British Columbia

Warm weather closes Vancouver Olympic ski venue

Warm weather and heavy rain have led to the closure of one of Vancouver's Olympic ski hills, one month before several 2010 Winter Olympic events are scheduled to open on the hill.
The ski lifts were empty Monday as B.C.'s Cypress Mountain was closed to public skiing in an effort to preserve snow for the Olympics during a mild spell. ((CBC))

Warm weather and heavy rain have led to the closure of one of Vancouver's Olympic ski hills, one month before several 2010 Winter Olympic events are scheduled to open on the hill.

On Wednesday morning, Olympic officials announced that alpine ski runs at the Cypress Mountain Resort, located on the North Shore of Metro Vancouver, will remain closed to the public, effective immediately in order to preserve the snow remaining on the slopes.

The hill was closed to the public temporarily on Monday due to the warm weather, but on Wednesday VANOC officials announced that closure would be extended until after the Games.

The hill was originally scheduled to close to the public at the beginning of February so that Olympic officials could prepare the resort to host the Olympic freestyle skiing and snowboard half-pipe events. Backcountry trails on the mountain have also been restricted in the lead-up to the Games, but the resort's Nordic ski trails remain open to the public.

In a statement released Wednesday, Olympic organizers said, "The decision to close the mountain until after the Games follows several days of unseasonably warm and wet weather in the Vancouver area, during which VANOC has been running an intensive snow salvage project to conserve snow, including stockpiling snow at higher elevations."

"Closing Cypress Mountain early is the responsible thing to do, given the recent weather, in order to make sure we're ready to host the world's best athletes in one month's time," Tim Gayda, VANOC's vice-president of sport, said in the statement.

Previous events cancelled

Last winter, organizers cancelled two World Cup snowboard Olympic test events at Cypress Mountain because of soft snow resulting from mild weather. Poor visibility due to fog also hampered a World Cup aerials event in 2008.

Lindsey Jacobellis launches off a jump during the World Cup women's snowboardcross event at Cypress Mountain last February. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

But VANOC officials insist there is enough snow, both natural and manmade, on the mountain this year to ensure the Olympic events will go ahead, noting areas of the mountain that will be used for Olympic competition have already been covered with more than two metres of artificial snow.

Since November, the resort has been engaged in a massive snowmaking and stockpiling operation. The resort has been running 35 snow guns around-the-clock to turn 95.3 million litres of water into snow, which has then been stockpiled under tarps at higher elevations all over the mountain.

"We blew a tremendous amount of snow on the upper reaches of the mountain in December, and largely that is all stockpiled and good to go," said Gayda.

Over the next three weeks, the snow will be pushed down the mountain by snow grooming machinery where it will be shaped by machine and by hand to create the freestyle and snowboard courses, he said.

Cypress Mountain will host the aerials, moguls, parallel giant slalom, halfpipe, and ski cross events from Feb. 12 to 28 during the Winter Olympic Games. Other alpine and Nordic ski events are being held further north at the Whistler-Blackcomb Resort, which is not suffering as much from the warm wet weather currently affecting the south coast of B.C.

Seasons pass holders await news

Olympic organizers hope the warm weather system won't last much longer, but VANOC's chief meteorologist forecasts sustained cold weather won't return to Cypress for another week.

Cypress spokesman Kent Rideout said it's too soon to say whether season passholders will be compensated for losing access to the mountain more than two weeks longer than expected.

"We are asking our pass holders to be patient, wait to the end of the season, which will be approximately mid-April. We will look at the season in its entirety at that time, and then address their concerns," said Rideout.

The last time Cypress had an extended mid-winter shutdown because of weather was six years ago.

But this year, those who bought passes did so at a discount, as Cypress was already scheduled for a one-month closure for the Olympics in February.