"Next to the athletes the workforce is the heart of these Games, and these Games do not happen without the workforce. It is the volunteers who put these Games on."
- Donna Wilson, executive vice president of Human Resources, Sustainability and International Client Services for VANOC (Feb. 2008)
There has been a lot of discussion and a lot of effort expended over the last couple of years with regard to housing people in the Sea to Sky corridor during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Public and private security forces, accredited and unaccredited media, the Olympic family, Olympic sponsors, national Olympic committees - and the television networks and tour operators that follow the NOCs - have all considered staying in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton during the Games. Many decided to locate in Vancouver instead.
Some of the 16,500 people involved in security for the Games - 7,000 police, 4,500 military personnel, 5,000 private security personnel - will have to stay in the corridor. The police have rented houses and hotel rooms in Whistler, the private security people will likely stay in a temporary trailer camp in Pemberton or Whistler and the military will be camping out in parks and wilderness areas.
A few countries will have a presence in Whistler throughout the Games. Norway has lined up space in MY Millennium Place. The Austrians are building their own house on the edge of Lost Lake Park. The Swiss have rented the Mountain ClubCHECK.
But the German Olympic committee couldn't find suitable accommodation in Whistler, "suitable" perhaps being a euphemism for affordable. The Germans, who have won more medals than any other country at each of the last two Winter Olympics, may still find a place to gather in Whistler, but their main base of operations will be in Vancouver.
Carole Andrews hasn't been able to find accommodation in Whistler either. Andrews is a 63-year-old grandmother from Spring Grove, Illinois who has sent letters to various Whistler businesses seeking help. She has been accepted by VANOC as a volunteer but hasn't been able to find a Homestay host. She is a certified ski instructor, spent 32 years working in customer service for United Airlines, and was a volunteer at the Salt Lake Olympics.
Andrews's story is similar to that of Ernie and Jeanne Peterson. They are a Florida couple that want to volunteer for the 2010 Olympics but couldn't be assured of positions until they secured a place to stay. So they came to Whistler in June, made an appeal at a Rotary meeting and found a room.
It seems the time and effort that some people with previous Olympic experience are willing to devote to be part of the Games in Whistler is almost inversely proportional to that of some Whistler residents. For many Whistlerites, the ideal Olympic scenario would appear to be renting their homes to someone for big money and watching the Games on TV from Hawaii.
Something is askew in this picture. Do the Petersons and Andrews - and all the people from Calgary, Salt Lake City and Sydney who made their way to Torino for the 2006 Olympics - know something Whistlerites don't?
In her letter, Andrews says the Salt Lake City Olympics were "an experience that I will treasure always. The gratification of helping and meeting people from so many countries is something I just want to experience all over again."
Asked why he is willing to leave Florida in winter to be a volunteer in the cold and snow of Whistler, Ernie Peterson said: "You'll find out in February."
The Olympics are many things, but fundamentally they are about people, individuals with stories. And that goes well beyond the athletes.
For all the time and energy spent trying to accommodate security forces, national Olympic committees, sponsors, media and other sometimes officious groups we have tended to overlook the individuals whose efforts are critical to the whole show. Like television cameras and media reports, they too convey impressions of Whistler to the rest of the world.
VANOC needs about 7,000 volunteers to put on the Whistler events next February. The organization expects 4,500 of those volunteers will live within the Sea to Sky corridor. Another 1,000 will be like the Petersons and Andrews, volunteers coming from somewhere else and needing a place to stay. The remainder will be bused into Whistler daily from outside the corridor.
As of late June, VANOC had secured about 300 of the 1,000 rooms it needs for visiting volunteers through the Homestay program. People who offer a room and breakfast to visiting volunteers will be given tickets to Olympic events, but they'll also get something intangible.
Ask the Petersons or Carole Andrews about it.