Thursday, October 15, 2009

Whistler a great place for the Olympics

10/07/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Do you like to travel? Do you enjoy the Olympic Games? Well, then, come along with me on a short jaunt to visit one of our neighbors. Our destination is the resort town of Whistler, B.C., Canada, one of the sites of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Whistler has been on our list of places to go for years. But somehow, Vancouver (its metropolitan neighbor) always detoured us from making the short jaunt up Highway 99 on the Sea to Sky Highway to what is known as “The Village.”

We had been told not to expect very much of the area. Comments from seasoned visitors of 20 years ago were not encouraging. They ranged from “Well, it’s certainly a nice drive,” to “Boring,” and “It’s just a village. There’s no reason to trek up there to do nothing.”

Ah, but times have changed and the village is bustling not boring. In fact, with the Olympics just around the corner, the whole Vancouver area is as busy as beavers building dams in a creek.

Vancouver-Whistler was chosen as the site for the winter games in 2003. Since then, skilled workers have been in short supply and cost overrides constant. They are building roads, a rapid transit system, a nine block Olympic Village to house 10,000 occupants, and of course, the many venues. Some estimate the 2010 Olympics may cost Canada as much as $1.6 billion. From what I’ve seen, they’ll easily recoup their money.

Driving up the Sea to Summit highway we began to relax as we wound high above the cliffs of Howe Sound and headed into wooded areas. The newly widened and landscaped highway is a joy to drive. There were no billboards to distract from the natural beauty. Instead, tastefully lighted and carved wooden signs alert travelers to scenic bypasses, landmarks, lodging, restaurants and other businesses.

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Whistler’s only RV Resort. Riverside RV is a village in itself beginning with the large log cabin lodge, a cafĂ©, individual rental log cabins plus tenting areas down by the creek. A van shuttle was conveniently available by reservation from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We discovered that there are three kinds of Whistler visitors. Day visitors are nicely dressed, hustle through the village, check out the shops, have a bite to eat and head back down the hill. Athletic visitors have a plethora of activities to choose from, come dressed accordingly and spend the day. Casual, camper types such as ourselves amble around in jeans, check out the shops and then sit down and check out the people.

The Upper Village, at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain, houses some very high-end hotels and seriously well-heeled guests. We enjoyed the afternoon tea at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and felt like country bumpkins as we ogled the clientele. My, oh, my! Flowery summer dresses on the ladies and men in slacks and ties made me wish I had packed some nicer clothes.

The Lower Village at the foot of Whistler Mountain is where the winning Olympians will receive their medals at a newly constructed staging area. It is a mosh pit of ski lifts and activity.

It is also where all the shopping happens. Warning: there are no bargains. This is an expensive shopping area. I gulped more than once at a $200 price tag on a sweatshirt. Items marked with the XXI Olympic Winter Games logo, however, were selling like hot cakes.

The XXI Olympic logo Inuksuit, is a native stone sculpture in human shape. He’s an artistic but controversial pile of rocks with a green head, bulky blue body and thick legs. So what’s the problem? Well, the image by graphic artist Elena Rivera MacGregor was meant to remind the world of multiculturalism and diversity. Instead, it has been ridiculed as a Pac-Man or Frankenstein and rejected by most Native populations.

Adrenaline junkies can certainly get their fill in the Whistler area at any time of the year. Depending on your levels of courage and fitness, there’s something for everyone. One of the best seats in the village was at Black’s Pub where you could sit outdoors, have a great meal and watch the action.

There, at the bottom of the mountain, hundreds of people chose to swing like Tarzan on a zipline through the forest. They signed up, briefly trained and were transported to the forest. Others chose bungee jumping, ATVs or electric bicycle tours. Still others decided on white water river rafting. We chose none of the above. We’re too old and fragile.

We also didn’t spend $5,000 on a mountain bike, don a full-face helmet, body armor —wrist, elbow, knee and shin pads — or buy a season ticket on the gondola to the top of Whistler. There, bikers (male and female; young and old) choose their course and have the ride of their lives navigating obstacles and inclines. We saw many a broken body and bike come limping down that popular course.

We did, however, hop on our touring bikes and spend time exploring the 19 mile Valley Trail that winds through an old growth forest, skirts million dollar houses near several lakes and ends at the Jack Nicklaus golf course near the village.

Another day we braved the stomach churning, Peak to Peak gondola ride 2.7 miles UP to Whistler then across to Blackcomb mountain and back again. We chose not to ride in a glass bottom model but could clearly see bears and bikers — 1,427 ft. below! You share the gondolas and chair lifts up the first mountain with the bikers. It’s a hoot to see them maneuver into those little capsules.

Soon Whistler will be blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Come February they will host competitions in the Bobsled, Luge, Alpine Skiing, Cross Country Skiing and Biathalon categories. We’d love to be there but the “No Vacancy” signs are already out. Fortunately we reserved warm, front-row seats in front of our television. Thanks for coming along on the ride. Now, "Go, USA!"

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