Olympic Notebook: The winter thaw in Whistler

Sun and warm rain reduced the supply of snow and played havoc with event planning.

VANCOUVER – Believe me, the irony was not lost on me.
For a full day I sat captive in my home as a massive snowstorm hit Washington on the Wednesday before the 2010 Olympic Games began, the day I was supposed to fly from DC to Canada.
My flight was rescheduled and canceled three times. In the end, I was mid-air when the Olympic torch was being lit at the Opening Ceremonies.
Meanwhile, in British Columbia, Zeus was unwilling to bring forth sufficient flaky precipitation, despite the prayers of multitudes of Olympic officials.
Instead, sun and warm rain reduced the supply of white accumulation and played havoc with event planning.
A brief reprieve – which early last week dusted the top of the Cypress Mountain site, home to the snowboarding and aerial skiing competitions – was washed away days later.
The result has been the rescheduling of events and thousands of refunded tickets.
Israeli skier Mikhail Renzhin was originally slated to compete in his first event, the men’s giant slalom, on Sunday, but the race was pushed back until Tuesday because of weather conditions in Whistler, the other Olympics alpine site.
Vancouver Olympic officials decided to cancel entirely the standing room tickets for the Cypress sites because the melted snow made the structure to accommodate the crowds there unsafe.
Though the tickets were in the lower-cost $50-65 bracket – the grandstand seats at double that price are unaffected – tens of thousands of tickets have been refunded at a cost of some $1.5 million.
Embarking on a Vancouver bus to see the men’s snowboard halfpipe competition myself, the first sign of trouble was the spring-like temperatures breezing through the air. Making our way up that mountain, we then passed a gently trickling stream of water washing down the slate gray rocks and mossy patch on an outcropping as the bus whooshed us upwards.
While the image was positively picturesque, it was a sign of the end-of-season thaw, not winter climates.
Further up the mountain, huge patches of soil and green lay exposed like bald spots in need of toupees. The sensation was one of watching beached whales – evoking a mixture of pity and unease at its disharmony with nature.
Upon reaching the peak, however, the balmy weather was nothing short of spectacular. The sun reflected off brilliant white (if perhaps artificial) snow, the blue skies and dazzling crystalline reflection requiring glasses and sunscreen.
It was possible to bathe in sunshine while watching men swirl and spin and swoosh through the air.
What might have been bad for the athletes was good for the spectators – at least those who were still able to see it.