Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympics Day One: I hate to complain, but...

Sally and I started the Olympics with a trip up to Cypress Mountain to watch the ladies' moguls. Our tickets arrived with bus reservations from Lonsdale 12:25 for a 4:30 start! Not knowing what might happen if we tried to get a later bus, we decided to forgo the opening reception of Canada House in order to catch the bus on time.

En route to the SeaBus, I noticed these old Canadian Pacific railway cars. Are they being used for accommodation? (I thought the wooden walkway connection was a clue.) One of the posts on Frances Bula's blog suggested we should use railway cars to house the homeless. While I didn't like the idea at the time, these sleepers might not be too bad!As we waited in line we learned that no one was paying any attention to the time stamped on the bus took which ever bus came along. Had we known that, we would have taken a bit longer to enjoy our lunch at Lonsdale Quay. (Had we known what the food facilities were going to be like on Cypress Mountain, we would have taken more provisions, and urged everyone in the line-up to do the same.As the bus slowly made its way up to Cypress, we were delighted to finally see some snow on the ground. However, we weren't quite so delighted to see the heavy rain. It was hard to know what to wear, since it was so warm and clear when we left the house. Most of the people on the bus were reasonably prepared for the rain and somewhat colder weather, although far too many people were wearing thin pants and running shoes. They regretted it later.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect when we arrived. I had never been to a skiing event before and although I knew we had grandstand seats, I wasn't sure how things would be set up. When we arrived, at 1:15 or so, I wasn't sure why we were all lining up in the rain outside...more than three hours in advance of the event start! However, we did enjoy posing for the Italian TV crew from SKY.

Once inside, it became apparent that it was going to be a very long afternoon and evening. There was virtually nowhere to sit down, no beer garden (which I understand is a common feature at similar European events) and huge line-ups to get a coffee or hot chocolate...or anything hot. We lined up for a while, but then the power went off to the food services...Someone suggested we seek comfort in the heat tent. We went into a large tent that was literally jambed with bodies with nowhere to sit and no tables....So we left and decided to take shelter underneath the seating area, but this was not really that pleasant. At that point, with still more than an hour to go, Sally decided that maybe it would be better to watch Jennifer Heil try to win gold in the warm comfort of the Arbutus Club. So off she went.With nowhere else to go, I decided to take my seat on the cold wet metal bench of the grandstand, but soon realized despite a couple of layers and a Gore-Tex jacket, I needed more clothing. So I set off and soon stood in the long line-up for the Olympic store to buy a sweatshirt. After an enjoyable chat with a couple from Montreal, also needing more clothing, I eventually made it inside and found what I wanted
The opening qualifying event was fun to watch, although I sure wish someone had suggested that I bring a cushion for the uncovered and ice cold seat. The qualifying round ended relatively quickly with Jennifer in second place and two other Canadians in contention, and then the dilemma was whether to wait another two hours for the finals or head off to the club myself. I decided to warm up in the Warm Tent, but one of the heating fans had broken, so I decided to get something warm to drink. But by now the line-ups were so great the choice was made easy...I was heading back.

After a long walk back to the buses, it was an easy trip back to Vancouver. I did enjoy watching the finals on TV at the club, and couldn't get over how much easier it was to see what was happening. While I missed the cheering of the crowd, I was happy to be back.

So I hate to complain, but I do have some suggestions for VANOC and everyone heading up to Cypress. First of all, VANOC should rethink how much in advance one must arrive....or add some places for people to sit or gather and enjoy the wait....My advice, check what time the last buses leave...don't arrive too early.

I realize it may be too late for VANOC to add food outlets, but surely it's possible to set up some separate hot chocolate or coffee stations...and let everyone know that food is allowed, and encourage them to bring it, along with a thermos of hot soup or a beverage. Most people I spoke to were under the impression they weren't allowed to bring in food. This isn't true.

