Snowfall Hits Winter Olympics Venues
ALBERTVILLE, France (AP) _ The first major snowfall since a December blizzard hit the Olympic region Tuesday, dumping up to a foot of snow and raising fears of an Alpine gridlock four days before the start of the Games.
Scores of French soldiers, Olympic officials, ski students and local workers were pressed into service against the snow at venues throughout the Savoy region, where the XVI Winter Olympics begin Saturday.
Snow was expected to continue through Thursday, with up to 20 inches falling in some areas before it tapers off. Organizers fear the snow could cause a traffic nightmare on the winding two-lane mountain roads that connect the various sites, but reports indicated the roads were still passable.
The snow prevented French Prime Minister Edith Cresson from addressing the 98th session of the International Olympic Committee in Courchevel. She had planned to come in by helicopter.
There were few troubles reported at the venues Tuesday, although officials warned that could change as the snow fell unabated.
″At the moment we have no real problems, but 50 centimeters (20 inches) of snow in 48 hours is quite a lot,″ said press officer Elibert Tarrago. ″If it continues like this, we could face some problems.″
More than a foot of snow had fallen by Tuesday afternoon at Les Saisies, where the cross-country skiiing competition starts Sunday. About 180 people, including 90 soldiers, were busy Tuesday packing the new snow with heavy machinery.
The snow was so heavy in Val d’Isere that it totally obscured the top third of the new downhill course, ″La Face de Bellevarde.″
″Schedule a downhill, and it snows. That’s the way it works,″ said former U.S. ski team member Doug Lewis, who is in Val d’Isere to help film this year’s skiing events.
A mixture of local ski school employees, soldiers and Olympic officials were out clearing snow from the course as it fell. ″As long as they keep on top of it, there’ll be no problem,″ said Lewis.
Training runs for the luge were held up by the snow at La Plagne, where they were expecting more than a foot of snow. ″We’ll have bad weather at least until Thursday,″ said the site’s weather officer, Denis Capdegelle.
There was some good news. Meteo France, the national weather service, was forecasting sunshine for the start of the Games on Saturday, but the snow could return on Sunday, said meteorologist Michel Deque.
There had been no new snow in the region since Jan. 10 and no significant snowfall since a Dec. 22 blizzard dumped as much as three feet of new snow on the Alps.