When dignitaries light the official Olympic cauldron in Vancouver, B.C., Feb. 12, the Olympic torch will have traveled across Canada’s six time zones.
Each athlete has inspirational and humbling stories, especially the Nordic ski racers, many who have logged 700-plus hours of intense training each year and thousands of frequent-flier miles traveling to races.
Is it worth it? This year, we may find out – since the U.S. cross-country ski race team has a strong chance for Olympic podium finishes during the February 12-28 events in Vancouver/Whistler, B.C.
If you’re planning to attend, there are still tickets available. If you attend, you can also cheer on cross-country athletes who hail from this region, including Washington’s Holly Brooks who currently coaches for Alaska Pacific University and raced for Whitman College in Walla Walla. Another Whitman skier, Laura Valaas, made the pre-Olympics World Cup team headed to Canmore, Alberta, in early February. The U.S. top woman is Alaskan Kikkan Randall a World Championship silver medalist and multiple U.S. National Championships.
Torin Koos, from Leavenworth, Wash. has a strong chance for an Olympic medal in the sprint event. Koos is joined by Andy Newell, a sprinter from Vermont, and Kris Freeman of New Hampshire, who had one of the best U.S. men’s finishes in the World Cup earlier this winter with a 4th place in a 15k classic ski race in Finland and the best non-sprint U.S. World Cup finish since 1983.
Nordic skiers vied for top spots on the U.S. Ski Association’s National Ranking List.
“The NRL is determined with an athlete’s best four races over a one-year period,” said U.S. Nordic Program Director John Farra.
Other regional contenders who will be waxing skis for the pre-Olympic races include Morgan Arrotila and Simi Hamilton from Sun Valley, Ida., and Kristina Trygstad-Sarri and Leif Zimmermann, of Bozeman, Mont. Zimmermann made the Olympic team in 2006, is one of the top distance skiers from the U.S. and has raced at Whistler Olympic Park.
“Whistler’s cross-country area is a unique venue, tucked away yet accessible,” says Zimmermann, who says that the $119.7 million Whistler Olympic Park, in Callaghan Valley, B.C. is one of the finest Nordic ski venues in the Canadian West. “They get a lot of snow, even in June, but the wildcard (for racing) can be the conditions since it’s near sea level.” The elevation ranges between 840 and 930 meters.
The wax coaches’ expertise will really come into play, says Zimmermann, because of unpredictable snow conditions, especially when temperatures hover around freezing. All the more exciting, adds Zimmermann, because the venue’s gradual climbs and relative flat sections invite a large pack of racers to storm through the stadium area—perfect for the spectators.
“The opening ceremonies in Vancouver with all athletes marching through and 90,000 spectators is one of the most awesome things to watch,” adds Zimmermann.
Tickets start at $70 per xc ski event plus a mandatory $25 bus ticket. Some events have sold out, yet for the first time, an official “Fan to Fan marketplace” opened for selling/buying event tickets via the official games web site, www.vancouver2010.com.
Whistler Olympic Park will host a third of all Olympics event for a total of 28 events. In addition to the individual sprints, medium distances and 50 k races among the 12 xc events, is the Pursuit, a mass-start event where the skiers race the first half sporting classic technique and equipment, then in the stadium, switch to free technique—also called skate skiing—for the race’s second half.
Another event, the Team Sprint, challenges teams of two skiers who tag their teammates after completing a 1.5 k lap. The two skiers alternate skiing one lap each, for a total of six laps—three laps per skier.
In the relay, teams of four take turns racing, tagging a teammate in an exchange zone after completion of their leg of the relay race. The first two skiers use the classic technique, while the last two use the free technique.
Additionally, Whistler Olympic Park is the site of 10 biathlon events (xc skiing and shooting), three Nordic combined (skiing and jumping) and three ski jumping events. Historically, Norway and Russia skiers have garnered the most medals in the xc ski events.
Of course many other activities await Whistler visitors including the theatrical adventure, “NiX,” an outdoor theater made of snow and ice at Lost Lake in Whistler. “NiX” follows the love story and frozen fantasy of a few survivors at the end of the world. Audiences can ski to the Cultural Olympiad site or take a shuttle during the Jan. 22-Feb. 27 shows. Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com.
New this winter is Whistler’s $8 million Le Scandinave Spa, a 20,000 square-foot spa that offers Norwegian steam bath, dry sauna, outdoor hot tubs and more. Information: www.scandinave.com.
Newly renovated is the Aava Whistler Hotel, which offers 185 suites, outdoor pool, hot tub and more. Info: www.aavawhistlerhotel.com.
For those who cannot make the Olympics, NBC will broadcast some of the Nordic ski events. Schedules are listed at www.nbcolympics.com. After the celebrations end Feb. 28, the Olympic cauldron is not extinguished: the ParaOlympics begin. Tickets for ParaOlympics go on sale this month via www.vancouver2010.com. When the hoopla ends, the Whistler Olympic Park and other venues in B.C. open for public recreating. Lodging rates drop, restaurant wait lines ease, and the fresh snow continues to fall, which will remain for outstanding travel opportunities to Whistler Olympic Park.
For more information:
Vancouver B.C. is 393 miles from Spokane via I-90 to Seattle, then north on I-5 to Vancouver. Whistler is another 75 miles along the Sea to Sky Hwy. for a total of about 8.5 hours of driving. U.S. citizens driving into Canada must have state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or a passport or another state-issued document as approved by the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. citizens flying into Vancouver must carry a valid passport.
The official 2010 Olympics web site: www.vancouver2010.com.
The official lodging and accommodations web site: www.2010destinationplanner.com. Accommodations including hotels, bed and breakfasts, private home rentals and rooms on cruise ships can be found at www.HelloBC.com, www.tourismvancouver.com, www.whistler.com and www.tourismrichmond.com.