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2010 Winter Games outdoor venue teams matching wits with Mother Nature

2010-01-12 08:46:00 VANOC

Vancouver, BC ĘD On the eve of the final month to go before the start of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, intensive operations to prepare the four outdoor competition venues for all weather scenarios ĘD including the current spell of unseasonably warm and wet weather in Vancouver ĘD are well underway to ensure the optimum fields of play for the world’s best winter athletes.

This preparation work by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) at Whistler Creekside, The Whistler Sliding Centre, Whistler Olympic Park/Whistler Paralympic Park, and Cypress Mountain involves years of planning, state-of-the-art snow making equipment, a fleet of snow grooming machines, dedicated mountain operations staff, the best ice meisters and snow makers in the business, and advanced weather tracking technology provided by Environment Canada.

“We’re putting everything we’ve learned and planned for regarding weather contingency into practice at the outdoor venues in order to be ready for the Games,” said Tim Gayda, VANOC’s vice president of sport. “Since the first snowfalls in Whistler and Cypress last fall we’ve been blowing snow and grooming our courses. As a precaution, we’re also stockpiling snow to ensure we’re ready no matter what the weather conditions are leading up to and during the Games.

“Every day we’re making decisions and taking steps to deal with the weather we have or can see coming. We’re confident these courses will be in world-class shape when the athletes start to arrive to practice in our venues in the first week of February,” he continued.

“In Whistler, we were very fortunate at the beginning of the ski season to have large amounts of natural snow, which we’ve been mixing with our artificial snow to make a firm base that is perfect for racing. Both competition courses at Whistler Creekside and at Whistler Olympic Park are currently in great shape.

“The Whistler Sliding Centre, with its artificial refrigeration, roof structures and shading system, is largely protected from any kind of weather that we could possibly encounter. The ice was tested last fall by all of the international teams when we hosted training weeks for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge. We’re in a maintenance mode now with the ice preparation to make sure it’s at its best in February.

“At Cypress, we started off the season with cold temperatures and were able to make substantial amounts of snow. We went through 21 million gallons of water and blanketed all of the competition courses with more than enough snow. At higher elevations the mountain received substantial amounts of natural snow that we are currently pushing into big piles in order to naturally insulate it. Recently, the warm weather and rain means we’re working even harder to protect the snow and we’ll make more snow as soon as the temperature drops enough to do so. In the coming weeks, we’ll be pushing snow down the mountain to create our courses. We’re doing everything we can to ensure we will put on great Games no matter what kind of weather we are faced with. It’s really exciting to see these courses come to life at our venues,” Gayda concluded.

Environment Canada is working hand-in-hand with the organizing committee to help prepare the venues for any type of weather condition. The federal department has made $13.4-million worth of scientific expertise and state-of-the-art weather tracking equipment available for the Games. The equipment includes a brand-new Doppler radar in the Whistler area, a wind profiler at the Squamish Airport and a network of automated weather stations.

“Weather is involved in just about every decision we make as Games organizers, from when to make and stockpile snow to transportation planning, and we’re constantly monitoring it,” explained Chris Doyle, an Environment Canada meteorologist and VANOC’s manager of weather services. “We base our decisions on top-notch weather equipment and Environment Canada meteorologists who specialize in weather data crunching for the Games region. All of this provides an invaluable real-time snapshot of what’s happening at the outdoor venues and what Mother Nature has in store in the near future so that we can plan and take action.”

Doyle joined the VANOC team in 2005 to lead the development of a comprehensive weather plan and the installation of all of the venue specific weather monitoring equipment.

Along with making and managing snow and ice, VANOC is also working with venue partners at Whistler Creekside, Whistler Olympic Park/Whistler Paralympic Park and Cypress Mountain to manage Games-prep requirements with ongoing public recreational use. Depending on weather conditions, as the Games draw near VANOC may need to further restrict use or close competition venues to the public to protect and preserve the competition and training sites.

The following is a venue-by-venue breakdown on weather preparedness and snow and ice making:

CypressMountain

Cypress Mountain has a snowmaking reservoir of more than 22.7 million litres of water (five million gallons) and the terrain has been shaped to accommodate the construction of freestyle skiing and snowboard event courses with the minimum amount of snow needed.

State-of-the-art snow making using 35 snow guns has been operating around-the-clock since November and has converted over 95.3 million litres of water (21 million gallons) to snow needed to construct the courses. This snow has been stockpiled all over the mountain to ensure the terrain at Games time can sustain all weather conditions. Over the next three weeks, the snow will be pushed down the mountain by snow grooming machinery where it will be shaped by machine and by hand to create the freestyle and snowboard courses, including the 60-metre-long superpipe, which is 19.5 m to 20 m wide and 6.5 m high.

The ski resort, operated by Boyne Resorts, is closed today and Tuesday, January 12 because of forecasted heavy rain. A snow salvage project is underway to conserve snow and VANOC will decide early on Wednesday January 13 whether more intensive snow management is needed. This decision could require the closure of all alpine runs for public use two and a half weeks earlier than planned to prepare for the Games. The resort had been scheduled to close to the public from February 1 to March 8.

Whistler Creekside

Crews started building the courses for the downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super combined alpine skiing events in November thanks to an ample early snowfall and temperatures below -1 C.

Temperatures have remained within ideal range at Whistler Creekside and crews are currently in maintenance mode, mixing fresh snow with man-made snow to add to the hard base. The venue’s snowmaking system also has the capacity to make 25,424 litres (5,600 gallons) per minute; the equivalent of a gravel truck full of snow produced every minute.

The perfect alpine race track is almost, but not quite, ice. If it rains, the crews will simply pack down the snow with the water. Ideally, ski race courses aim for between 55 and 65 per cent water. A snow maintenance crew is also working to ensure the alpine courses are kept clear of natural snowfall over 15 centimetres to prevent the warming-up of the top layer of dense icy snow needed.

The Whistler Sliding Centre

The Whistler Sliding Centre provides the only outdoor ice surface at the 2010 Winter Games. The ice on the twisting, turning track surface has been in since early October and is constantly maintained by hand with a variety of ice scraping and shaping tools such as scrapers, trowels, brooms, and shovels.

To protect the ice, a roof covers 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the track and blinds have been installed to shield the ice from sunshine and other weather conditions. Fifty-nine probes also monitor the ice temperature along the entire track. Ice temperature is dependant on atmospheric conditions such as humidity, dew point, air temperature, and other weather conditions. However, ice makers try to attain an ice temperature of approximately −5 C, which is ideal for achieving the fastest speeds with the most consistency. An ammonia refrigeration system is used to keep the ice at a consistently chilled temperature.

Whistler Olympic Park/Whistler Paralympic Park

There is currently more than a metre of snow on all trails at this venue in the Callaghan Valley. Whistler Olympic Park/Whistler Paralympic Park typically receives large amounts of snowfall annually. Little snowmaking is also needed at the park because cross-country skiing and biathlon courses require shallow snow bases and lower snow densities.

For example, cross-country events take place with a groomed packed base of approximately 45 centimetres of snow that is prepared by a large snow grooming machine after every snowfall to provide a consistent base.

At the ski jump landing hill, crews have been making snow at every available opportunity and will continue to do so up to and during the Games. Each of the ski jump inruns has a built in refrigeration system, automated inrun covering system and an integrated winch/track setting machine. These features allow staff to build the inrun early in the year and maintain it throughout the season with minimal maintenance.

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