Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic Whistler Weekend

Having seen the Vancouver and Cypress Mountain Olympic venues, we were delighted to receive an invitation from Roger and Diana Hughes to spend an Olympic Weekend at Whistler. Roger was one of the original Whistler architects and kept one of the ski-in, ski-out cabins that he designed for Intrawest on Blackcomb. (Roger was also the architect of record for the new Olympic Curling Centre and Robson Square renovations in Vancouver, but both facilities have functioned so well, there has been little publicity about his designs. He's happy to glow on the inside.)As guests of local residents, we were given a pass to drive the newly rebuilt Sea to Sky highway. While it is much improved, and knocked 15 minutes off the trip, for the life of me I couldn't understand why the transportation engineers had decided to reconfigure the road with yellow pylons, just for the Olympics. In some cases, the pylons add another lane for a very short distance; in others, they change the direction of the middle lane. While the regulars are getting used to it, the changes can be somewhat confusing and disconcerting for first time drivers, especially when the dividing concrete barrier is on your right...you just hope everyone coming in the other direction is paying attention too!

We arrived just as the sun was setting and the tree lights were coming on. It all looked quite magical; but needed a light dusting of snow to be completely transformed into a winter wonderland.

The next day we headed off to the Village Square. It had been set up as a Live City site with a large stage and giant video monitors. A very talented group, with bare-chested drummers was entertaining the crowd, all decked out in red. It was a very festive and friendly atmosphere.One of the prominent retail outlets was selling Russian and Ukranian gear. Since three of my four grandparents were born there, (and I really do like to think of myself as 'non-partisan'), I decided to buy a Russian baseball hat. If nothing else, it was quite an attractive Italian design, and very well made, compared to the Canadian hats....check them out. By the way, can anyone explain why the Canadian Olympic hats came in almost every colour, except....red?

If the price of the clothing is any indication, Soichi is going to be a very expensive experience. (The thin cotton golf shirts were $149 and the ski jackets were $600.)We went over to the Brew Pub for lunch and Joe Hussein, one of the creators of Blackcomb sat down at the next table. We chatted briefly and Joe commented how sorry he felt for all of his acquaintences who had decided to leave town for the Olympics. I had to agree. The inconveniences have been modest compared to the joy of the experience. It has been a fabulous experience for almost everyone who has stayed. Joe added that the Callaghan Valley development might turn out to be the greatest physical legacy of the Olympics.

After an afternoon of wandering around, at 4 pm we set off for the Slide Centre to watch the qualifying runs for Men's Bobsledding. It was very comfortable and I couldn't help compare it with the experience we had had at Cypress Mountain exactly one week earlier. It was easy to get to, and get in. There were lots of food concessions and washrooms, and while we were not there at lunch or dinner, no line-ups.Fortunately, we had $30 general admission tickets, rather than grandstand seats, which meant we could wander around and watch the runs from different locations around the track. I was astounded at how easy it was to move around, and how close you could get to the track and the bobsledders. Given the tragedy with the Georgian luger, the presence of the Chaplains took on a special meaning.After the first runs, one of the Canadian teams (piloted by a fellow with the appropriate name of Rush) was in third place, and we had great hopes. But before they had their second run, we witnessed some drama with one of the Austrian teams at the finishing line. I'm not sure if this was mentioned in the television coverage, but there is a weight limit for each team. At the end of each race, the bobsledders and their bobsled are weighed on a special scale. We only discovered this when we watched the two men balancing themselves on their sled and another spectator turned to me and said "Look, he's cheating!" It seems he 'had his thumb on the scale'...although in this case it was the opposite...he was pressing down with one of his toes outside the scale to reduce their apparent weight.

At one point, both riders got off and wiped all the moisture off their sled. But it was to no avail. The judges ruled they were too heavy!

On the way home, we happened to start chatting with a member of the Austrian media. He told us the story. It seems one of the bobsledders was injured earlier in the week, and a replacement was found. But he knew he was too heavy so he spent the week trying to shed some pounds. He did well, but was still 500 grams over the limit. He was disqualified.

Sadly, the Canadian team was also soon out of the race. In their case, the problem was not weight, but control. They lost it. Tragically, they were in first place went they tipped over. It was a sad ending to a very good experience.

We enjoyed dinner in the village and then set off to watch the crowds. Surprisingly, at 10 pm the musicians stopped, and the assembled throngs had to make do with a portable 'ghetto-blaster'. We were told that organizers wanted the attendees inside the nearby pubs and lounges, not out in the public areas. OK.

We ended up our evening in the Minus 5 degreees lounge...a make-shift 'igloo' where everything is made from ice. The bar is made of ice; the glasses are ice. It was not the ice palace we have read about in travel magazines, but it was an interesting experience and a good way to end a good day.While we regretted that we have given up downhill skiing, the next day we set off for a trip on the gondolas...first the Whistler Gondola, and then the new Peak to Peak for lunch with the Hughes at Christines, a surprisingly elegant restaurant at the top of Blackcomb. It was magnificent...the sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, and it was warm. An old man seemed a bit disoriented so I asked if he needed some help. He told me he had lived at Whistler for 90 years and if he didn't know where to go now, he never would!

If you can get to Whistler before the end of the Olympics, I highly recommend it.

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