Olympic officials are looking
at ways to get more spectators along the alpine downhill courses, build more
features for the racers, and are checking their plans for spectator access to
the venue after the World Cup downhill test event last weekend.
They are also breathing a
sigh of relief since the event, co-hosted with Alpine Canada and the
International Ski Federation (FIS), was held mostly under clear skies. It is
the first time Whistler has hosted a World Cup in 13 years after weather caused
the cancellation of three consecutive World Cups in the ‘90s and led to the
resort losing its downhill event.
However, the good weather
also meant that the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC)
did not get to put their course preparation team of close to 900 volunteers to
the test in adverse conditions.
“You kind of want a little
bit of the weather to test the people,” said Tim Gayda, VANOC’s vice president
“But in the end… from an
event perspective, and the television, and the crowds it was good to have that
Earlier this month, during
the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships on Whistler, VANOC volunteers working
alongside the famous Whistler Weasel Workers had their fill of challenging
weather with huge snowfalls and poor visibility.
“I think the Canadian
Championships was a good lesson,” said Gayda.
“It had a tonne of weather
they had to deal with. The volunteers got run ragged and you can’t keep that
pace up forever. You have to cycle these people out. They have to get rest.
Seventeen days of the Olympics can be a very long time if you get tough
All but about 160 of the
volunteers for the World Cup were from the Sea to Sky region. Gayda said he
expects that at Games time about 1,200 to 1,400 volunteers will be needed for
the alpine events and 25 snow cats will be there to help move snow.
“You definitely ramp up
bodies and cats to make sure you can deal with whatever Mother Nature throws at
you,” he said.
There were some reports that
a few racers found the World Cup speed courses, approved by the FIS, not
Gayda said those comments
should be taken with “a grain of salt.”
However, he added, VANOC and
FIS are considering using snow to create more features on the courses for the
“The vast majority of
athletes were really impressed with the track, that’s the feedback we got
pretty much across the board,” he said.
“We are not going to be
changing anything in terms of the physical contouring of the track, but
obviously they did learn some lessons about where they could put in features on
both men’s and ladies’ tracks and that is something we will be looking at as we
move to 2010.”
Issues also arose around
spectator access to the finish line area and the World Cup course as the
competition got up and running. Early in the week spectators had to hike up a
snowy hill to get to the finish line.
“There were guest concerns
with the lack of access and the fact that you had to walk up the slope,” said
Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing for Whistler-Blackcomb.
By the weekend, bus
transportation was being provided to the finish line for everyone – not just
the media and the VIPs.
Gayda also said that the
uphill hike in and out will not be on snow at Games time, but rather it will on
pavement or on gravel and it’s likely there will be an open-air gondola put in
Whistler-Blackcomb was also
concerned about the lack of on-course viewing, which was due mostly to the
geography of the mountain when both the Men’s and Women’s World Cup races are
running at the same time.
Rempel would like to see more
spectator viewing along the edges.
“I think there was a great
finish-line experience for either the people that did hike up or took the
transportation,” he said.
“But on the mountain the
viewing pods were quite limited. Certainly we would love to see on-mountain
viewing during the Games as long as VANOC security would allow that. We would
really hope to see that come to fruition during the actual Games.”
Said Gayda: “From the
Federation, to the athletes, to us, everyone wants to see people up there.”
During the Games period,
which runs from Feb. 12-28, VANOC also worked with Environment Canada weather
experts to practice forecasting for the Olympics.
“They are accurate and there
is nothing more important to us right now than an accurate forecast,” said
Recently at the World Cup
freestyle event on Cypress Mountain the forecasters were able to predict a much
needed break in the soggy weather.
“They nailed it to a tee
about when the fog would turn into snow, and when the snow would turn into blue
sky, and that is how they got the aerial (qualifier) off,” said Gayda.
Overall, VANOC and
Whistler-Blackcomb considered the World Cup event a success.
Rempel, a self-designated
one-man research team during the Cup, said guests, athletes, officials, media
and staff were all excited by the event.
“I asked lots of coaches and
racers and officials and the press and it just kept coming back that, wow,
people are friendly here,” said Rempel, adding that the media coverage reached
millions of people in Europe – a market that Whistler has missed as it has not
hosted a World Cup since 1995.
“This was a significant media
opportunity for Whistler in Europe, having not hosted World Cup for some time,”
“We reached millions of
people in Europe with a really great Whistler and British Columbia message
about what a great place this is.”
And the media was not just
focused on the event, said Rempel. Many asked about the plans for the
Peak-to-Peak Gondola and other Whistler related stories.
“What we need to do is take
advantage of these media opportunities to tell the world about how great this
place is and how great British Columbia is for tourism,” he said.
“We want to hold the Games
and host the world here, but at the end of the day the Games is the greatest
opportunity to promote tourism in British Columbia that we will ever, ever
This week also saw the first
of two visits this year by the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination
Commission to Vancouver and Whistler.
While in town the Commission
will see the physical progress made on venues, meet with provincial
politicians, and undertake an in-depth review of VANOC’s sport, marketing and
media services planning to date.
IOC president Jacques Rogge
also spoke at the Vancouver Board of Trade’s luncheon Wednesday.