A ticket isn’t always enough to get into the Olympics

  • Thu Feb 18th, 2010 11:37pm
  • News

By John Boyle Herald Writer

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Be flexible.

That’s the lesson fans, just like athletes, are learning as the 2010 Winter Olympics come to the one-week mark.

Long before the games kicked off with last Friday’s opening ceremonies, the weather at the mountain venues — Cypress Mountain and Whistler Mountain — had been a concern.

But while athletes must simply wait a few days to perform if weather interferes, many fans have simply been told they don’t have tickets anymore.

Cypress Mountain, which is a short drive northwest of Vancouver and sits at just 3,000 feet, is home to freestyle skiing and snowboarding events. While a lack of snow hasn’t kept events from happening, it’s kept a lot of people from seeing them. Standing-room-only viewing areas, which were made by piling snow on top of hay bales, had to be closed for safety reasons because melting snow presented the tiny little problem of spectators potentially sinking between the bales.

Oops.

The result is that 28,000 fans that held standing-room-only tickets for snowboard cross, ski cross and the half pipe competitions have been told: Sorry, your tickets are not good. Sure, the tickets will be refunded, but what about those who traveled long distances or used vacation time to come to the games?

“It’s a disappointing decision to us,” Caley Denton, the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s vice president of ticketing, said in a press conference Tuesday. “Our biggest disappointment is taking away that Olympic experience … We share their disappointment. We made every effort that we could make. We know that we have people from all over coming here. We hope that if somebody’s made a long trip, that they’ve come for more than one event.”

That may be the case, but plenty from Washington are traveling to see one event. And while it has been unseasonably warm in the area this winter, warm, wet weather at Cypress isn’t an unusual thing.

“Weather is always a problem,” said Mark Adams, the International Olympic Committee’s director of communications. “It’s been a recurring problem. It’s a problem that happens not only at Olympics but at all winter sports events … I’m hoping in one week’s time this will be a dim and distant memory.”

Marc Brown, who grew up in Edmonds and now lives in Seattle, was one of those 28,000 — along with his wife, Stephanie; their friend, Kristen Kafka; and his father, Rob — who were unable to use their tickets at Cypress. Because the games are close to the Seattle area, they decided to go to Canada and hoped to find tickets when they arrived. They ended up with tickets for Thursday’s men’s hockey game between the U.S. and Norway, and had a good time, but that doesn’t mean they were happy with what happened.

“Putting (the standing-room area) on a ton of hay bales with snow on it?” Brown said. “You’d think somebody would have thought that was a bad idea.

“It’s just been a pain. It ended up working out. We got tickets, but I’ve been excited for nine months and then we find out days before that we don’t have tickets. It kind of sucks.”

At that point, Kafka said, “They should have had it at Whistler.”

And that’s a fair point. Two hours away, Whistler has tons of snow and the infrastructure to host more than just the alpine events, which are going on at Whistler Creekside. But in an effort to have more events close to Vancouver, the Vancouver Organizing Committee gambled by putting events at Cypress, and that gamble is causing major problems. In addition to the canceled tickets, other fans have had to deal with broken-down buses, long delays to catch buses, huge lines for concessions, and long walks from the bus drop-off point to the actual venues.

Then again, moving more events to Whistler wouldn’t have solved all the problems. Snow, rain and fog have delayed alpine skiing. And while it is highly unlikely that a race will get canceled, postponements can ruin the Olympic experience for fans. If the particular race a fan has tickets for gets pushed back nearly a week — as was the case with the men’s super combined — how likely is it that he or she has the vacation time or money to hang around? And even if someone could, most lodging at Whistler has long been sold out, making it difficult to extend a stay.

Snohomish’s Craig Quarterman went to Whistler with his wife, Emily, to see her younger brother, Will Brandenburg, ski in Monday’s super combined. Only Monday’s super combined was delayed, and it is now scheduled for Sunday. The Quartermans count themselves among the lucky ones, however, as Emily and her parents were able to find new lodging. Craig had to return home for work, but will go back to Whistler tonight.

“It was pretty tough finding a place,” he said. “A lot of places said, ‘Everything’s booked. Everything’s booked.’ That was a bit tough, but we were able to get everything squared away and find a place for three nights. They had to move out of the other place and into the new one yesterday.”

With a ski racing brother-in-law, Quarterman said he isn’t upset about what happened.

“That’s just the way it is in that sport,” he said. “I’m lucky the games are so close to home.”

Mike Goudzwaard of Martha Lake is another fan trying to make the best out of a bad situation. He is in Whistler with his 9-year-old son Jake, and they too had tickets for super combined. Initially, he thought they wouldn’t be able to stay for the race, but after making a lot of phone calls, Goudzwaard was able to find lodging in Vancouver starting the day of the race.

And even without a race, the Goudzwaards are having fun at Whistler. They’ve enjoyed a couple days of skiing and have taken in the medal ceremony for the women’s downhill.

“Maybe initially I felt inconvenienced,” Goudzwaard said. “It’s just kind of frustrating. But it all worked out good. We’re having a good time.”

Not everyone in Vancouver and Whistler is so lucky.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Olympics coverage, go to heraldnet.com/olympics.