Conditions at Whistler worries skier

Snow's not the issue, but fog's creating problems

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WHISTLER - His run over - clean and fast - Robbie Dixon watched the mountain change like he has seen dozens of times in his life.

And as the fog rolled in late Wednesday morning to wreak havoc with the first training run for the men’s downhill, it went from a welcome sight for the Canadian skier to a downer.

Dixon was the second fastest among the 42 to complete the practice for Saturday’s showcase event of the alpine schedule. But with conditions deteriorating by the minute, officials first delayed, then three hours later cancelled the run completely.

Unlike Vancouver, there is plenty of snow up on the mountain here. But with mixed precipitation and warmer temperatures in the forecast for the next couple days, the fog may never leave.

Of immediate concern is getting all skiers a crack at the Dave Murray downhill course. With 45 men having to come down the hill via gondola rather than on skis, the session was rescheduled for Thursday. Under Olympic alpine rules, the event cannot go unless each competitor gets a training run.

In any event, the less practice for the world, the better the situation for Canadians, including Dixon who grew up on these slopes and makes Whistler his off-season home.

Second out of the gate when there was sunshine at the top and light snow falling towards the finish, Dixon intends to use the uncertainty to his benefit.

“I think that really holds a huge advantage for the Canadians,” Dixon said after being clocked in 1:53.51. “I know the rest of the world will be kind of pissed, but I’m okay with that.”

Dixon’s teammate and stronger medal contender, Manuel Osborne-Paradis was sixth among those who finished and shrugged his shoulders at the weather woes. Like Dixon, he has spent much of his life on this mountain and knows fog can be as much a part of life in Whistler as fun times.

“You’d get up in the morning and check the conditions,” said Osborne-Paradis, whose clocking of 1:54.18 was achieved as the snow got heavier and the fog thicker. “That’s Whistler. There’s no use worrying about the forecast.”

There is worry for others, however. Like many events, Canadian officials severely restricted access of other athletes to the Whistler runs to create a domestic edge. There has been grumbling by some, but grudging acceptance from more.

“In talking to guys from other countries, as much as they hate it, they understand,” Dixon said. “This is our home hill and we should get the advantage.”

“Is one run enough?” said Lietchenstein’s Marco Buechel. “For the Canadians it is, but not for me.

“I understand. It’s all about medals. Fourth place doesn’t interest anybody. Canadians want to make the medals. Fair or not fair, it’s their right.”

With a downhill win on the World Cup circuit already this year, Osborne-Paradis is considered a medal threat, a status made more real three weeks ago when Swiss star Didier Cuche suffered a fractured thumb.

But Cuche is back and blazing as he showed on Wednesday with easily the fastest time of those who made it down the mountain. At age 35, he’s clearly a favourite to become the oldest athlete to win an alpine Olympic medal.

“The course is nice, but not as firm as I would like,” said Cuche, who was wearing a specially made helmet painted with a map of Canada. “I’m happy to be fast in the first training run because we don’t know what happens now.”

And given the weather forecast, who does?


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