It’s a dream 50 years in the making.
In 1960, a small group of businessmen in Vancouver, B.C., came up with the idea of building a brand-new ski resort in the hopes of hosting the Winter Olympics.
In February 2010, after at least four unsuccessful bids, that dream will come true when the come to Western Canada. Vancouver is the official host city — for an update on the city’s pre-Olympic progress — but some of the most exciting action will take place 120 kilometers up the road amid the snow-capped peaks of .
The resort is scheduled to host the alpine skiing events (downhill, GS, slalom, etc.), Nordic events (cross-country skiing, biathlon, jumping, etc.) and sliding events (bobsled, luge and skeleton). In addition, many of the events of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games will take place in and around Whistler when those games come to town March 12–21.
In the meantime, you can already hit many of the slopes and trails that will challenge some of the world’s best athletes three years from now. So buckle your boots, click in to your skis or snowboard and come along on a high-speed tour of Whistler’s Olympic venues.
The Games’ alpine events — downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined — will be held on the . As the site of the resort’s original runs and its newest large-scale development, the area embodies Whistler’s past as well as its future.
The men’s downhill, for example, will take place on the Dave Murray Downhill, which is named after the late member of the Canadian Ski Team who thrilled the ski world in the 1970s as part of the so-called “Crazy Canucks.” A few slopes over, the women’s course will include a stretch of Franz’s Run, named for Franz Wilhelmsen, who founded the resort in the first place. Both courses are expected to be very technical and very, very fast.
Take the men’s course, which drops 3,200 vertical feet in approximately two miles. From the sweeping curves of Toilet Bowl to the high-roller jump known as Hot Air, the course is a series of twists, turns and drops that will have Olympic racers hitting speeds of almost 80 mph. For the rest of us, it offers a scenic tour that can easily take 10 to 20 minutes.
A few miles south of Whistler Village, a short, bumpy road dead ends in the woods of the lower Callaghan Valley. Head farther up the valley — via snowmobile, snowshoes or cross-country skis — and you’ll find yourself in the middle of what will soon become the Olympics’ Nordic competition site.
Eventually, the site will feature 14 kilometers of competition trails, plus another 25–30 kilometers of training and recreational trails. Three stadiums are also in the works, including separate ones for cross-country, biathlon and ski jumping, each of which will seat up to 12,000 spectators.
For now, though, the site is most easily accessed by way of a snowmobile tour with the folks at . Donning helmets and warm clothing, guests pilot their own sleds along many of the same trails that will be used by the athletes in 2010. And if you happen to see a set of high concrete towers rising out of the woods, you’ll understand why those Nordic jumpers fly so far.
The area is also home to , a backcountry inn another 12.5 kilometers up the valley. Although it isn’t in the Olympic venue per se, the lodge does offer 32 kilometers of set track and the same scenery that will show up on TV sets around the world in 2010. The lodge sleeps just 22 guests, so jockeying for trail position shouldn’t be a problem.
Currently taking shape on the lower slopes of Blackcomb, the Whistler Sliding Centre will host the Olympic bobsled (or bobsleigh), luge and skeleton events. When completed later this year, the facility will feature a 1,450-meter track with 16 curves and a dedicated stadium with seating for 12,000 fans. By next season, you may even be able to catch a test event or training run, with public rides likely available once the Games are over.
In the meantime, you’ll just have to console yourself with Whistler’s other outlets for winter fun: dog sledding, ziplining, inntertubing, and, of course, skiing and snowboarding on two of the most exciting mountains in North America. Take a spin down Franz’s or the Dave Murray Downhill, and you’ll even be able to claim you beat those future Olympians to the bottom.
Ticket information for the 2010 Winter Games will be made available in 2008. To receive updates via e-mail, sign up for the ticket-program mailing list at the .