THEY ARE loose-fitting, low-hanging, often stridently colored. Perhaps you've asked yourself how they stay up. They are snowboard pants, and at last week's World Cup competition and Olympic test event at Cypress Mountain, overlooking Vancouver, they doubled as cranky pants. Seriously, it's a good thing the 2010 organizers didn't hang a suggestion box at the venue, which a year from now will host the Winter Games' six snowboarding events. It would have been too small to hold all the gripes.
And that held true before the Vancouver Olympic organizers' most controversial (and embarrassing) move—the 11th-hour cancellation of Sunday's parallel giant slalom, due in part to "limited time in advance of the event to prepare the terrain," according to Tim Gayda, a vice president of the organizing committee, which is known as VANOC. The anger of the PGS competitors had been preceded by a succession of smaller beefs from the halfpipe and snowboardcross riders. The boarders were forced to park too far from the venue. Their practice and race-day routines were scrambled for no stated reason; their paths often blocked by overzealous security guards, apparently on loan, one rider joked, from a nearby mall, site of the event's lame, lightly attended medal ceremonies.
The tepid welcome came as a rude buzzkill to many snowboarders, who arrived in Vancouver feeling, justifiably, like Olympic royalty. No longer a ragtag upstart, their sport is now established as a Winter Games centerpiece, and not just because of the amazing Shaun White and the other halfpipers who dazzled in Turin in 2006. So pleased were Olympic officials with the chaotic, crash-intensive and TV-friendly event of snowboardcross, which debuted in Turin, that they have added a skiing knockoff version of it—skicross—to the program for 2010. It even will be held on the same course as the Olympic snowboardcross.
Skicross, in its own small way, contributed to the friction at Cypress. The popular resort, a half hour north of Vancouver, has a number of season-ticket holders who've grown weary of sharing their mountain with VANOC. A week before the snowboarders arrived, Cypress hosted an Olympic test event in freestyle skiing, including skicross, in which—to the delight of the fans—Canadians swept the men's medals and went one-two on the women's side.
Among those not feeling the love last weekend, however, was Jesse Fulton, a halfpipe coach from Canada who had this to say about Cypress: "It's a crappy venue, and the people aren't nice. We were just at the world championships in [South] Korea, and we were treated like kings. We come here to where the Olympics are supposed to be, and it's like a burden for them. So many things that could be easy are made difficult."
And then, the unkindest cut: "Honestly, I'd like to see the pipe in Whistler [site of 2010 Alpine, Nordic and sledding events] or somewhere else. I don't even know why this resort got it. They don't even like snowboarders."
What else? The athletes were underwhelmed by their lounge, which was inconveniently located. And don't even get them started on the halfpipe, which turned out to be more flawed than the Bowl Championship Series.
It was too short and too young (at four days old, it was not given enough time to "set," said the halfpipers). It failed to follow the mountain's fall line and wasn't steep enough from start to finish. Its flat bottom was too often covered in a grainy snow that slowed the riders between tricks. Most damning: It was what boarders call "under-vert"—that is, its walls weren't sufficiently vertical, which had the unfortunate result of expelling unwary riders out of the pipe and onto the deck, the flat area usually occupied by photographers but which served, at this event, as a strip for countless crash landings.
However, unless you were a PGS boarder who'd flown in from seven or eight time zones away and spent the week training at another nearby mountain because the friendly folks at Cypress wouldn't let you on their hill, it was tough to stay angry. Every switchback on the ride up the mountain showcased a freshly stunning vista, and served as a reminder that—last week's glitches aside—Vancouver remains an inspired choice to host next year's Games.
THE DOMINANT colors of the Cypress winterscape: the white of the snow, the forest green of the pines, and auburn. That would be the shade of the iconic mane of Shaun White, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, who kept a disarming grin on his face even as he was asphyxiating the hopes of his rivals. Rocketing off the lip on the opening trick of his first run in Saturday's final (a massive straight air), White hung so high that he seemed in danger of being carried off by some rogue thermal. He touched down instead in a flawed pipe whose imperfections couldn't prevent him from delivering a near-perfect run. After slotting the landing on his final trick (a backside rodeo during which he went airborne, turned his back down the hill and flipped 540 degrees—the rotations smooth, unhurried, technically precise), he sprayed the front row of spectators with a rooster tail of snow.