Canadians shrug off frigid temperatures, but wind could be a factor

After the balmy temperatures of Vancouver and Sochi, Pyeongchang weather serves up a true Winter Olympics

Canadians shrug off frigid temperatures, but wind could be a factor
A soldier takes a break from shoveling snow and ice from the seating area at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the frigid temperatures are making it a true Winter Olympics. © Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

By Alexandre Geoffrion-McInnis, Canadian Press

Frigid temperatures have dominated conversation heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, but Canada's athletes aren't overly concerned.

Wednesday morning at Bokwang, where freestyle skiing and snowboarding will be held, it was minus-21C — before the wind chill factor. The abnormally cold temperatures for South Korea in February are starting to worry the Games' organizing committee.

But cross-country skier Alex Harvey summed up the Canadian take on it, saying it is nothing they haven't seen before.

"We come from Canada, a northern country, and it's very cold there too," he told international media to much laughter at a news conference. "Last year during the test event here, the classic style runs were buried in snow because of the wind, so when we got here this time we knew what to expect.

"And to be honest, waxing (the skis) is easier when it's very cold. You just need to wear an extra layer of clothing and that's it. It's a winter sport."

However, the 29-year-old Harvey, competing at his last Olympics, acknowledged that if the temperature drops below minus-20 during a race it could be a concern.

"The forecast is for temperatures to rise, and as long as it doesn't drop below minus-20 before the wind chill everything will be fine," the St-Ferrol-des-Neiges, Que., native said. "If not, it could cause lung damage.

"But you know, my teammates Jesse Cockney, Dahria Beatty and Emily Nishikawa are from Yukon or the Northwest Territories, so they've seen it all before."

On the Canadian snowboarding team, and especially those in the slopestyle and big air events, athletes are worried about another weather factor — wind. It has calmed down in recent days but they know it can pick up again at any moment.

"It's really cold, but we can deal with that," said Sebastien Toutant of L'Assomption, Que. "But it wouldn't be ideal if the wind picked up because it might affect how we calculate the landing zone on our jumps."

Wind an issue for aerials

"We don't like wind," added Max Parrot of Bromont, Que., who won a third straight X Games gold medal in big air last month in Aspen, Colo. "When you're in the air you can feel the wind pushing you and that can be dangerous in relation to the speed, especially if you're doing a blind jump like the triple cork."

The Canadian freestyle team is already preparing for bad weather. They reminded members of the media to be at the interview area on time after events so as not to leave athletes waiting in the cold.

But the weather appears to be easing. Forecasts are for mild conditions in the next few days. It is expected to be between minus-2 and minus-5 for the opening ceremony on Friday.

Weather also made headlines at the last two Winter Games, but for much different reasons. The 2014 Sochi Games were among the warmest ever held and Vancouver 2010 organizers were forced to truck in snow from higher elevations after mild temperatures left the freestyle park at Cypress Mountain bare.

Warm weather is likely to continue to plague the Winter Games despite Pyeongchang's chilly temperatures. A recently updated research study out of the University of Waterloo found the number of places that will be cold enough to host the Winter Olympics is dropping as the temperatures go up due to climate change.