This is what we call snow |

This is what we call snow

Shauna Farnell

1:30 p.m. Feb 18: Well, I got my wish. It’s finally dumping snow ” a real winter storm. As predicted, it’s throwing a monkey wrench into everything. As the downhill portion of the women’s combined was postponed until today (Saturday) at 2 p.m., and the men’s super-G was to begin at 11 a.m., I had cleverly planned to rent a snowboard in order to make it to both races (a couple of powder turns wouldn’t hurt either).

That’s what’s killed me most about all the bus riding I’ve been doing here: a number of the Olympic mountain venues – San Sicario, Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx – are connected by ski lifts. I brought my snowboard boots along, thinking snowboarding would be the most seamless way to get around rather than having to hassle with poles and ski boots (not to mention buses). I went to a shop in San Sicario this morning to rent a board and asked what parts of San Sicario and Sestriere were open for skiing. Although the guy in the shop spoke about as much English as I do Italian, he made it clear that both areas were completely closed for Olympic security.

So much for that plan. It was the bus … again.

I’ve heard all kinds of nightmarish stories by now from people about transportation problems and volatile bus drivers. One journalist here actually came close to brawling with the driver the other night when the driver was forcing everyone to store their computer bags in the outside compartment of the bus.

From my experience, I have to say the drivers have either been entirely disagreeable ” to the point where you’re standing at a bus stop waiting and an empty bus will blow right by you (that happened to me three times yesterday) ” or they are incredibly friendly.

I was again the only passenger (the buses, in turn, are always either packed or completely empty) from San Sicario to Sestriere, and multiplied my Italian lexicon significantly by floundering through a conversation with the non-English-speaking bus driver. He asked where I was from, how much Italian I speak, when I arrived, when I was leaving, my age, what I do for work. Of course all of these questions had to be asked many times and were accompanied by flailing hand gestures.

As we drew nearer to Sestriere, Mario (my new bus driver friend. I swear I’m not making up these names) handed over a piece of pocket coffee. Pocket coffee is one of the most wizardly creations I’ve seen in a while. They come in packs of five, cost less than €2 and are small pieces of dark chocolate filled with very strong espresso. Ingenious.

I’ve had no problem staying caffeinated during my time here.

Once in Sestriere, the snow really came on strong and about the first 15 racers made it down the course, their times getting progressively slower. The snow began to float down in white sheets and all of us around the finish area were blinking furiously as it caked onto eyelashes and hats.

Finally, it was time for Norwegian veteran Lasse Kjus to take his turn and he uneasily picked through the first couple of gates, rocketed around a sweeping right turn near the top of the course and came to a dead stop.

“You can’t see anything,” Kjus said when he came down. “This is difficult and even dangerous.”

After two of the following racers DNF’d, the race was stopped and postponed.

So, winter is here and it looks like it could create a pile up of events in the next couple of days. I’m sure plenty of people are cursing the weather. Still, the new white blanket is certainly cozy.

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