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Collective effort makes a splash with VANOC

Volunteers, athletes, organizers make the FIS Snowboard World Championships

In the lead up to the Olympics many people might look back on the 2005 FIS Snowboard World Championships as an event that was saved by the success of the Canadian national team.

But that would not be the whole truth.

The truth, according to several event organizers, is that the FIS officials and Whistler-Blackcomb Events crews did an amazing job building and maintaining the venues.

Nothing would have happened had the volunteers – all 900 of them – decided not to work in ridiculously cold temperatures, at first, and then flooding rain.

And the truth is the event would have flopped badly had the leadership group, which included people from the municipality, IMG, Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and FIS, not kept there heads while the heavens opened up around them.

Sam Corea from VANOC said he had heard positive reports from the officials who attended the event.

"From the reports we’ve got the organizers should be commended with the job they’ve done," said Corea. "Certainly there was some challenging conditions, the worst weather ever in fact, but the event happened within the 10 day period with no delays."

Mark Taylor from IMG, who directed the event, conceded that the conditions had amazed him.

"I’ve grown up here my whole life since the late ’60s skiing and snowboarding and I’ve seen rain come and go many times over 24 to 36 hour periods, but I have never seen anything like that," said Taylor.

"And I guess one moment happened on the Saturday morning of the pipe event during the qualifiers, it was raining pretty good and YP (W-B events manager Peter Young) and I were standing in a tent that had a clear plastic roof and the rain was just beating on us. YP just looked up and said, ‘Is that all you got?’ and I thought that was pretty hilarious."

While the black humour helped many of the organizers get on with the job, Taylor agreed that the performance of the Canadian team was the "bow on the package" that had done a lot for staff morale.

"Seeing Canadians on the podiums were huge moments for me. To do the hard work and then have Canada respond by having the best performance they’ve ever had in any international sporting competition for snowboarding was fantastic.

"From winning one bronze medal at the last world championships and two years later being the leading nation at a world championships; that’s a huge task and I think the athletes rose to the occasion."

While the athletes were performing miracles in competition, had it not been for the event staff the championships would have been abandoned. YP said the snowboardcross and parallel slalom courses were the biggest challenges.

"One of the most exciting things was having the Weasels (Weasel Worker volunteers) here looking at this as a recruiting ground for their future events coming up to the Olympics," said YP.

"Getting the young and old working together on the hill and then having a Kokanee at the end of the day in the volunteer tent has been a huge win."

Volunteer co-ordinator Gillian Tiffin confirmed that meeting the volunteer requirements for the championships had been a "huge, huge task."

Volunteers helped in every area, from security at the venues to VIP work, to chaperoning athletes into dope-testing tents. Tiffin said there were many stories and people who had worked tirelessly to keep the volunteers together in sullen conditions but she said one story involving a young Australian woman had stuck with her.

"One girl told me that she was ready to go back to Australia because she was getting depressed and homesick and couldn’t get a job, but she volunteered and kept checking in if she could help," said Tiffin. "She was so much help and in the end she got a job out of it and now she’s staying and is really happy, which I thought was fantastic."

While the volunteers kept the event running once it had started, YP said the planning for the event is what saved it when the rain came.

"The biggest thing that we had going for us was all the preparation we did beforehand through December, because we pumped over 20 million gallons through our water systems to make over a 100-acre-feet (of snow) for these venues," he said.

"And that man-made snow is really durable stuff, as we’ve proved this week. And because we had so much snow on the slopes – it’s metres deep – the water percolated down through the snow and the stuff on the top stayed relatively workable.

"Our guys did a fantastic job and 2010 have been looking at this because anybody can do it on a sunny day, but if you can pull it off when the weather’s really tough like this then that’s the mark of a good team."