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Braving the elements

VANOC crews and equipment help Weasel workers battle the snow and wind for Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships

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The snow Mother Nature recently decided to dump on Whistler may have skiers and snowboarders smiling, but it’s a bit of a mixed blessing for people responsible for getting the mountain ready for races.

As of Wednesday morning, 18 centimetres of new snow had been added to the snowbase on Whistler Mountain within 48 hours.

Weasel workers – the volunteers who prepare for alpine ski races – have had lots of help getting courses in the Creekside area of Whistler mountain ready for the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championship, which started Wednesday and runs until Monday.

This year, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC) has brought in its own grooming crews, armed with lots of new equipment, including 16 brand-new snowcats, to lend a hand.

Gillian Tiffin, VANOC’s grooming manager for Creekside, explains that events like the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championship and the FIS World Cup, which will be in Whistler Feb. 19-24, are good training opportunities for their grooming crews.

“It’s a test event for the Olympics,” Tiffin explained. “We’re getting prepared for what’s to come and trying to get everything sorted out.”

The events they are preparing for are gradually increasing in magnitude, allowing grooming crews to take baby steps towards preparing for the 2010 Games.

“This week is definitely preparing us for World Cup and World Cup will be preparing us for the Olympics,” Tiffin explained, adding that the Peak to Valley race last weekend was their first real test event.

This is the first time Wild Card, Jimmy’s Joker and Lower Franz’s have been used as a race course, and crews have had some challenges with the new terrain, which has many different fall lines, coupled with lots of twists and turns in the run.

“It’s definitely been challenging from a grooming perspective,” Tiffin said.

Recent cold weather, high winds and dry snow have made the crews’ work a bit more difficult.

“We’ve had pretty cold temperatures, and the snow has been very cold with not a lot of moisture in it, so it tends to not bond as well, and although that makes for great recreational skiing, it doesn’t make a great racetrack,” Tiffin explained.

Owen Carney has been involved with the weasel workers since the early 80’s, and now works as alpine chairman, working to choose courses and coordinate grooming efforts.

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