Snowboard cross athlete Pierre Vaultier of France walks next to hay bales covered partially with snow at Cypress Mountain, 15 Feb. 2010
Snowboard cross athlete Pierre Vaultier of France walks next to hay bales covered partially with snow at Cypress Mountain, 15 Feb. 2010

Thousands of fans who thought they would get to witness a Winter Olympics event got bad news because of the bad weather at Cypress Mountain, one of the Olympic venues for the Vancouver Games.   

You could say Cypress Mountain has been a thorn in the side of Olympic organizers.  About a 45-minute drive north of Vancouver, it has been hit with unseasonably warm temperatures that have brought rain and destroyed much of the existing snow.

The haybale 'potholes' at Cypress Mountain show wh
The haybale 'potholes' at Cypress Mountain show why spectator standing room tickets were cancelled, 15 Feb. 2010

Even before the games began, snow had to be trucked in to make the snowboarding and freestyle skiing venue ready for their competitions.  In many places, hay bales were used as a base to dump the snow on.

But with continued bad weather and ruined snow, workers were finding that their feet were going through gaps in the snow.  Those potholes were making areas unsafe, so Sunday night organizers canceled 8,000 standing room general admission tickets for Monday's and Tuesday's Snowboard Cross events.  If you did not have a ticketed bleacher seat, you were out of luck, and out of perhaps your only chance for an Olympic experience.

Organizing committee spokesperson Renee Smith-Valade said the weather is not something they can control.

"We are tremendously saddened to have to cancel the tickets of folks who probably went through the lottery system to get those tickets," she said. "They were excited to go up to snowboard today and we weren't able to deliver that.  That's the last thing you want to do as a organizing committee is to cancel tickets and we didn't take the decision lightly."

Smith-Valade added that the staff has literally willed Cypress Mountain into competition shape.

Spectators can get refunds for their canceled tickets or they might even be able to exchange them for tickets to other events, according to Vancouver organizing committee chief John Furlong.

Furlong used the word "bizarre" to describe the weather on Cypress Mountain for this time of year, and added that safety comes first.

"Our view is we're going to get the events off, but we felt that we were not prepared to create a situation that, in fact, could begin to encroach on the field of play," he said.  "That was our decision.  We regretted it very much, because we know that for many people that was their moment to be at the games."

Spectator and ticket holder John Walkinshaw and fa
Spectator and ticket holder John Walkinshaw and family after men's snowboard cross event at Cypress Mountain, 15 Feb. 2010

Vancouver resident Mike Walkinshaw had Cypress Mountain bleacher tickets for his family of four for Monday's snowboard cross event.  He told VOA Sports that while he feels sorry for those who had to miss it, it likely made his experience with his wife and two small children more satisfying.

"To be honest with you, it's probably been a lot better because I don't know what this site would have been like with 6- or 8,000 more people.  It probably would not have been as enjoyable today."

Wilkinshaw added that he has only general admission standing room tickets for Wednesday's snowboard halfpipe event at Cypress Mountain, so he knows it's possible those tickets could be canceled.  

As for the men's snowboard cross event at Cypress Mountain on Monday, American Seth Westcott successfully defended the gold medal he won in Turin four years ago.

At age 33, Westcott became the oldest Olympic medalist in snowboard.  He had only the 17th-fastest qualifying time, but he emerged from the four rounds of group racing to take the title, edging Canadian Mike Robertson at the finish.  Crossing the line third for the bronze medal was Tony Ramoin of France.  

The women's Snowboard Cross is set for Tuesday.