Mary Wells’s Sneak Peek at the Home of the 2010 Winter Games

The Winter Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler will rock next year … but no need to wait for a glimpse at the Olympic grounds

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Last night it was 80 degrees on the aft deck of my boat, Strangelove, in Vancouver, but no one wanted to talk about anything but the expectation that the Winter Olympics here, starting February 12, will be one of the wonders of the world. The ice sports will be staged in Vancouver and about an hour and a half up the Sea to Sky Highway the great snow events will happen in Whistler. Almost everything will be bigger, better and more high tech than ever. Winter Games usually bring in 10,000 press but this year’s prediction is more – seriously more – because Vancouver and Whistler have made or remade everything deliberately plus. Vancouver is the first large, glamorous, metropolitan city to host the Winter Games and as the city has been booming in every way – and enjoying its boom – it has gone to extremes to make this the sports event you’ve got to see in 2010.

It is not just the phenomenal Alpine skiing, the terrifying ski jumping, the big-time ice hockey games, of course, and the beautiful figure skating and the awesome Paralympics that bring the crowds, it is the speed skating, especially the hyper-dangerous short-track speed skating with all its pileups, and the unforgettable sliding events that make you question some people’s sanity. For example, bobsled/skeleton/luge is more than a wow; it’s humanity without its senses – and mesmerizing. There is also the astounding freestyle skiing that awards more for what you do in the air on your skis than on the ground.

Cypress Mountain is just outside West Vancouver and has the freestyle skiing area that will make freestyle as well as snowboarding big time on television this year. These are virtuoso events guaranteed to make your hair stand on end.

Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, side by side, have the highest vertical rises of any ski mountains in North America. Whistler rises 1,530 meters and Blackcomb 1,609 meters – a vertical mile. And the big news is the just- opened Peak 2 Peak gondola that links these mountains with a 4.4 kilometer journey from mountain to mountain – with the longest unsupported lift span in the world – 3.02 kilometers. It is also the highest lift of its kind at 1,427 feet. You get views of angels up there!

What a difference an Olympics makes!

To be chosen for an Olympics always starts as a thrill, a citywide love affair with the government. Everyone gets creative and imagines a transformation. They all see themselves and their towns discovered as more exciting than before, attracting new business, new buyers for condos, new money. Everybody is ready to bankroll an architectural wonder of a new hockey arena, a new roof for a stadium, a new fast train from the airport, new hotels and restaurants. Those things come true … but not easily. Along the way money falls short and blame greases around, or a scandal appears as if there were an army of witches in waiting, now having their fun, ruining the dream. But in the end, when the Olympics are over, after the winners and losers have gone, after the city’s business leaders and the government have dissolved their wounds and shaken hands and shrugged and laughed, each city is usually a lot better, cleaner, more beautiful, better organized and much more interesting to tourists.

So far it looks as if all that Vancouver and Whistler have done will set the standard. Armando Valerio, who is a better photographer than I am, came with me when I checked out work in progress in Vancouver. Then we zipped up to Whistler. It is summer so the only snow there is on the glacier beyond, but there is plenty of excitement on the ski runs because mountain bikers take them over in summer. Without a flash of fear those bikers simply drop down those snowless super-steep downhill ski runs and then wheel over the jumping rods and – LIVE. I must say they do look cute. There must be some agreement among those bikers to wear outfits that get attention.

I was proud to see that quite a few of those thriller bikers driving at sonic speed down super-steep ski runs are WOMEN. Armando and I poked into the cafes and restaurants that have bloomed, all the hotels and shops – and we picked up information folders that told us how Vancouver rocker Bryan Adams helped win the Olympics for Vancouver by singing “Here I Am” to the delegates. Bryan’s mother, Jane Clark, is a fine, highly active artist who is a gypsy like me but has a home in Vancouver, so you can bet on seeing Bryan at the Olympics, as well as the Hollywood folks who make so many movies in Vancouver. (One of the reasons you see Cobb salads on so many menus here is that it’s been Hollywood’s No. 1 lunch dish for years.)

Back in Vancouver Armando and I took our cameras into the Olympic Village where many attractive condos are being built into a neighborhood close to some of Vancouver’s smartest addresses. The Olympic athletes will be housed in the condos and when the games are over the condos will be gussied up to sell to smart investors. This entire area of Vancouver will blend into one stunning and hip neighborhood in time. Vancouver is fearless about improving itself. My boat is in an area called Coal Harbour that was once a pile of railroad tracks and industrial concrete and is now the most glamorous perimeter of any city I know.

Paralympic games are for athletes with a major disability but with exceptional abilities and will. The Winter Paralympics are alpine skiing, ice sledge hockey, Nordic skiing and wheelchair curling. They can be bone chilling and breath-holding – they are not for sissies. They are for athletes who put out everything and set a standard of possibilities for others in a way that nothing else compares to.

Our pictures are summer pictures. Vancouver is having a Caprisian summer. But, take it from me, if this winter you are on skis – or a bobsled – no place in North America and maybe the world gets better snow or has better runs or better facilities. The 2010 Winter Olympics will be incredible.

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