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In Whistler, laid-back approach to weather woes

JOJI SAKURAI
AP National Writer
A Croatian skier walks through slushy snow at the bottom of the hill after both men's and women's ski training was cancelled due to poor weather at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, Friday, Feb. 12, 2010. More heavy rain was forecast for Whistler this weekend, and no one could say for sure when this weekend's scheduled Olympic events would take place. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
AP | AP

WHISTLER, British Columbia – How balmy and wet has it been in this ski resort? Sweatshirts are as common as anoraks. Sheepskin coats are passe. Umbrellas are more popular than those sought-after red Maple Leaf mittens.

Not exactly a winter wonderland. But this host town for Olympic Alpine events is famously laid-back. As 27-year-old snowboarder Anthony Pearse put it, in precise meteorological terms: “You know, weather happens, man.”

It’s a typically Zen-like response to a destination that’s becoming known more for its slush than its slopes.

On Saturday, the conditions forced organizers to postpone the men’s downhill hours before it was to start. The women’s super-combined, set for Sunday, had already been pushed back. Training runs were canceled earlier in the week.

More heavy rain was forecast for Whistler this weekend, and no one could say for sure when this weekend’s scheduled events would take place.

And while Olympic organizers may be sweating the forecast, not so people in Whistler, who are managing to find the bright side in the soaking rains, blinding fog, piles of dirty snow and mountainside patches of grass and mud.

“Gloomy’s good!” exulted 23-year-old Dan Smith, a red-mopped sales clerk at the GL rental shop, who explained that rain down in the village usually means fresh snow up in the peaks.

“From a local standpoint you want gloomy – that means snow. From the Olympic standpoint they probably want sun.”

At the lower-altitude Cypress Mountain, the venue for snowboarding and freestyle events, rain and balmy weather have also disrupted athletes’ training and cast doubt over whether events can go forward as planned.

Visitors are treated to the incongruous sight of snowboarders carrying umbrellas up ski lifts. The courses, which have benefited from snow being brought down by truck and helicopter, are brown and muddy on the boundaries.

Americans in town for the Winter Games can try to wrap their heads around this weather marvel: It’s as snowy back home as it is slushy here. On Friday there was snow on the ground in 49 of the 50 states – all but Hawaii.

“Go figure,” said Mike Mater, visiting from Wichita, Kan. “We have more snow in Kansas than in Cypress Montain down the road.”

In Whistler, weather authorities say the average temperature for February has been about 36 degrees, compared with the normal 32. Vancouver has been even more unusually warm, with an average of 50, compared with the normal 39.

Sales of sheepskin coats at the Pure Merino boutique are down. And the rain means umbrellas are the must-have Olympic souvenir.

“We can sell a ton in a day,” said Maxine Serfas, who was working the cash register at the Trading Post souvenir shop. “The happiest people are the ones at Vancouver Umbrella Co. They’re the only ones in Canada who are praying for rain!”

Whatever happens, Whistler residents are taking a philosophical attitude to the Olympic weather woes.

“If it’s going to go wrong, it’s going to go wrong,” Smith said. “It’ll work out, then we’ll go off and have a good time.”

Not everybody was dealing with it with such equanimity, though.

“Yesterday I didn’t want to leave the house,” groaned Sarah Canavan, a 25-year-old waitress from Australia. “It’s miserable. I hate the rain!”

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Associated Press Writer Eddie Pells contributed from Cypress Mountain.


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