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VANOC to combine all alpine events on Whistler Mountain

FIS influenced decision to run technical, speed events in same venue



Last week 2010 Olympic organizers decided to hold all alpine ski events on Whistler Mountain.

The change comes after months of meetings between the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the International Ski Federation (FIS), which wanted both the speed and technical runs in one place and not spread out over Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

There were initial concerns that the move would exceed the current $23 million budget for the events.

But Steve Matheson, senior vice president of venues for VANOC, said the change wouldn’t add or save any money, as savings due to using only one site will be offset by losses from ticket sales.

"It is a trade between ticket revenue and capital costs savings," he said, adding that up to 10,000 people will be able to view the events.

At the core of the decision to combine events on Whistler was the weather.

"We all know the weather situation," said FIS chief race director Gunter Hujara, who was in Whistler last week to walk the courses.

"That is why we need flexibility in the program so that if one event would not be possible we could switch to another one. Flexibility is the reason we made the proposal."

Whistler has had to cancel early season FIS World Cup races in the past due to either too much snow or too little. And this past January and early February the resort was deluged with rain. Only state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment saved the FIS World Snowboard Championships.

Hujara said the FIS thought both the men’s and women’s courses were very good, although he admitted that the top of the slalom course was "not too challenging".

However, he said that was offset by the strong bottom half of the course.

"We are not five years away from the Games and we feel people are really focused and we feel very well prepared," said Hujara.

Matheson said the change also means security issues will be easier to handle and television networks will have an easier time covering the races as well.

Plans are now being discussed about how to organize the movement of spectators in and out of the venue site, which will be centralized at Creekside. That creates its own set of challenges as the confined area is an active neighbourhood with lots of residents.

It’s likely two events will be held each day so that all races can be scheduled over the 16 days of the Olympics.

Doug Forseth, vice president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb said the change works for the mountains as it leaves Blackcomb Mountain fully open for skier visitors.

"From our perspective it is good because it opens up the Blackcomb base area for access," he said.

Forseth walked the Creekside courses last week with Hujara and others.

"We continued to develop the understanding of what work needs to be done so we can prepare the environmental assessment that will be required at the federal level," he said.

"And we hope to have that work done by the end of the summer and submitted so by this time next year we can start work on the course."

While the courses are not set in stone yet it’s likely the women’s events will run from the top of Wild Card, cut through the trees over to Jimmy’s Joker then continue across onto Lower Franz’s.

"I don’t think we will hear any complaints from the women that the course is too easy as we have heard in Italy (site of the 2006 Winter Olympics)," said Forseth.

"It is going to be very exciting."

There will have to be some clearing work done along with other work on the runs for safety issues.

The change also means that some training will move to Whistler Mountain from Blackcomb. That could benefit the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, as there is talk of developing the Ptarmigan/Raven runs for training.

Some training will still have to take place on Blackcomb.

There are a lot of folks who need to still train so we will probably still see some of that on Blackcomb," said Forseth.

"But it is likely to be in areas that are already developed."