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Despite challenges, Games organizers happy with Cypress Mountain venue

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VANCOUVER, B.C. - There were complaints about athletes not being allowed in the day lodge and worries that mountain managers were more concerned about their paying customers than the competition during two recent Olympic test events held at Cypress Mountain.

The head of the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee admits there were challenges hosting the recent World Cup freestyle skiing and snowboarding competitions. But John Furlong is confident any problems will be solved before the 2010 Games are staged next February.

"I think trying to put on these events we had in Cypress, at a time when they are going flat out, was challenging for them and challenging for us," Furlong said Thursday.

"It was not an easy situation for them, or us, or anybody. We got out of the event what we needed to test the venue."

Linda Swain, general manager for Cypress Mountain, said the venue continues to have a good relationship with Games organizers.

"Things can get a little tense every once in a while when we are working through these things, particularly the test events," Swain said. "We have been working with these people for six years. We do have a very good working relationship."

Cypress Mountain is located in Cypress Provincial Park, on Vancouver's North Shore. The venue, which will host freestyle skiing and snowboarding, offers a breathtaking view of English Bay and Vancouver's downtown.

Both officials and athletes expressed frustration over the treatment they received during the back-to-back World Cup events held over the last two weekends. The mountain, which has six lifts, continued to cater to season-pass holders and day skiers during the World Cups.

There was limited parking at the venue. Both spectators and athletes, with their equipment, had to be bused up a long, winding road to the hill. At one point during the freestyle competition a sign saying "no athletes" was posted at the day lodge.

"It was a very difficult situation," said Peter Judge, chief executive officer for the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association. "I have been doing this for 35 years at the World Cup level. I've never been to a place where we haven't been allowed to go into the day lodge.

"It's one of those things you can't really comprehend."

Tom McIllfaterick, chief executive officer for the Canadian Snowboard Federation, said things had improved by the time of last weekend's snowboard World Cup.

"I think Cypress was a bit overwhelmed at what was being asked of them," he said. "At the same time, they were trying to keep their commercial resort open and meet their obligations to their passholders and day customers.

"I think everybody suffered a little bit from that. That's a learning experience and that obviously won't be the situation next year."

Judge said many coaches and athletes from other countries left Vancouver with a sour taste.

"We knew what to expect so we were able to temper our expectations . . . and we knew it was going to be difficult," he said. "The most difficult part was trying to explain that to 450 other athletes and coaches from around the world."

Poor snow conditions forced cancellation of Sunday's snowboard parallel giant slalom. While Cypress couldn't control the weather, some snowboard officials believe the problem could have been avoided if the competition had been spread over more days, which would have allowed workers to build a better course.

Swain said the mountain's resources were stretched trying to satisfy both customers and athletes.

"That's definitely a delicate balance," she said. "We're a very busy ski area. It is a peak part of the season. It is challenging keeping those two balanced."

The mountain will be closed to the public during the Feb. 12-28 Olympic Games. An agreement has been worked out between the venue and Olympic organizers to compensate Cypress Mountain for lost revenue.

Games organizers spent $16.6 million to upgrade Cypress Mountain for the Olympics. Both freestyle and snowboard officials are hesitant to say if they will host World Cup events at the venue after the Olympics.

"Under the circumstances it would be very difficult to make it work form the standpoint of having an operation that's going to be palatable for them and one that is going to be palatable for us," said Judge.

Swain said moving the World Cup events from February, the mountain's busiest season, to March would benefit everyone.

"We can have great snow conditions," she said. "The visitations fall a little bit in March. It's a great time to do any kind of events like that."

The test events were held in February so they would coincide with the approximate dates of the Games.

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