An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: Olympic anniversary and dead presidents

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Much has been made of the fact that it’s been one whole year since the glorious events that shrouded Whistler in the public eye last year when the Olympic caravan rolled into town. Both Vancouver (as the official hosts) and Whistler had prescribed a variety of local events to keep the event fresh in everyone’s memories…as if we could ever forget!! Certainly from Whistler’s perspective, there was none of the fanfare and draw of artists and celebs that Feb 2010 brought us. That said, as comparably mellow as these latest events were, there were bands, performers and a weekend full of activities for those in town to soak up and sample.

Now, the celebration was not the only thing happening around these parts. We’ve had the annual ‘challenging’ downhill event known as the ‘Peak to Valley’. It captures many a local downhill skier’s (often ex – competitive racers) attention and certainly has a draw for this quad busting and testing ‘top to bottom’, gate straddling competition. The ‘Peak to Valley’ is a long standing and unique team race on Whistler Mountain. Teams of 4 (one member must be of the opposite sex) race a course which starts on the Whistler Saddle (near its peak) and finishes at Dusty’s at the base of the mountain. Two members’ race on Friday and two more on Saturday. The start order is based on age, with the oldest competitors starting first. This is by no means a short swift race, with endurance being one of the many key contributors to the DNF’s (Did Not Finish). The average Giant Slalom race has just 35 gates and a vertical drop of 250 metres. The Peak to Valley race has a vertical drop of 1,443 metres, with 180 gates and a course that’s over 5 km long (and feels a lot longer when you’re still looking for the 137th gate with more to come)!

Perhaps to many locales and most tourists delights are the recent snowfall levels. This last week has seen more snow fall that some European resorts, such as Chamonix, have as their total snow base. So, for the record, this last week has seen in excess of over 170 cms ‘dump’ all over these ‘bountiful’ hills AND, our snow base, last measured at well over 1025 cms, has already exceeded Whistlers total annual average snow fall levels. So what does this mean? Well, if you can’t ski powder, you better learn! Also, if you’re up there for long, you are going to get one serious workout and hopefully a day full of ‘face shots’. Needless to say, there’s presently a lot of very, very happy individuals around these parts.

For anyone who may ever get the impression that winter in Whistler is all about alpine skiing, they’re wrong. Very wrong in fact. Now, I won’t labour to state every activity and event around here, but as well as being world renowned for it’s huge ski range over two fantastic mountains (and many more around for those who love to ‘ski-tour’ and ‘earn’ their turns in the fresh, untouched powder), which draws crowds from all over the world, it also has an abundance of cross country trails and parks and the ‘sliding centre’ boasts the fastest track around. Not merely simply to help cover the costs of the Olympic stage, these Olympic venues are now open for the public to view and try their hand at.

The Whistler Olympic park has some of the most stunning cross country trails and backdrop available and is readily open pretty much year round. For those inclined and keen to test out their ‘eye for a target’, there’s the opportunity to try out at the biathlon. They’ve yet to open the full ski jump facility, but there are introduction sessions for those eager to fly and I dare say that some would jump at the chance (pardon the pun!) to literally fly off the full stand. For those perhaps equally as crazy (in my humble opinion), they are welcome to mosey on up to the Whistler Sliding centre to strap themselves to a body board – headfirst and nose to the ground, and propel themselves around and down the skeleton track at speeds in excess of 90 kph.

So you can see, if it’s adrenaline, there’s certainly a couple of options. If you want to go home with some boast to throw across the bar table, there are options. If the testosterone levels need to be tested or demonstrated for someone’s benefit – go for it. There’s plenty to do or as little as you want. I have to say that personally, the draw of sliding on ice at speeds faster than most vehicles are legally allowed to operate on our roads, nose literally a couple of inches clear of the floor and where a mere twitch of the head or a flick of the heels can throw you completely off balance, I find it a little difficult to see the attraction, BUT, can understand why others do.

I would far rather run around the stunning valley roads and trails or go deep into the cross country park trails away from the hustle and bustle of the village where serenity rules. If it’s jaw dropping sights and opportunities to dive into the powder throughout the many, many gladed (felled and cleared) tree runs, then the allure of the alpine boarding or skiing is for you, but it is NOT all there is to do around here.

This coming weekend, there’s a new event for anyone to indulge in known as the ‘Yeti’. Anyone can test themselves up in the Olympic park and try their hand at snow shoeing over distances of either 5km or 10km and given the almost ridiculous levels of recent snow that Ullr has seen fit to royally spew all over our neck of the woods, this could be quite the fun event. Snow shoeing can allow anyone to walk or run out to parts otherwise not normally reached as you would otherwise expect to simply sink deep into the snow. For some, this is a serious business and there will certainly be lungs and agility tested in this ‘running’ series taking part across BC.

For an altogether different commemoration, this coming weekend also sees literally thousands of visitors descend on us as an excuse to celebrate or simply get away for what is a national US holiday – Presidents ’ Day weekend. This ‘Presidents’ day was originally to commemorate George Washington’s (the first US president) birthday. Then in time, there was also another annual celebration of Abe Lincoln’s birthday, until good old Nixon saw fit to eradicate one too many national holidays off the US calendar and have just the one celebration to remember all past presidents. Anyway, if you’re coming into town this weekend, there’s a few sure certainties; 1) There will be heaps of snow for everyone 2) The village’s hotel beds, bars and restaurants will be full 3) There will be some whooping and a’ hollowing around the bars.

Enjoy all there is to sample guys. There’s plenty for everyone!