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Olympic Blizzard
Student Reporter experiences mountain travel in the worst possible weather
By Sean Coffey, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Sean Coffey traveling
Kid Reporter Sean Coffey spent seven hours on this bus in a blizzard trying to get to skiing events at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in the Italian Alps.
(Photo: Courtesy Sean Coffey)
Tuesday, February 21—Many people think that the Olympic events are only in Torino. Truth is Sestriere, the town where we are staying, is at the heart of much of the skiing events. Sestriere is 60 miles west of Torino in the Italian Alps. It is so close to France you could throw a snowball and hit the French border.

It's a different world out here. Right outside our window towers a 8,100-foot-tall mountain.

Getting people from one place to another, especially on narrow, two-lane roads through the mountains, is no easy task. Without the right transportation, there would be no Olympics. Or at least, no there to watch! In many ways it's the lifeblood of the Games.

To handle the 200,000 athletes, trainers, journalists, and fans during the games, Italian Olympic officials have set up more than 4,000 means of transportation, said one press guide. More than 1,000 buses, 300 minivans, 2,500 cars, and 40 trains have been enlisted to move people around during the games.

The buses, which handle most of the load, have had some problems, especially during a recent blizzard. I had my first transportation adventure on Sunday, February 19. We were headed for Sauze d'Oulx, to see an aerial freestyle event. A trip that should have taken 30 minutes tops, took seven hours! It was probably the scariest ride I've ever experienced.

As we were climbing the final mountain to get to the Olympic site, cars started to skid out of control. One car coming down the mountain couldn't stop at all. It slid all the way down past us. I looked out the window and saw the snow building up, stranding cars. The drop off the side of the mountain road was steep. I thought we might have to spend the night on the bus, things were so bad.

Luckily, we were in the hands of a very skilled driver named Angelo Spighi. A native of nearby Bagno di Romagna, he knew just what to do. He got out of the minivan we were in, put chains on the tires, and always stayed optimistic—even after a police officer driving by us delivered some bad news.

"A bus hit a wall, the worst possible problem," Angelo told us. "You'll be lucky to get back to Sestriere by 3 a.m."

Angelo got us to Sauze d'Oulx and made the best of our situation. He offered us Olympic coupons to get a free dinner at the restaurant where Olympic workers and volunteers eat. As the bus crawled back down the mountain, he gave us drinks from his cooler, and turned on the minivan's TV so we could see the Olympic ice-dancing competition. I felt safe and knew we would be all right with Angelo at the wheel.

When Angelo got us safely down the mountain, everyone clapped. "We have the best driver in the world" said Marlene Hirschauer, a passenger from Denmark whom Angelo picked up after she and her husband, Reini, were left stranded on top of the mountain.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.