The Games Must Go On

The Olympic Halfpipe as of January 22. Photo: The New York Times

The Olympic Halfpipe as of January 22. Photo: The New York Times

Editor's Note: Contributing writer Francesca Basile is based in Whistler and is the author of heeldrag.blogspot.com.

Although Mother Nature has not been cooperating with winter weather for Cypress Mountain, the host of the Olympic snowboard events, event organizers remain confident that their contingency plan will allow the events to go off without a hitch despite unseasonably barren slopes.

"We have all the technology, equipment, people and expertise to deliver the Games," says Cathy Priestner Allinger, the Vancouver Organizing Committee's executive vice president for sport and games operations in an interview with The New York Times. "Our team at Cypress Mountain is working around the clock to preserve and protect the snow, and we're confident that these efforts will pay off."

When Vancouver won the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, preparation began immediately. The Vancouver Organizing Committee developed strategies and allocated funds, dividing events between Vancouver venues and Whistler Blackcomb, two hours north of the city. Cypress Mountain, located 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, was chosen to host freestyle ski and snowboard events. The mountain was built in the 1960s with the intention of hosting the Olympic Games, but suddenly found themselves with a lot of work to do when the dream became reality.

CNL Lifestyles (the investment trust that supplies their capital), and the Vancouver Organizing Committee provided a combined $28 million in funds to transform Cypress from a local Vancouver mountain resort to a legitimate Olympic venue. Media spokesman Kent Rideout claims Cypress was planning to build itself up for years. "The Olympics and capital investment from CNL allowed us to move forward more quickly," he says.

The mountain installed a snowmaking system of 35 snow guns, 51 hydrants and a 5 million gallon reservoir designed to throw a three-foot blanket of snow over areas used for Olympic events. Cypress also added another high-speed lift and cut eight new ski runs of steeper, more advanced terrain. The piece de resistance of the overhaul is the 48,000 square foot behemoth of a base lodge. The three-story, ski-in, ski-out expanse combines retail, rental, mountain services, cafeteria, restaurant, bar, meeting rooms, and a banquet hall. "The lodge moves us to a whole new level of service," says Rideout, citing the space as a prime location for corporate meetings. CNL invested $14 million in the Cypress Creek Lodge. "The prior base was small, modular… it fell short of the Olympics," says Steve Rice, vice president and managing director of CNL. "We really believe in Cypress."

The resort has been stock piling snow at higher elevations and moving it to event sites using cats and helicopters.

The resort has been stock piling snow at higher elevations and moving it to event sites using cats and helicopters. Photo: Scott Serfas, TransWorld SNOWboarding

When Cypress announced they were closing their lifts to the public on January 14 due to deteriorating conditions, more than two weeks ahead of schedule, it reminded everyone that no amount of funds and planning can guarantee the most important element of the Winter Games: snow. November and December brought above average snowfall and Cypress managed to open early with a 45-centimeter base. However, recently, the weather has taken a milder turn, with periods of heavy rainfall and temperatures in West Vancouver reaching 57 degrees (F) in mid-January. While Cypress's early closure brought a barrage of worry to the local media, Rideout assures the Olympic events are in no danger from the weather. "The Vancouver Olympic Committee has an excellent plan in space for snow," he says. "We are confident the snow coverage will be intact for the Olympic Games. "Rideout contends that any outdoor event can be affected by a variety of uncontrollable conditions, from precipitation to fog.

Since Cypress closed, VANOC has been stockpiling snow at the top of the mountain to be preserved for the Games. As a small resort, Rice acknowledged the extent of work that is required for Olympic preparation, from parking to storage to infrastructure. The mountain was originally planning on closing to the public February 1. "There is an extra commitment required of the staff," says Rice. "The whole resort has to be dedicated to preparation. Closing early was a joint decision between Cypress and VANOC, based on the persistent weather pattern." There is still time for Mother Nature to play a beneficial role; however, in extreme conditions, VANOC is prepared to bring in snow by truck or helicopter.

Lacking the deep powder days and big mountain terrain that prevail further into British Columbia, Cypress expects that the freestyle ski and snowboard events will bring more attention to these sports, spurring an increase in visitors among the younger local market. Rice also hopes exposure from the Olympics will pull in Vancouver residents that wouldn't normally ride at the mountain. "Locals will get a new perspective," he says. "The mountain is transformed. We were steadily growing before, but I'm confident this will be a game-changer." With the recent addition of more advanced terrain, Rice sets his bar higher than just the core snowboard and freestyle ski market, stating, "Recreational riders and skiers won't be dissuaded. All events held in Cypress really show a lot of what the mountain has to offer."

Cypress hopes the Games will put them on the map of global winter destinations. "We expect the prestige of the Olympics to bring people to Vancouver and make Cypress Mountain a part of their trip," says Rideout. "The notoriety will be great for Cypress Mountain as a result of the Olympics. This will provide us worldwide exposure. Not only Canada and the US – the entire world."