Who can’t remember the thrill of sliding down a hill on a sled: the wind whipping through your grin, eyes watering from both fear and joy.
Perhaps those childhood memories lie at the root of the surprising popularity of the sliding sports at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Recent events have seen sellout crowds with the $5 tickets being scalped for up to $35 each.
But perhaps it is more than just those memories; perhaps the Whistler Sliding Centre is already creating its own character and temperament.
The feel of it, where it is, the sounds it creates, the fact that the events draw some of the wildest spirits in the world of elite sports are all be part of the growing story of the sliding centre.
That evolving story has not been lost on Craig Letho, the sliding centre’s director. In fact he along with athletes, officials, construction workers, First Nations partners, and others have been busy thinking about the story of the sliding centre for close to two years.
“(Venues) go from turning a rock over to awarding a gold medal so fast that often these things can’t be touched upon,” said Letho.
“So it was desire by myself and others to have a sense of place around the track. This is a way of trying to develop a culture around it and a story around it and its special location, but still recognize the people that built it and are involved in it.”
So committed were they to making sure the centre was about the culture of the sport as well as the Olympic events it was built for they put their heads together and spun a tale for the world to hear about where the Whistler Sliding Centre is, what the track is like and how it touches people.
At the centre of the tale are the stories of the spiritual creatures both the Squamish and the Lil’wat First Nations believe live in the mountains around Whistler.
For Squamish it is the Thunderbird, which has one of its roosts at Black Tusk and flies the skies over the sliding centre. Lil’wat people speak of a Thunder being named Silus, a creature with wind blowing through a mane of wild hair.
Both creatures signify strength, wisdom and spirituality.
The sliding centre is also built in an area where countless generations of First Nations people have come to learn about the land and themselves, it’s a place of transformation to adulthood, a place where you learn how far you can push yourself.
So it is fitting, said Squamish Chief Bill Williams, that athletes who compete at the sliding centre are also on their own journey of discovery and they too must learn from the past experiences of others to succeed.
Life is never a straight line between two places; it is a winding track with lessons at every curve.
“The Thunderbird is not a fixed spirit in one location,” explained Williams who sees the First Nations connection to the centre as a way of helping people understand that aboriginal culture is alive and well and flourishing.
“It goes throughout our whole territory and it is something connected spiritually to the Creator and through that it is part of the people who actually go out and learn that sport.
“They also learn that it isn’t just physical strength that helps a person go down the sliding track. There is a lot of mental ability that needs to be strengthened and some people believe there is also spiritual strength that needs to be gathered to gain that athletic expertise.”
Even the sound of the sleds on the track is reminiscent of the very thunder that comes from the beating of the Thunderbird’s wings or the wind howling through Silus’s hair.
It is as if the ice were talking.
And you can hear it clearly every time a sled rounds corner 16, christened Thunderbird.
If there is a moral to the tale of the Whistler Sliding Centre it is that the track parallels the journey we take through life. Those who compete gain experience and insight along the way, explains the narrative. Mistakes are made, humility is found.
People are transformed.
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