A Date With the Olympics

Whistler begins preparations for hosting the Winter Games.

By: Mimi Kmet

Whistler, B.C., the unexpected prototype of today’s master-planned ski villages, is getting ready to become an Olympic competition venue.

The recent announcement naming Vancouver as the host city for the 2010 Winter Games has given an automatic marketing boost to the ski resort, located 75 miles to the north.

“We’re finding that, except for die-hard skiers and golfers, most people from the United States don’t know as much about Whistler as they do about Aspen and Vail,” said Sonya Hwang, a spokeswoman for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Hotel. “The Olympics will definitely put us on the map.”

Alpine events such as downhill skiing and sliding events such as the luge will take place on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, which are located side by side.

Nordic competitions, such as the biathlon and cross-country skiing, will be held in nearby Callaghan Valley.

Tourism Whistler’s Web site, www.mywhistler.com, is already touting its Olympic venue status with links to a 2010 update page and an accommodations inquiry form.

But tourism officials note that they still have plenty of time to ramp up marketing efforts, according to Catherine Adams of Tourism Whistler.

“It’s still seven years away,” she said. “We’ll market with the Olympics angle more heavily after the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy.”

Much of that effort will be focused squarely on the U.S. market, British Columbia’s No. 1 source of international visitors.

Statistics solely for Whistler are not available but British Columbia as a whole drew more than 5 million overnight U.S. visitors in 2002, generating nearly $2.5 billion in revenue. And, during the 2001-02 winter season, U.S. visitors mostly from the West Coast provided 40.6 percent of the province’s room nights, according to Adams.

Right now, officials are focusing on infrastructure. Whistler has 5,400 lodging units, mostly in condominiums, hotels and townhouses. But an estimated 17,000 people, in addition to the athletes, are expected to visit Whistler each day during the Games.

Approximately $467 million in capital improvements, including construction of an athletes’ village, will have to be completed before the Games. In addition, a Nordic center has been proposed in the Callaghan Valley and a luge facility on Blackcomb Mountain, Adams said.

The winning Olympics bid was a long time coming.

More than 40 years ago, when the mountain opened to skiers, four Vancouver businessmen envisioned Whistler as a Winter Olympic Games site. But it wasn’t until 1978 that a town center was built, serving as a catalyst for additional development that would transform the base area into one of North America’s first ski villages. Now Whistler has accommodations, boutiques, restaurants, bars and other apres ski diversions, all within walking distance of the slopes.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the Vancouver-based development company that owns both mountains did not pioneer the village concept. Christopher Nicolson, a spokesman for Intrawest Corp., said the company simply took the idea and ran with it, using Whistler as a model for resort areas such as Mont Tremblant, Quebec; Copper, Colo.; and Mammoth, Calif.

Still, the Olympics announcement is a coup for Intrawest, which is in the midst of spending approximately $72.5 million to transform the mountain’s original base area into Whistler Creekside.

The mixed-use development, scheduled for completion in 2005, will have accommodations, shops, cafes and residential units. It already has two new hotels, the 121-room Legends, which opened two years ago, and the 84-room First Tracks Lodge, which opened in 2002. The groundbreaking for another 70-unit property, which has not been named, is scheduled for next summer.

Other developers are also busy in the village.

Among the pending projects:

" A 240-unit Four Seasons Resort, which is scheduled to open in fall 2004.

" Whistler’s second Pan Pacific property, an 83-suite hotel, set to open in December 2004.

" The First Nations Cultural Centre, expected to open in mid-2005. The attraction will have a museum, crafts market and other facilities highlighting the native Squamish and Lil’wat nations.

Also, the expansion and renovation of the Whistler Conference Center is scheduled for completion later this month.

Despite the built-out look of Whistler Village and the extensive Olympics plans, Whistler’s tourism officials are not ruling out the possibility of additional expansion.

“We still have room for more after these developments,” Adams said.

Activities in Whistler


Adventure Zone (at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, not far from Whistler Village), aerial sightseeing, all-terrain vehicles, backcountry tours, beach volleyball, bungee jumping, camps, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, skiing, snowboarding, golf, heli-fishing, heli-hiking, heli-rafting, hiking/ climbing, historical tours, horseback riding, Hummer tours, in-line skating, jet boating, mini golf, mountain biking, mountaineering, paintball, nature tours, outdoor swimming, rafting, rock climbing, sailing, sightseeing tours, skateboarding, zip line ecotours, and tennis.


Aerial sightseeing, avalanche courses (excellent for skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and those frequenting the backcountry areas), backcountry tours, bald eagle viewing, bungee jumping, camping, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, fresh tracks skiing/ snowboarding, heli-skiing/heli-snowboarding, ice climbing, night skiing/ snowboarding, outdoor skating, skate-skiing, skiing, sleigh rides, snowboarding, snowcat tours, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, telemark skiing, winter fishing, and zip line ecotours.

Getting Around in Whistler

Tourism Whistler: 877-991-9988; www.mywhistler.com.

Where to Stay: Whistler has 115 lodging options, including hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, condominiums, townhouses and executive-style homes. Many are commissionable.

Its 16 hotels include the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Pan Pacific Whistler, Westin Resort & Spa Whistler and Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort.

Transportation: Whistler is 75 miles north of Vancouver, in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. Direct and nonstop flights serve Vancouver International Airport from several western cities, including Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Rental cars, scheduled coach service, taxis and limousines are available for transfers between the airport and Whistler’s village.

Skiable terrain: 7,071 acres on two mountains.

Number of lifts: 33.

Number of marked runs: More than 200.

An Insider Says: Clients won’t need a car if they plan to stay in or near the village. A free shuttle makes several stops throughout the village every six to eight minutes from 8 a.m. to midnight.

Also, the WAVE (Whistler and Valley Express) has scheduled bus service throughout Whistler’s neighborhoods from the village bus loop.

Fares are $1.50 Canadian dollars ($1.09) for adults and $1.25 Canadian dollars (91 cents) for children and seniors.

Planning Ahead: The 2010 Olympics will be held Feb. 12 to 28.