We still can stage freestyle and snowboard events in an ideal BC setting, but time is melting away.
Big White Resort: Plenty of snow here
Last week, the fictional TV series 24 started its eight season, with Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland saving the citizens of New York City from some kind of deadly terrorist attack within the space of a single day.
Right now, the organizers of the 2010 Winter Games need Jack Bauer to help organize a task that is surely less onerous than thwarting a terrorist attack -- he needs to come to Canada to orchestrate moving the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events from Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver to the ski resorts of the Thompson-Okanagan in the B.C. Interior.
I know, yesterday we heard from International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge that the wood and straw bale approach to crafting world class ski runs was going to be just fine. We adapt to weather."
Echoed VANOC spokesperson Tim Gayda, "We were afraid we might have to move the competitions, but that won't be the case."
Be afraid, I say. And don't give up on the idea of moving the competitions.
Gayda is being disingenuous about how well the natural snow cover will hold up. The forecast for the next week is highs of eight degrees. That is just not cold enough to make hard snow.
After several days of melt, snow -- even injected snow -- becomes isothermal and utterly unable to hold its cohesion. Last year, event organizers pulled the plug on the "soft snow" conditions at Cypress when it had a two-metre base. Besides, who wants to see the world's best compete in mush?
Quite simply, this is not going to work, and I believe the organizers know it. For one thing, we are obviously in a deep El Nino year, where unseasonably warm temperatures and driving rains have washed away much of the snowpack in the altitude-challenged North Shore Mountains. As we get into February, the chance of below zero temperatures for any sustained period is poor. Let's forget the fact that the long-range outlook remains highly suspect and come up with a real "Plan B."
In short -- the freestyle and snowboard events must be moved from Cypress to the quartet of resorts in the Thompson-Okanagan; namely, Sun Peaks, Silver Star, Big White, and Apex Resort. Every one of these four resorts has hosted national and international calibre events in the past, and I am willing to bet any money that they would all step up to the plate to bail out the 2010 Winter Games events right now.
In fact, if we here in British Columbia really want to show the world that we can put on a show, we'll move event venues tomorrow to make these Games happen in a true winter wonderland.
What about the Olympic ticketholders? Well, refund their money. Rock and roll acts cancel tours at the last minute all the time -- cancelled due to poor weather -- done. I am betting that the vast majority of ticketholders to those events come from B.C. anyway. Do what the premier said and take a few days off and enjoy the Games -- except enjoy them in the Interior. We need a mid-winter, er, mid-February holiday in B.C., anyway. Fill up those Sandman Inns and Coast Hotels and run buses up to the slopes.
Head on up the Coquihalla
It's too late to hold any kind of ticket lottery or whatever -- here's what the resorts do. They throw the events open free of charge to everyone. Or, they pass the hat around for Haiti. Don't just have people in the finish area, have 'em lining the course, waving flags, ringing cowbells, and cheering at the top of their lungs as Canadian skiers and snowboarder go for the gold. Think of the amazing visuals that will be beamed around the world.
And what about the tens of thousands of media who will be making the trek to Vancouver? Send 'em up on the Coquihalla as well. The airports have excellent connections through Vancouver -- have one security checkpoint at YVR and wave 'em through in Kelowna and Kamloops. The ski areas all advertise that it's what, a 3.5 hour trip to Sun Peaks? Let's put those estimates to the test. Heck, we’ll even give 'em a police escort.
O.K., so, here's the triage. Sun Peaks, you get the men's and women's snowboard cross and ski cross events. The surface for these slopes has to be rock hard. For years, your resort has hosted the Austrian alpine team -- in November, even. Call Nancy Greene-Raine back from the Senate to start kicking butt to get things done.
Big White? You get Shaun White, arguably the biggest name that the 2010 Winter Games will host. Start making snow in the Superpipe. Remember when you had to step in to host the Honda Tour of Champions (cancelled, er, due to lack of snow at Cypress)? Get moving on it.
Silver Star Mountain Resort near Vernon is home to one of the most active freestyle clubs in Canada, and has produced some of the top freeskiers in the world. The fact that they would rather compete on the Dew Tour and X-Games is a story for another day -- but the mountain has hosted national freestyle moguls events in the past. The mogul run spills right down into the village and would be an excellent venue from a spectator standpoint. You could even watch the runs from your slopeside condo.
And, there's even a sport for tiny Apex down near Penticton. Apex, too, has had a burgeoning freestyle scene for years. They could certainly step up and host the aerial events, and the Okanagan Run is even lighted for night skiing. Some of the national teams have already announced their intentions to train there before the Games.
What about Whistler, you might ask? Well, BCTV already did, and CEO David Brownlie answered with an unequivocal "no" about hosting the freestyle events. Besides, the highway will be congested enough as it is.
A big Okanagan welcome
As someone who once lived in the Okanagan, I cannot tell you how warmly the residents there will welcome the opportunity to pitch in and host the Games. Unlike the bleating hordes of Games-haters who are saying "I told you so" in Vancouver, they would take on this challenge and deliver a top-notch product. Think they're mad about the Torch relay in the 'heartland' of B.C.? Host the medal ceremony in each of the city's skating rinks and I can guarantee you the people will go crazy.
The advantages to the province are absolutely huge. Hell, we've thrown what, $3 billion at the Games -- I would bet that you could move all of these events to these resorts for well under $50 million. And give a huge shot in the arm to winter tourism and a ton of free publicity to the rest of the province.
Of course, VANOC organizers will be in a tizzy about locking down security for the Games sites. Well, guess what -- I just don't see Kamloops or Penticton being a juicy terrorist target -- besides, the vast majority of Games events are still going to be held in Vancouver. Maybe these satellite events will create some kind of diversionary tactic.
I, for one, do not want to see skiers and snowboarders doing their tricks on straw-flecked snow. This is Canada, and we're a winter country. As Jack Bauer would say: "Mr Furlong. With all due respect, you're running out of time."