Three winters from now, every one of the far-flung places on the planet that don't already know about Whistler Blackcomb ski resort ...
Three winters from now, every one of the far-flung places on the planet that don’t already know about Whistler Blackcomb ski resort — there were four, at last count — will get an in-your-face introduction.
Picture it: Downhill racers ripping up Franz’s Run and the Dave Murray Downhill. Crazy guys in sausage suits hitting 88 mph on the luge run at the base of Blackcomb. Ski jumpers sailing into blue skies from a ramp in the Callaghan Valley.
All on television, all filmed with stunning snowcapped-peak backdrops from a helicopter, all part of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, Canada’s first shot at the world’s biggest sports fest since Calgary in 1988.
The winter-sports hype will reach boiling point Feb. 12, 2010, when the Games begin with a torch lighting in Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium. It won’t end until March 21, when the Paralympics conclude. That’s only a month of activity. But it’s preceded by another three full years of preparation and hype.
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All of which leaves Northwest skiers and snowboarders already in love with Whistler Blackcomb for its pre-Olympic greatness — namely, the world’s largest collection of alpine terrain, all reached comfortably by one of the planet’s most-complete base villages — with a legitimate question:
Will the heat of the Olympic flame burn out the Whistler we’ve come to know and love, and if so, when?
Hype on hold, kinda
Winter Olympic Games, Vancouver/ Whistler, B.C.
Dates: Feb. 12-28, 2010
Paralympic Winter Games dates: March 12 — 21, 2010
Number of Olympic athletes and officials: 5,000
Number of Paralympic athletes and officials: 1,700
Countries participating in Olympic Winter Games: 80 plus
Countries participating in Paralympic Winter Games: 40 plus
Test events begin: Winter 2008-2009
2010 Games events tickets available: 1.8 million
Ticket sales begin: Fall 2008
More information: www.vancouver2010.com
The answer, of course, depends on one’s definition of burn. Winter recreators who don’t care for Olympics hype probably will see any sign of pre-Games construction as a headache; fans of the five rings will look at the same sight and see it as an omen of great things to come. Whistler, after all, was turned into a destination ski area with the hopes of luring the 1968 Winter Games, and has been in hot Olympic pursuit ever since.
Both camps are likely to find comfort in visiting Whistler during the pre-Olympic run-up. Because intrepid fans already can dip a toe into the waters of Whistler Winter Olympism. But for the next two years, at least, they’ll have to go out of their way to do it.
Part of that is intentional, part of it just happenstance.
For one thing, Whistler, the community and Whistler Blackcomb, the resort, can’t go pasting the Olympic rings all over themselves, their hotels, their ski lifts or even their brochures for another year and a half. That’s when the 2008 Summer Games wrap up in Beijing, China.
The International Olympic Committee frowns on upcoming host cities making too much noise about themselves until the host city front and center, in this case Beijing, has had its moment in the spotlight. It’s part of the return every host city expects on its multibillion-dollar Olympic investment.
So even though Whistler, which will host bobsled, luge, skeleton, cross-country skiing, ski jumping and alpine skiing, and Vancouver, which will host all other Games sports, are next up for the Winter Games spotlight, they must first wait for it to fade from Beijing.
“You can bet your bottom dollar that as soon as Beijing is over, we’ll be going out full force” to promote Whistler as an Olympic venue, says spokeswoman Michelle Leroux.
Meantime, the Olympics, when it comes to Whistler, continue to cook away — to the tune of $240 million worth of construction — just on a decidedly slow boil, from a visitor’s viewpoint.
Bobsled, luge track
Sample these Olympic runs — this winter
Beat the Olympic crowds (by a few years) and try out some of the same ski runs on which the world’s best will compete in 2010. You can do it this winter:
• The Olympic men’s downhill will roughly follow the existing Dave Murray Downhill, named after the late, great former “Crazy Canuck” ski racer. It’s a well-marked — and very long — run at Whistler. The actual Olympic course will vary, and will be fitted with hair-raising jumps and sharp turns. But you get a good idea of the terrain.
• The Olympic women’s downhill will roughly follow Wildcard and mid- to lower Franz’s Run, which can be sampled anytime by recreational skiers or riders. Race organizers say its layout will make it one of the steepest women’s downhills in the world, with an overall pitch steeper than that of the longer men’s course.
For an online map showing the ski runs in detail, see www.whistlerblackcomb.com
— Ron Judd
The most-visible sign of the Games is the $100 million Whistler Sliding Centre, the sprawling bobsled/luge/skeleton track being built at the base of Blackcomb. The finish area for the track, which already is taking shape in a gully at lower levels of the ski runs, is only about a block from Whistler Village’s main plaza. But it’s largely out of sight, unless you ride one of the lower gondolas in winter, or a zip line in summer, and get high enough to see it.
Construction will continue here until 2008, but it’s not likely to be noticed much by skiers and snowboarders. The land was largely unused before. And heavy equipment rolling in and out of Whistler Village is hardly something new: New hotels and lodges have been under construction here for decades.
