Olympics Winter

Olympic mountain closed by heavy rain

Cypress Mountain, the site of freestyle and snowboarding events at the Vancouver Games, has been closed because of heavy rain, raising concerns about the mild climate for next month's Olympics.

Concerns rise about mild climate for Games

Rain and warm temperatures forced Cypress Mountain, the ski resort that will host the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events at next month's Winter Olympics, to close Monday, but officials promise there will be plenty of snow for the Games.

Tim Gayda, the vice-president of sport for the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee, said both artificial and natural snow has been stockpiled.

"In terms of having enough snow, even if this weather stayed around, we do have it," Gayda said in an interview. "Right now we are very confident in the pack we have, that we will be able to produce a great field of play."

Kent Rideout, a spokesman for Cypress Mountain, said temperatures of 4 C and rain have melted some snow on the mountain located on Vancouver's north shore.

"I don't think it's a panic situation but certainly both the mountain and VANOC are looking at this closely," Rideout said. "Our plan is we are going to get through this storm, see what the impact is on the lower slopes of the mountain and look at what we would need to do to get the mountain open and going.

"What I mean by that is snow management. Maybe moving snow from some runs over to other runs to keep things going."

Cypress officials will decide Tuesday when they will open the resort again.

Gayda said developing scenarios on how to deal with different kinds of weather have always been included in planning by the Vancouver Organizing Committee, known locally as VANOC.

Stockpiling snow

Since November, VANOC has been using state-of-the-art equipment to turn 95.3 million litres of water into snow, which has been stockpiled at the Olympic venue and surrounding mountains.

Natural snow has also been pushed into massive piles and left for later use.

"In doing that, it insulates the snow from the weather systems like we are getting now," said Gayda.

Areas of the mountain that will be used for Olympic competition have already been covered with more than two metres of artificial snow.

"Right now we have all the snow that we need on the competition area," Gayda said. "The nice thing about artificial snow is it's more resilient and actually stands up better to this kind of weather."

Soft snow conditions and warm temperatures were partly responsible for cancellation of a men's and women's World Cup parallel giant slalom snowboard event last winter. The competition was supposed to be an Olympic test event.

Poor visibility because of fog also hampered a World Cup aerials event in 2008.

Rideout said snowmaking will begin again when temperatures drop.

"The venues still look to be in very good shape right now," he said. "They will return to making snow again as soon as the temperatures come back down."

Given the current snow conditions, Rideout said, the freestyle ski events could probably be held. The bigger issue would be visibility.

The weather could make or break the Games and the government is providing $9 million US in weather forecasting services during the Olympics, including an extensive network of weather stations and wind monitors.