Olympics Part Deux: Vancouver and Whistler
With the closing ceremonies behind us it’s time to say bye-bye to Beijing. Though these games were a spectacular in many ways your memories are already starting to fade. Of course there are things we will never forget…The US swimming champ Michael Phelps winning a phenomenal 8 gold medals; the brilliance of the Chinese in sweeping the sports most other countries ignore boosting China to a fantastic high of 51 gold medals; and Usain Bolt breaking the world record for the 200. But there are many things that are better left behind: the possibility of some of Chinese athletes competing under age; the fact that the Chinese conducted the games like the Great Oz manipulating everything from a “cuter” singer to digitized effects; or the that the bold-faced lie promising a totally open and free media. Ah well, it’s time to look to the future. And so I turn your attention to the Winter Olympics s’il vous plait. It is now Canada’s turn.
Don’t for a second think they aren’t aware of the tremendous pressure that comes with the privilege of hosting. I travelled to Whistler while the Beijing Games were in full-swing and got a close look at the prep.
Fortunately, Vancouver and Whistler boast beautiful, clear air on a regular basis so such fundamentals like breathing conditions are not an issue. However, for the Winter Olympic venues it’s often more an issue of how to deal with getting people from place to place. You have events like hockey and ice skating which need large stadiums contrasted with the outdoor expanse required by the skiing events. Vancouver will host the games and many of the events are taking place in or around the city but all of the skiing and sliding events are happening in Whistler.
Once the venues were decided on the next thing to be sorted was the transportation for getting from Vancouver to Whistler (usually about a two-hour ride by car) on a two-lane highway. Of course with the kind of traffic that Olympics get this highway would be bumper-to-bumper for days at that size. Work is going round the clock to expand the highway to four lanes in time for the games. While it has caused some unpredictable delays for tourists and townies alike – the project seems to be going well. Locals boast that it may even be completed ahead of schedule.
Once you get up to Whistler and view the Olympic Park, Creekside, and the Sliding Center you can see various events in the making. It’s not often that you can see how an Olympic Luge is constructed after all. When finished, Whistler’s sliding track will be one of only 15 like it in the world. You realize just how mighty it is – and despite a lack of snow and ice I could absolutely picture the Bobsled, Skeleton and Luge events to come. (By the way, after the events are over, you can come here to try it out for yourself!)
But perhaps even more imposing in summer is going down the road to see the building of the ski jumps. The jumps themselves loom massive – even the “smaller” one made me turn away in fear. (And when you do a 180 you realize the natural beauty of the place. I could imagine this incredible valley and mountains off in the distance covered in snow and anticipate how Olympic skiers will stare this down as they psych themselves up.) It’s awesome.
Yet beyond all of the game preparation perhaps one of the most impressive and contrasting notes to Beijing is all the talk of sustainability. Not only is it critical to manage the environment responsibly to the Canadians here but also to care for the creatures in the natural environment. I pondered this in greater detail as a young Black Bear (called a yearling by the locals well versed in Bear) crossed our path near the ski area. In Whistler great care has been given to smart site selection with the absolute minimal vegetation clearing for events, thought has been given to the long-term operations of each facility, and efficiency is high on the list of important items to the engineers and operators here.
I don’t know about you, but after a visit to our neighbors to the North I started getting a whole lot more excited for the Winter Olympics. I hope that the Canadians can inspire us all to a more responsible Olympics, in every way.
Let the games begin….
My name: Amy is my name, but I'll answer to Ame, Ames or Aimee.
How I earn my keep: My beat is travel, but my passion is collecting stories from people I meet on the road.
Hotel I could move into: Must I pick only one?! The Palacio Duhau a Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires tops my list. For the stunning restoration of the palace and tasteful new tower that create a thoughtful intersection of old and new. Every public and private space captivates. I'd move for the grand Alvear entry as much as for the manicured garden. For the wine and cheese tastings, the dulce de leche, the art gallery, the flower shop and for all the careful attention to detail that went into creating a hotel that is transcendent. If I were to pick a hotel that most felt like me, it would be The Inn at the Manor in the Cotswolds. Oh, I could definitely live there curled up with a book in a leather chair in the bar or outside among the English wildflowers. If I wanted to live in a land far away, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater Lodge would make a unique home with a view of the crater floor from every room (including the loo!), sumptuous beds, endless roses and the most unusual neighbors - massive water buffalo who won't bother you if you stay close to your Maori guide.
If I won the lottery, I'd live in: A historic farmhouse with an enormous barn and hundreds of acres tucked into a small town in New England or a Malibu beach house with stunning views and the surf just steps away. On second thought, winning the lottery means I could jet from coast to coast and enjoy them both.
Favorite way to get around: By foot. Whether in the city or country, I find the best way to get to know someplace is ambling around to discover and sample the distinct sights, sounds, smells, and tastes a place has to offer.
View that took my breath away: Looking toward the sky in Arusha and watching black and white Colobus monkeys scramble among the treetops, jumping from one tree to the next, floating through the sky like a primate version of Superman. Monkeys know how to have a good time!
My most beloved place in the whole world is: The place I visited last. What can I say? I'm fickle.
Follow me on twitter @amyziff