When the Games come to Vancouver and Whistler Blackcomb, Feb. 12–28, three billion viewers are expected to tune in. For those lucky enough to be in Whistler, the skiing promises to be as good as the viewing. More than 90 percent of the resort’s 8,171 acres will be open, with about one-third of the typical number of skiers expected on snow. And Whistler Village promises to deliver the most concentrated dose of Olympic spirit since Lillehammer. Nighttime will bring medals ceremonies, fireworks, skiers jumping through flaming hoops—and all other forms of Olympic revelry. Daytime will bring the races. (Alpine events are at Whistler. Freestyle and snowboard events are at Cypress Mountain, outside of Vancouver.)
Whistler might be a former fishing retreat, but there’s so much here today that it’s easier to describe this ski city by what it does not have: a casino, hot-air ballooning, horse racing across frozen lakes. And, of course, the guarantee of a sunny winter day. That’s about it.
But on this Thanksgiving Day, the focus is not on what Whistler is or where it came from or the pride this coming-of-age Olympic consummation brings. It is on what makes Whistler so alluring: Its big mountains, its piles of snow, its beautiful landscape, its outstanding skiing.
Late afternoon, the Peak 2 Peak gondola’s special glass-bottom cabin is half full of three generations of a family from the Philippines, wearing street clothes, snapping photos of the glacial landscape as the gondola crosses the 2.73-mile span between Whistler and Blackcomb.
The rest of the riders are split between a family from Seattle looking forward to one more vertical mile of skiing before eating their Thanksgiving dinner and some locals talking about the 18 feet of snow that fell in November. At après-ski down in the Garibaldi Lift Company bar, a bunch of Twitter aficionados are having a “tweet up,” typing on their phones then glancing up at a projected computer screen. Few look like they’ve been out on the hill. Too bad.
As Whistler finally welcomes the world to its slopes 50 years after its founders first dared to reach for the Olympic dream, two things are sure: It’s a place that takes a long time to know well, and the best reason to come is still for the skiing.