For those who have grandstand seats, tell them it's cold and not covered, and to bring a cushion or something warm to sit on. And while it seems obvious, remind people to wear warmer clothing and waterproof boots...I saw far too many people holding their running shoes, with plastic bags over their feet. (I'm told many had to leave early, even before the qualifying round, because they were so poorly prepared for the venue.)

I am not heading back to Cypress, but a lot of people who have travelled a long way, and paid $150 a ticket and maybe more, will be coming. I hope we can get the word out that with more advance knowledge of what to expect, this can be a better experience. As one of the paid workers said to me as I was leaving....we really screwed up today, but it was our first day. Hopefully it will get better.

As Vancouverites, Sally and I were embarrassed for our visitors. I hope things do get better.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a ticket to an outdoor skiing event and I have been emailed THREE times AND sent TWO letters via Canada Post about WHAT to wear and WHAT to bring. I know I can take a cushion/blanket for the seat, have to wear warm waterproof layered clothing, warm waterproof boots, and FOOD! The Olympic committee well-prepared me...all I had to do was read it. I am not sure why other people weren't prepared????? It has been on the news too!

Unknown said...

I was there too and this is a very accurate assessment of the situation. We live locally and were very prepared for the weather. The food and beverage options are very weak. I waited in line for about an hour. (I know, ouch.) Only to be overcharged, given poor service, and witnessed mass confusion, disorganization, and general dissaray behind the counter. The furthest thing from world class service and organization.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The Vancouver 2010 website says food is not allowed in venues.

Has anyone seen the official notice that you can bring food in? We are planning on attending the snowboard events.

From the website:

"Outside food and beverages are restricted items at Olympic and Paralympic venues and will not be allowed in, unless they are required for medical purposes. However, baby food and formula is permitted. Concession stands within the venues feature a wide variety of hot and cold food and beverage items, including healthy meal choices. Beer and wine are also available for purchase and must be consumed in designated areas (the legal drinking age in British Columbia is 19)."

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I was at this event too. After arriving on time for our bus departure from SFU, we lined up behind people that had not even purchased tickets yet. The volunteers walked up and down the line assuring them they could go ahead and buy and that everyone would get on a bus.

The point WAS that we booked an earlier bus so we would have time to grab something to eat before qualifying started.

Since reservations had gone out the window, we resigned ourselves to getting there a little later than we thought. We had arrived for a 1:20 departure time for an event that started at 4:30. We spent the time joking with other people in the line and finding out where everyone was from.

At approximately 3:45, after over two and a half hours in the rain and the line, we finally began to board buses we were told had "gotten lost".

Our bus arrived at the hill at 4:35. The qualifying rounds of the ladies freestyle had already started and we still had to walk all that distance, go through security and then find our seats. Having been without food or anything to drink for 4.5 hours by that point, we opted to stand in the line for the concession. (Which at that time wasn't too bad with us only having to wait ONE hour to find out they had run out of everything).

The concession, the entrance to the stands, the merchandise tent... All led to a massive pedestrian gridlock. There was NOWHERE to go.

We chose not to stay for the medal ceremony and were herded into the narrow metal chutes for the long walk back to the buses. We reached the SFU point, after a time, only to be met with utter confusion. None of the volunteers could figure out what was going on or what to tell us. We stood in the rain for well over an hour waiting for a bus to take us.

We left the house for the 4:30 event at 12:45 and arrived back home at 12:00.

Needless to say, we slept in for our 5am departure bus the next day for Whistler.

I too was embarassed and hope things improve dramatically for all of the visitors to our amazing city.

michael geller said...

Thanks to all of you who have added comments. As you probably know, VANOC decided to cancel the standing room tickets for the next few days for safety reasons, given the shortage of snow.

Without questioning the necessity for this, I would suggest that for future events, VANOC truck in some more snow for the standing area, and add food and 'heat tent' facilities. I think this is quite doable.

VANOC could also announce that visitors can bring food and beverages to the facility since this will help reduce the line-ups at the concessions.

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