One week from today – notes from the front (Whistler)

Well, I’ve been skiing at Whistler Blackcomb for over 25 years (on and off) and this was certainly one to remember.  The Olympic Torch Relay came to town, which neatly coincided with a fresh snowfall and a lucky coincidence in having a buddy (dentist Vern Beckie) who wanted to take it all in.

“Security lockdown” is the only way to describe what it’s like to drive the Sea-to-Sky Hwy right now. We saw – no kidding – at least a dozen RCMP cars – parked at the side of the road, in the lot of the Starbucks in Squamish, and providing a wonderful ‘escort’ (one in front, and one behind) for a nice, leisurely drive from Squamish to Whistler at EXACTLY the speed limit. Maybe even a little less. Parking in the village lot cost $20 and frankly, no matter who purchases Intrawest or Whistler Blackcomb, I will bet that this is one “post Games legacy” that you’re sure to see. Maybe not right away, but pay parking will come to WB in the day lots at some point in the next five years.

Up on Blackcomb, it was quiet. No, make that utterly abandoned. On our first run we had fresh tracks down Blackcomb Glacier (at the crack’ o’ noon time of 11:00 am; and at 2:50 enjoyed first tracks down Cockalorum on Whistler.  At one point, we looked up on the Blackcomb Glacier and we were the ONLY TWO people on the whole damned thing.

Ate lunch around 12:30 and found a ‘table for eight’ in Glacier Lodge with no problem (even though it was just Vern and me). We did not ride the lifts with anyone else, nor did we see anyone in line. It was… eerie. And, for all of you skiers, a likely sample of what the skiing will be like come Games-time. You’ll have the mountain to yourself for two weeks in the middle of winter. How sweet is that?

In the Village, though, it was quite another story. People started milling around the stage for the arrival of the Olympic torch at around 5:30, and the crowd built, and built, and built. After a couple of beers and a plate of natchos (Olympic pricing in effect; no, wait, that’s just Whistler pricing) at the GLC, we decided to go into the Village and wait for the Torch. Bill Good and Pamela Martin were broadcasting live from the plaza (or whatever the hell that place where Crankworx is held each year is called), and there were people EVERYWHERE sporting red and white Canada sweaters, jackets, everything. Happily, the corporate presence was not NEARLY as heavy handed as I thought it might be; far less than Crankworx, for example. The MC gamely tried to engage the crowd, but didn’t have much to go on. Tourism BC played their ‘You Gotta Be Here’ advert (an ‘extended cut’, without Kim Cantrell and Steve Nash). Suddenly, up on the slopes, the torch was transported via snowmobile (apparently being carried by Julia Murray, the unfortunately-injured Ski Cross skier) and then it was skied back down under the lights by Crazy Canuck and all-around ham Steve Podborski, who handed it off to Whistler student Tyler Allison.

The crowd got pretty revved up by this time, well, as much as you can get revved up for a tiny flame in a sea of thousands, and respectfully sang along to “O Canada”. Yet another verklempt moment – they don’t sing O Canada at goddam Red Bull events, do they? I would bet that eighty percent of the people in attendance were Whistler locals, who I am convinced will support these Games even more than Vancouverites will. We never did catch Barney Bentall; I think he was playing a different stage than the main venue. It was wonderful evening, and I will bet that Starbucks sold out of hot chocolate for all of those kiddies and their parents wandering the Village afterward.

As anyone who visited there in February knows, Whistler is an incredibly vibrant town. I am not sure – even after watching the Torch Relay – how much more stoked the place will be than normal. I think a LOT of hotel beds are taken up by support crews, members of the international media, coaching staff, and people who – essentially – are there to work, and not necessarily party or vacation. In fact, we hear that Vancouver can expect 400,000 visitors over the 17 day period – are these tourists with Games tickets and money to spend, or are they people up there to do a job?

One thing is for sure – they aren’t there to ski…


2 Responses to “One week from today – notes from the front (Whistler)”

  1. Jacques Says:

    Steven, looking forward to Whistler. Yes I am there to work, but in case of major snowfall, no racing. Then skiing! And on race day, I shall be skiing, but carrying a bit of gear.

  2. Brad Morton Says:

    Hoping a big chill comes down from the north for old and & cold ice crystals ! Just hoping the Chinese downhill becomes a regular event !


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