Organizers shrug off questions about weather

VANCOUVER — If hand-wringing about the weather was an Olympic sport, Canada would surely dominate the podium.

VANCOUVER — If hand-wringing about the weather was an Olympic sport, Canada would surely dominate the podium.

So say officials from the Vancouver organizing committee known as VANOC, who would not admit defeat Tuesday in the face of Old Man Winter’s steadfast refusal so far to show up at the Games that bear his name.

“What more do we talk about in Canada than weather?” asked Renee Smith-Valade, the cheerful but embattled VANOC spokeswoman whose daily briefings have featured a steady stream of questions about Olympic snafus.

“It’s weather, and it is what it is, and we deal with it,” she said. “We come up with plans that adapt, and we thank everyone who has been impacted by it for their patience and understanding, and we hope that they’ll still be able to attend the events.”

The fickle skies of Whistler, B.C., continued to torment organizers and athletes alike Tuesday as a night of heavy, wet snow forced officials to postpone the men’s super-combined ski race to Sunday. A women’s downhill training run was also cancelled.

“It’s pretty clear we’ve had some challenging weather here,” said Peter Bosinger, the alpine sport manager for the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee.

“We want to make sure that we put together a safe and fair race track. To do that we need time to prepare the race tracks.”

As of Wednesday, the forecast predicts falling temperatures and clear skies, which should help to firm up the slushy wet white stuff — as well as the skiing schedule. So far three races have been postponed and training runs have had to be re-arranged.

“There is no panic situation,” said Gunter Hujara, the men’s race director for the International Ski Federation, or FIS.

While they would no doubt prefer more co-operative conditions, organizers have contingency plans in place to deal with weather challenges — snow had to be trucked and choppered in to the Cypress Mountain venues before the Games began — and ultimately can’t control whatever Mother Nature decides to send their way, Smith-Valade said.

“What we’re focusing on is our ability to react and to respond in ways which are creative and ensure at all costs the most positive experience for athletes.”

Conditions at the cross-country venue in the Callaghan Valley near Whistler have been challenging, but everyone has to ski the same snow, said Tom Holland, high-performance director of Canada’s cross-country ski team.

“It’s a very sugary snow, (but) it’s sugary for everybody,” said Holland. Granular show doesn’t stick to itself, making it difficult for a skier to get traction and creating a challenge for wax technicians.

“Some of the course is breaking down, but most of it is in good shape. They’re doing everything they can to keep the snow bonded together, so the bottom doesn’t give out.”

More than half of the women racing in Tuesday’s snowboard-cross qualifying runs tumbled under a soupy fog that blanketed much of Cypress Mountain, which is home to the snowboard and freestyle skiing events.

One racer who didn’t fall was 31-year-old Maelle Ricker of Vancouver, who cruised to a Canada’s second gold medal of the Games.

It wasn’t immediately clear if poor visibility on the track was to blame for the rash of bails, none of which appeared serious. Heavy morning fog on the peak forced officials to delay the start of qualifying by two hours.

Thanks to the fickle nature of mountain weather, alpine events are routinely delayed or rescheduled, said International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams. Similar delays plagued the alpine events in Sarajevo in 1984 and Nagano in 1998, he noted.

“Weather is always a problem,” Adams said. “It doesn’t make things better than they are here, but it is always a problem.”

Furthermore, the forecast is looking up, he added.

“We have good weather prospects. I’m hoping that in a week’s time this will be a dim distant memory.”

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