<
>

Snow should help skiing conditions

VANCOUVER, Canada -- Vancouver Olympics organizers
breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday as Mother Nature finally
cooperated and snow began to fall on the barren hills of Cypress
Mountain three days before moguls competition begins.

"It's snowing quite well right now," said Stephen Bourdeau,
spokesman at the Cypress Mountain Olympic venue. "We've had a
nice little dumping that's covering the trees. We expect more of
this in the next couple of days."

Temperatures hovered just below freezing so the rain that
was falling in Vancouver had turned to snow on Cypress, a
mountain on the outskirts of the city.

"It's just cold enough," Bourdeau said. "We're very happy --
we've been waiting for this for a long time."

Once the weather failed to provide enough of a snow blanket
on Cypress for the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events,
Vancouver organizers had to bring snow to the mountain.

After the warmest January in Vancouver history organizers
started moving snow from other areas of Cypress to the
competition site and had to resort to trucking snow in from
another mountain nearly three hours drive away.

Helicopters were also called into service, flying overhead
in constant sorties and filling the air with the loud chop-chop
sound of the rotors as they delivered snow to the higher parts
of the courses.

Trucks were moving snow 24 hours a day and the helicopters
were operating constantly during daylight hours, except when
skiers were training.

Dick Vollet, vice president for mountain operations, said
that all contingency budgets for the mountain venues had been
reallocated to Cypress to ensure there was enough money to pay
for the snow transportation.

Of the $1.6 billion operating budget, the Vancouver Organizing Committee set aside $100 million for contingencies.

The athletes have trained for two days on the moguls course,
where competition begins on Saturday for the women's medal
event.

Most had positive things to say about the snow, which has a
grainy, slushy appearance and feels more like spring skiing snow
than the hard snow often found in February.

"The course is in beautiful shape," said 2002 Olympics
moguls silver medallist Shannon Bahrke, who is used to this type
of snow from growing up in California. "As soon as it gets a
little more skier traffic it's going to be perfect."

Some skiers said the course had improved by Tuesday after
colder weather helped harden the snow pack.

Now organizers just have to hope the temperature stays below
freezing so the rain forecast for the next couple of days will
come down as snow at Cypress.