarked on what was previously the NHL's longest road trip (11 games). They came out of it with an 8-2-1 record. For Vancouver, 28 points are at stake.

The trip -- with visits to diverse climates like Florida and Minnesota -- left players with a packing dilemma.

"The guys are laughing; every time I pack for a four-day trip they bug me about bringing a massage table because I bring a big bag. I don't know what I'm going to do for this trip to get all the clothes in there," forward Darcy Hordichuk told reporters. "My wife always laughs that I pack about 20 pairs of underwear and I come back home and 19 of them are untouched."

The Canucks, who left with the lead in the Northwest, close out the regular season with home games in 10 out of the last 15 on their schedule. That will leave plenty of time for laundry.



A floating barrier with lighted buoys has been extended around Coal Harbour and False Creek in Vancouver's bustling seaport to protect the city against a possible terrorist attack. The area will be constantly patrolled by marine security vessels, knocking out the possibility of house boats dropping anchor for the duration of the Games.

Interestingly, most of the Olympic security team -- thousands of police officers and members of the Canadian Forces -- will be living on the water in three docked cruise ships acting as floating hotels. The cost of hiring the ships alone is $76 million, a bill footed by the VANOC.


Environment Canada has spent $13.4 million (Canadian) on weather services for the Olympics, including a weather-watching Web site that accurately monitors the weather down to "street level" in specific spots . . . At work since 2003, when it first found out that Vancouver would host the Games, BC Hydro has put 125 portable power generators into place at the 17 Olympic venues -- down from the 650 that were used to power Turin in 2006.

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