The Sliding Centre, in fact, is likely to become more visible after the Olympics. If it follows the example of previous tracks, it’s likely to offer tourist rides on enclosed luge sleds once the Games have come and gone, and will continue as a training venue and, likely, World Cup racing track for decades.
The only other visible sign of pending Olympism in the village itself: slope work and a new building above Whistler Creekside, where men’s and women’s downhill, super G, slalom and giant slalom races will finish in a temporary horseshoe-grandstand area near the Creekside base. Again, this will be accomplished with nearly no interruption of existing ski runs. And the grandstands at the base won’t be assembled until the summer of 2009.
Whistler’s other Olympic construction is outside the village. Just south of town, at the sight of the town’s former landfill and transfer station, work has begun on the Whistler Olympic Village, which will be temporary home to skiers and sliders from around the globe, and later will revert to Whistler housing. You’re not likely to see the bustle at this sight unless you go looking for it.
Snow Sports site
Find resort information, Web cams, trail maps, detailed snow reports, and a daily e-mail on snow conditions sent to your inbox every morning at www.seattletimes.com/snowsports.
The same can be said of the sprawling new cross-country ski/ski-jumping venue being carved from rough, forested land in the Callaghan Valley, southwest of Whistler. It’s at the end of a gravel road built specifically for the project, and there is no public access.
None of these venues are likely to be open to the public until the fall of 2008, at the earliest. Vancouver Games organizers have pledged to have all the venues — including the snowboard and freestyle ski venues at Cypress Mountain, and new buildings for hockey, speedskating and curling in the city of Vancouver itself — ready by the end of ’08, giving Canadian athletes a home-snow or home-ice advantage by having at least one full winter to train on them.
In the interim, they’re heavy construction sites, and even media tours have been very limited.
Whistler’s Olympic venues
Whistler Sliding Center — Sports: Men’s and women’s bobsled, luge, skeleton. Location: Blackcomb Mountain base area. Spectator capacity: 12,000. Construction began: June 2005. Construction complete: Summer 2008. Post-Games use: Recreational and competition bobsled and luge; competition skeleton. Visitor Hassle Factor: Minimal. You’ll see the construction from the base gondolas at Whistler and Blackcomb, but it shouldn’t interfere with ski operations.
Alpine Skiing — Sports: Men’s and women’s downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, combined. Location: Whistler Creekside. (Men’s downhill: Dave Murray Downhill course. Women’s downhill: Wildcard and Franz’s Run.) Spectator capacity: 7,600. Construction began: Minor slope regrading has been completed past two summers. Construction of a new timing house/race building has begun above Whistler Creekside base area. Construction completion target: Summer 2008. (Note: Temporary grandstands will be constructed in August 2009.) Post-Games use: Recreational/competition skiing. Visitor Hassle Factor: Minimal. Slope regrading has already taken place; new facilities are largely outside existing ski runs.
Whistler Nordic competition venue — Sports: Cross-country skiing, biathlon, ski jumping, Nordic combined. Location: Callaghan Valley, southwest of Whistler Village. Spectator capacity: 12,000 in each of three stadiums. Construction began: April 2005. Construction completion target: Summer 2008. Temporary grandstands to be erected summer, 2009. Post-Games use: Competition and recreational cross-country skiing. Competition ski jumping and biathlon. Visitor Hassle Factor: Zero. Twenty minutes from Whistler Village, you’ll never see it until you attend a pre-Games test event in 2008.
Whistler Olympic Village — Sports: Non-competition venue, to provide housing and services to athletes and coaches. Location: Cheakamus Valley, site of current Whistler Transfer Station, just south of the village. Construction began: Summer 2006. Construction completion target date: 2009. Post-Games use: An “affordable” housing village for Whistler. Visitor Hassle Factor: Zero, unless you’re one of the Dumpster-diving bears who’s become accustomed to chowing down on garbage here.
So what’s likely to be a Whistler visitor’s closest brush with the 2010 Games? Three things come to mind, the first being potentially unpleasant.
Construction on the cliff-hanging, often-clogged Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler continues, with the goal of making it mostly multilane by 2010. That means construction delays at times, although many are in the middle of the night these days.
Be patient and plan accordingly. And look at the bright side: Frequent drivers say the $600 million project already has sped up the commute when construction delays aren’t occurring, especially on the stretch between Squamish and Whistler. For updates on wait times and other information, refer to British Columbia’s Sea to Sky Highway information page: www.seatoskyimprovements.ca.
Once you’re past all that, consider the Olympic pleasantries:
For starters, stop by the Whistler 2010 Info Centre in Whistler Village, near the Brewhouse restaurant. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with Olympic information and visitors on hand to answer questions.
If that just whets your appetite and you’re handy on skis or a board, head on up the mountain to ski some of the same terrain the world’s best skiers will be cruising in 2010 (see “Sample these Olympic runs — this winter”).
When you hit the bottom at Whistler Creekside, just use your imagination a bit: Picture 7,600 flag-waving, cowbell-ringing fans instead of the day-skier’s lunch crowd, and you can have your own personal moment of greatness.
It’s not really the Olympics. But it, like Whistler itself, is as close to the real thing as you can get until that rapidly approaching flame-lighting date in February 2010.
Ron Judd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8280