Whistler's Olympic Legacies
Hosting the Olympics is a big job, but in 2010 Whistler’s long-sought-after dream became a reality when Vancouver won the bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. As the Host Mountain Resort, several of the snow sports and all the sliding sport events were held in Whistler, which spurred the construction of new facilities like Whistler Olympic Park and the Whistler Sliding Centre.
Eight years later, it’s hard to dispute that Whistler has benefitted greatly from hosting the games. Major improvements were made to Highway 99 and the Athletes’ Village added much-needed inventory to Whistler’s employee housing stock. Whistler Olympic Plaza in the Village has become a regular venue for outdoor concerts and events in the summer, as well as home to an outdoor ice-skating rink in the winter; and the Olympic Rings in the plaza are one of the most photographed landmarks by visitors to Whistler. The fun part is that Whistler Olympic Park and the Sliding Centre welcome the public to enjoy real Olympic experiences. These facilities not only provide high-level training to athletes; they also allow the public to watch events or participate in various Olympic sports.
Just south of Whistler Village in the Callaghan Valley is Whistler Olympic Park. Since hosting the ski jumping, Nordic skiing and biathlon events in 2010, its facilities have remained in use for athlete training and public enjoyment. Athletes preparing for biathlon competition come to train at Whistler Olympic Park’s Nordic Development Centre. These young athletes reside at the nearby Athletes’ Centre (another legacy facility that offers housing and training assistance to athletes), train alongside other competitive athletes, and can work for Whistler Sport Legacies as well.
“Whether they’re training for a week or want to stay here for months, the facilities in Whistler and the skillset that we have for a small town is outstanding. When athletes come here, they seem to be able to find everything they need,” says Roger Soane, president and CEO of Whistler Sport Legacies. Whistler Olympic Park also hosts regular practices for several regional ski clubs and Canada’s provincial teams, plus they’ve had visits from national teams as well.
As for the public, nearly 90 kilometres of cross-country trails are groomed and ready for Nordic skiers. The Olympic Park offers a suitable mix of trails for first-time skiers or seasoned experts, and elite-level skiers can challenge themselves to tackle the actual courses used in the Olympic Games. Equipment rentals and both classic and skate-ski lessons are available for all skill levels.
For a true Olympic experience, the park offers the chance to try biathlon. Instructors teach participants of all abilities about rifle safety, marksmanship and Nordic skiing techniques.
Soane says most participants are surprised to learn how difficult it is to calm your heart and steady your aim after some spirited skiing!
“One of the things that we look to do is not give the general public just something to do, but so they can relate it to an experience an athlete would have,” adds Soane.
Finally, visitors can enjoy snowshoeing on more than 40 km of trails, go tobogganing, or take a sightseeing tour around the Olympic ski jumps, cross-country stadium, and biathlon range.
Situated on the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain is the Whistler Sliding Centre. Since the 2010 games the Sliding Centre has continuously been used as a training and event venue and hosts the public bobsleigh (also spelled bobsled) and skeleton experience each winter. Last year, the B.C. Sliding Development Centre opened on-site to help local clubs recruit athletes and introduce youth to sliding sports. In previous years training programs were held here as well, and they’ve already led one athlete to the 2018 Olympic Games — Whistler’s own Reid Watts. Now known as the fastest member of Canada’s national luge team, Watts was first exposed to sliding sports in 2008, during pre-games training in Whistler.
“My dad took me to the Sliding Centre, and I watched the sleds go down and was absolutely just blown away by the speed. I thought, ‘I have to try this,’” Watts explains.
A month later, a 9-year old Watts enrolled in a provincial luge program. After nearly 10 years of training, he achieved a 12th-place finish at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. Watts is quick to attribute his success to the existence of the Whistler track and its dedicated crew.
“I genuinely believe this is the best facility in the world to have gotten me to the places I’ve gone today. It’s a technical, fast track and you can’t ask for much more,” says Watts. His next big goal is a podium finish at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
Now here’s what “Joe Public” can experience at the Whistler Sliding Centre: All through the winter season there’s a full schedule of bobsleigh, luge and skeleton races, which consistently draw large crowds of spectators. This year, Whistler will host the World Cup of luge and World Championships for bobsleigh and skeleton.
For thrill-seekers, the Public Bobsleigh and Public Skeleton programs offer the chance to ride this Olympic track in your vessel of choice. Four-person bobsleighs are led by trained pilots and hit speeds of 125km/h or more! After a thorough orientation, skeleton pilots go head-first on their own, also clocking triple-digit speeds.
If you’re keen to learn how to slide, athletes 8 and up can take part in Discover Luge sessions, while bobsleigh or skeleton training programs provide beginner-level instruction in those disciplines. Age restrictions apply. In a single session, participants can learn how to ride in pilot and brake positions in the bobsleighs, take two solo runs on a skeleton, or ride a luge through the track’s final four turns. If you’re not daring enough to ride the track, visitors are welcome to follow an interpretive walk around the facility and get a close-up look at this Olympic site for free.
For more information about Whistler Olympic Park or the Whistler Sliding Centre, visit whistlersportlegacies.com.