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Rain forces early closure at Cypress

Events won’t move; crews to stockpile more man-made snow as soon as temperatures drop

There was good reason for VANOC's multi-million dollar investment in snowmaking equipment at Cypress Mountain - the pineapple express.

That express brought warm, wet weather to the Olympic competition venue this week, forcing the closure of Cypress for all public alpine skiing two and a half weeks early. The site is still open to the public for cross-country skiing.

"This is a scenario that we planned for for years, and unfortunately it's come true and essentially we're enacting our contingency plan against that," said Tim Gayda, VANOC's vice-president of sport.

The contingency plan means closing the mountain so crews can focus on the Olympic freestyle and snowboard courses and move whatever snow is left to where it's needed most. It does not mean the competitions will move to another venue.

"We will run, for sure, the competitions there," said Gayda. "We're very confident that we have what it takes to get it off there."

Piles of snow in the upper reaches of Cypress are now covered in tarps to protect it against the rain.

And as soon as the temperature drops, that state of the art snowmaking system will be working furiously to stockpile even more snow.

"We're planning for the worst," said Gayda.

"Without that snowmaking we'd definitely be in big trouble."

Cypress spokesperson Kent Rideout said the team there is on board with doing whatever it takes to make the Games a success.

"I think (people) realize that it's the Olympic Games and that's a priority this season for everybody in Vancouver and Whistler," said Rideout.

"For the Games to have success I think everybody has to really support the whole concept and whatever it's going to take to get the Games to go off well."

Rideout highlighted the fact that the venue was always set to close from Feb. 1 to March 8. This just moves up that timeline.

"Nothing's been cancelled," said Rideout. "It's just a change in the process leading up to the Games."

He knows, from his 30 years skiing and working on the North Shore mountains and Whistler that the weather can change on a dime.

"What you see this week could be very different from last week," he said.

There is every chance natural snow can return before the Olympics and winter is set to come back within the week.

Weather challenges are nothing new to Winter Olympic Games. Calgary had warm Chinook winds blowing during its Games, Nagano was deluged with rain, Torino had no natural snow until days before the Games began.

Fortunately the Whistler venues are in great shape, both at Creekside and in the Callaghan.

"We actually couldn't be any happier with the conditions that we've had up there (at the alpine venue)," said Gayda. "Even the rain, to be honest, is not a bad thing in terms of getting the moisture into the snow."

When asked if Cypress passholders will get any discounts to make up for the lost weeks Rideout said any decision like that will not be made until the end of the season.

"We definitely want to be fair with our passholders," he said. "We have to look beyond this season and I think there will definitely be some consideration for the passholders but we want to have the season in its entirety to give a proper evaluation."

Cypress is host to freestyle skiing, which includes aerials, moguls and ski cross, and snowboarding which includes half-pipe, parallel giant slalom and snowboard cross.

VANOC's $17 million upgrades at Cypress included not only the state of the art snowmaking system but also a new in-ground halfpipe, lighting, and a new freestyle site for aerials and moguls, among other things.