The organizers of the Vancouver Winter Olympics have prepared for everything, from athlete housing to food preparation to the construction of ski jumps and a new figure skating arena. But with just a few weeks to go until the games, there is one thing they are missing: snow.
The Olympics are scattered through a number of venues. While conditions are pretty good at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort, another Olympic site, Cypress Mountain isn't as lucky. The mountain, about a half an hour from downtown, is lacking snow and that is forcing organizers to take some extraordinary measures.
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After several weeks of unseasonably warm and wet weather, the Vancouver Organizing Committee and the management of Cypress Mountain agreed to close the ski area's to the public early -- on Jan. 13 -- in order to preserve what snow was left on the slopes.
Then Olympic organizers began to take over the role of Mother Nature. The committee is preparing a base made of straw and wood forms that will be covered with snow to build the race courses. Currently snow is being stockpiled at the cooler top of Cypress Mountain and will be moved with trucks, snow cats -- and possibly helicopters – to the race courses below just before the competition starts.
Why no man-made snow? It's simply been too warm. To make snow, temperatures must be in the mid-20s or lower. But recently, the thermometer has been spiking in the mid-40s.
Cypress Mountain declined to comment, saying instead on its Web site: "Our snowmaking team[s] are taking advantage of every available window of weather which allows for production of machine made snow, concentrating on the Olympic Courses. Everyone on Cypress Mountain is optimistic about the conditions and we look forward to the arrival of Olympic Athletes from around the world and to the start of the 2010 Olympic Games."
Mary Fraser, director of media relations for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games said in an e-mail to ABC News that the mountain crews are working "24 hours a day to preserve and protect the snow and we're confident that these efforts will pay off." Fraser added that the, " work will ensure there is enough snow on the mountain to deliver an exceptional field of play and the best team in the world working to make sure the venue is Games ready."
Most skiing events including the men's and women's Downhill, Combined, and Super G will be held in Whistler, further away from the city at a high -- and colder -- elevation.
But six sports are holding their men's and women's competitions at Cypress, including moguls, aerials and ski cross, where four athletes race head to head down a course. There will also be three snowboard events: the halfpipe, snowboard parallel, giant salmon and snowboard cross.
David Wallechinsky, author of the "Complete Book of the Winter Olympics" said the Canadians don't seem to be too worried about what is going on in Whistler.
"They have a lot of snow stored up there," Wallechinsky said. "But the big one is this snowboarding and the freestyle skiing at Cypress Mountain."
He said officials seem to have things under control and in the worst case, might have to alter the courses somewhat.
"It's the nature of the Winter Olympics. It happens all the time. Not quite this extreme because they did this at low elevation," he said.
Wallechinsky said back in 1964, when the Olympics were in Innsbruck, there was such a lack of snow that the Austrian army was called to haul in snow from higher elevations and stomped it down with their hands and feet.
"This is national pride here," he said. "I think the Canadians look at it the same way."
In 1998, at Nagano, Japan, there was panic that there wasn't going to be enough snow.
"And then it just started snowing and snowing and snowing until there was too much snow" that they had to keep postponing the events, Wallechinsky said. "You never know. Weather is unpredictable, even if you are a meteorologist."
The Summer Olympics have had some weather issues but, Wallechinsky said, it's not quite the same.
Atlanta rescheduled the marathon to really early in the morning to avoid heat. And in Beijing there was so much concern about the smog in the area that China shut down factories, prohibited car use and even tried to make it rain to clear the dust.
"One wonders," Wallechinsky said, "with global warming, if this is something that we will have to take into account" as we pick future Olympic cities.