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COUNTDOWN TO VANCOUVER: Will there be enough snow at Olympics?

Photo by Jae C. Hong

Photo by Jae C. Hong

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Cypress Mountain passed a major test Monday, as freestyle skiers completed their first pre-Olympic practice sessions and Winter Olympic organizers kept dumping snow on competition courses in unseasonably warm weather.

"It's absolutely fine," World Cup champion Hannah Kearney said after her training runs. "It's as if there was no problem."

Trucks and helicopters still were dumping snow onto the mountain in an effort to get the Olympic venues ready for the Vancouver Games, which open Friday.

The first event scheduled is women's moguls qualifying on Saturday, with the finals to be raced later that day. Men's qualifying and finals follow on Sunday.

Even before practice, the American Kearney didn't sound worried about anything the mountain could throw at her.

"I've skied on rocks, I've skied on ice, I've skied in the rain. This is nothing," she said.

Only athletes and their coaches were allowed at Monday's training, so as not to interrupt preparations, said Dave Cobb, the executive vice president of the Vancouver organizing committee.

"There's still a lot of snow being trucked and flown in to ensure we have enough contingency snow if the warm weather continues," Cobb said. "There's a lot of activity going on."

The weather in and around Vancouver has created some problems for Olympic organizers at Cypress Mountain. Further away in Whistler -- where the Alpine and Nordic events will be held -- conditions are fine.

"It's warm up here," Kearney said in a phone interview from the moguls course. "The snow is soft, grainy, but there's plenty of it."

On the course, that is. "It's brown under the lift," Kearney said.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said he had "absolutely no concerns whatsoever" about the state of Cypress Mountain.

"There is no concern, and there is no 'Plan B,'" he said.

World champion Patrick Deneen also was confident events would go ahead on Cypress Mountain.

"If there's snow we will ski for sure," he said. "I've seen pictures, and it looks like there's a lot of snow on that course right now. They've been trucking it in and really making it happen."

Christian Hrab, director of high-performance for Canada's snowboard teams, said the landscape of white ribbons of snow draped over bare hillsides reminded him of Bardonecchia, the similarly bare Alpine resort where the snowboarding events were staged at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

"It's kind of odd because outside of the field of play there is no snow, and where there was snow, they took it to bring it to the field of play," Hrab said. "And then there is this white, glistening paradise where the field of snow is."

Hrab said the snowboardcross track had held up well during testing over the last couple of days, and the halfpipe also looks good.

"The pipe has perfect walls, they are 22 feet high, the snow is white, and really they are ready," he said.

John Furlong, the CEO of VANOC, said the organizing committee briefed the International Olympic Committee on the state of the mountain Saturday.

In order to get the venues prepared, organizers already have canceled two days of halfpipe training and pushed back parallel giant slalom training by two days.

Building the halfpipe is organizers' biggest challenge. Once competition begins, they'll also need to reconfigure the snowboardcross course into a parallel giant slalom course in a limited amount of time. Last year, a PGS event at Whistler was canceled when the course could not be converted in time.

Cobb said organizers were considering using chemicals to harden the snow on the halfpipe, where competition starts Feb. 17.

"We're happy with the state of the other courses," Cobb said. "On the freestyle course today training starts. We'll get a sense of how the courses hold up over the next few days."

U.S. Olympian Shannon Bahrke said a bit of warm weather would not put off athletes who have trained for years for a shot at the Olympics.

"We've worked our whole lives for this," she said. If the conditions are not perfect, "it's not going to be, 'Nope, I'm not going to do it.'"