Vancouver dismisses worries over weather

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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Vancouver Olympics planners downplayed worries over recent spring-like weather on Wednesday, despite their move to limit public access to a ski venue to preserve snow for next month's Games.

A series of Pacific storms have hit Vancouver with rain and unseasonably warm temperatures in recent days, melting away snow on nearby Cypress Mountain, site of freestyle skiing and snowboard competitions.

Planning for the Olympics has taken into account the possibility of warmer weather in the lead-up to, or during, the more than two weeks of competition that starts February 12, said Vancouver Organizing Committee Vice President Tim Gayda.

"Driving up here in the pouring rain, obviously, doesn't look good, but it is something we have always planned for from the early days," Gayda told a news conference on Cypress that was held indoors because of rain.

Crews on Cypress have been pushing unmelted snow into piles to protect it, and are preparing to bring down snow that has been stockpiled at higher elevations on the mountain where temperatures are colder.

The need to move snow has prompted officials to close down normal public access to the ski facility two weeks earlier than they had expected.

Colder temperatures are expected to return to Canada's Pacific Coast next week, and that will also allow crews to resume snow-making on the mountain, Gayda said.

Cypress has been hit by mid-winter melts before and has been able to rebound quickly, Cypress Mountain spokesman Kent Rideout said.

"We have had times when there is no snow on the mountain and two days later we were open," he said.

Whistler Mountain, where the alpine and nordic ski events will take place, is about 125 km (80 miles) north of Vancouver and, at a higher elevation, it has not been hit as hard by the mid-winter melt, officials said.

VANOC says it has also built flexibility into the competition schedule to handle weather-related problems.

"We have 17 days to get every race off, and every Games has been able to do it... It's the challenge of running outdoor sport," Gayda said.

VANOC's chief weather forecaster, Chris Doyle, does not think there will be a problem during the Games because the weather pattern in Vancouver during late February has historically been "relatively peaceful."

"No storms. More likely to have sun than not, and not a lot of precipitation," Doyle said.

Vancouver normally has milder winters than the rest of Canada, but with significant precipitation that usually falls as rain in the sea-level city and as snow in the nearby mountains.

(Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway)