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2010 Winter Olympics: Cypress Mountain ski site is sucking fun out of games

CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, British Columbia — If you want to crush the Olympic spirit in Vancouver, just say "Cypress Mountain."

It's almost become an obscenity to refer to the venue that is the ulcer of the 2010 Winter Games.

It was bad enough that wind, rain and unseasonably warm temperatures made the course a constant work in progress. Then long lines for food, insufficient restrooms and horrific conditions for spectators began to erode what good will remained for the resort in the foothills of Vancouver.

The worst, however, came late Sunday night. That's when VANOC announced it had to cancel more than 8,000 spectator tickets for snowboard cross on Monday and Tuesday. It seemed a bad situation had hit rock bottom.

"I'd love to talk about any other venue besides Cypress," said Renee Smith Valade, press officer for VANOC. "The problems are weather related, and unfortunately that's the one thing we can't control. Our staff have worked round the clock to get that site ready for competition. Our staff has literally willed that mountain into competition shape at that venue."

Unfortunately, the staff could not keep the rain and wind from washing away the side of the mountain, which is where more than 4,000 fans were supposed to be allowed to watch snowboard cross events Monday and Tuesday.

"We had not anticipated on the first night of moguls, the damage that might be taking place with the heavy rain all night and wind, which did the most damage," said John Furlong, CEO of VANOC.

After several site inspections Sunday, officials said they had no choice but to close the general admission area, in which spectators purchased tickets through a lottery for $50 each.

"We regretted having to make that decision very much," Furlong said, "because we know for many people that was their moment to be at the Games."

Not only did VANOC worry about the safety of those standing in the muddy areas, but they also felt it eventually would destroy the competition course they've tried so desperately to maintain.

"We really felt we had no alternative but to allow the area not to be encroached upon," Furlong said. "Our No. 1 priority is to make sure the athletes can compete in their events."

Spectators who have attended events at Cypress, which included mogul skiing on Saturday and Sunday and snowboard cross on Monday, have a long list of complaints, like waiting hours for food and sometimes never having the opportunity to use a restroom.

VANOC's answer to those problems is more vague.

"We would encourage people to get a snack or something to drink at times when the lines won't be so long," Smith Valade said. "Unfortunately, the cold weather means more people want to get something hot to drink and get out of the cold."

In other words, eat during the finals, if you must. And as for using the bathroom, well, it's only an hour bus ride, eh?

"We're doing the best we can, but it's a dense area," she said.

When asked if VANOC made a mistake putting such popular events at Cypress, both Smith Valade and Furlong said they believe they made the right choice, and they'd do it again given the same information.

"Remember that last year people were snowboarding at Cypress Mountain at the end of April," she said.

Added Furlong, "Given everything we had, and if we had the same information, we'd have chosen the same site again. It's a very bizarre period of weather we've had. It's not been a fun experience."

Those 8,000 people who planned on watching one of the most exciting new sports at the Olympics know all about having their fun ruined. Instead of watching athletes race motocross style around a snow track, they're on VANOC's Web site trying to figure out how to get their money back.

"If it's not easy to find," Smith Valade said, "we'll make it easier. We're committed to refunding the money of those people who had their ticket canceled due to safety concerns."

Those people, however, who dealt with the delays that moved women's super combined from Sunday to Wednesday were encouraged to "give their tickets to a friend," or take another day off work to attend at the new time.

"We're sorry there are no refunds for weather-related reasons," Smith Valade said on Saturday.

And as for whether or not these issues have made the IOC reconsider its choice, well, rest assured, they are perfectly happy with how the Games are going three days into competition.

"It's been fantastic," said Mark Adams, press officer for the IOC. "I'm not Canadian, but last night I kind of wished I was (when Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada's first gold medal on home soil). I'm having a great time, and I hope you are, too. I really don't think there is much we can do about the weather."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com