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The Olympic Rings in Whistler Village.

The Olympic Rings in Whistler Village.

“If you’ve ever dreamed about blasting off to Whistler, B.C., for a three-day blow-out winter visit complete with hard skiing, sumptuous lodging, arts, culture, tasty food and a spa experience that will soothe your screaming muscles, here’s how to do it…”

And so began my 2012 Toronto Sun travel story on Whistler–the one that gives you the goods on skiing hard and playing softly in the soothing arms of the Four Seasons Whistler.

With Whistler’s recent bountiful snowfall and my pending “big family trip” to BC’s most gigantico ski resort commencing in just one week, I thought it might be fun to replay this Sun article. Consider it an enticement to join us in Whistler this season…

LINK: Toronto Sun: High On Luxury in Whistler

 

Lori Knowles is editor of SNOW Magazine and a ski travel columnist for the Toronto Sun. You can read more of her work at www.loriknowles.com

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An exerpt from The Globe and Mail

The Globe asked two of the country’s most prolific ski writers, Lori Knowles and Iain MacMillan, about the makings of a great ski trip and found old friends don’t always agree when it comes to planning a holiday on the slopes.

Lori Knowles kicking back at Snowmass.

Lori: This year I’m going to plan my ski trips even better. I’ve made a spreadsheet listing some of the more important aspects of a ski vacation.  Instead of ending the day at the spa, I think one should start at the spa (after dropping the kids off at ski school). On my list: the new Scandinave Spa Whistler—wood-burning Finish saunas, thermal waterfalls, hot stone and Thai yoga massages. And the hotel should be the ski-to-the-door variety, with heated floors, 600-threadcount sheets… perhaps even a butler, like the one at the new Four Seasons in Vail, Colorado, handing out warmed bathrobes by the outdoor pool.

Iain: Your spreadsheet has 600 what count? My spreadsheet (if I knew how to make one) would start with organising the level of skiers on the trip. If my buddies can’t all ski trees and steep chutes, or don’t mind hiking a little to find powder, there’s no point waiting for them at the bottom after the first run. We can all meet up for après ski when we crash your condo’s hot-tub. Or better yet, I’m thinking more about piling the gang into the back of snowcat at in the B.C. Interior, ripping huge lines through the untracked all day and grinning about it all night, then repeating the scenario the next day. And the next.

Lori: Oh sure, nothing like “roughing it” at a cat or heli-ski operation! I’m all for powder, but I prefer lift-served luxury. I hear there’s a new program for gals like me at Sun Peaks, B.C. The Ski Sisters are taking the backcountry back to basics—teaching women how to ski steep chutes or deep snow without scaring the stink out of them. (Or having their male partners breathing down their necks “encouraging” them to keep up with the group.) There’s a new lift at B.C’s Whitewater, too, opening up 303 new hectares of off-piste. Is that “rough” enough for you and the boys?

Iain: Now we’re talking! Nelson, Rossland, Fernie, Golden, Revelstoke…this is starting to sound like a ruthless roadtrip. Arrive for a late evening meal, ski hard the next day or two and then pile everything and everyone back into the rental or buddy from Calgary’s truck and move on to the next adventure. We can do our laundry and yoga when we get back to the city. (Except for the yoga part.)

Lori: Hold up, there. No road trips for me. Where’s the luxury? I’ll stay-put on this dream vacation. I’m thinking Banff’s Post Hotel. Their Gourmet Package includes a six-course dinner with wine pairings, a welcome wine and fruit package, plus a king-size bed and one of those fireplaces they’re so famous for. Travelling from Lake Louise to Sunshine and Norquay is about as much “road tripping” as I’m up for.

Iain: Mmmmm…pairings…like a pair of fat skis and skins—or an overnight storm and a cold, bluebird mid-week day to follow, or the Coast Mountains and the Rockies, the Alps and the Andes. Where were we again? Oh yeah, just how valid is a ski trip without some sweat and challenge, plenty of embarrassing moments and a few sphincter-tightening scary anecdotes?

Lori: Somehow, scary, sphincter-tightening anecdotes don’t fit anywhere into my relaxing luxury ski vacation. And your roadtrip plans seem a little unspecific to me… are you planning to just wing it? And with all this dreaming we’ve both forgotten about the kids. Now adding to my spreadsheet: family-friendly ski fun. How about Vermont’s Smuggler’s Notch? It’s got ski-in/ski-out condos, an indoor fun zone, snow tubing, dog sledding, and yes, even skiing… Three mountains of skiing, including one with some decent steeps. They’ve even got a Snow Sport University… judging by the way you ski, you could use a little schoolin’.

Iain: I’m the first to admit it’s getting bloody hard to find a ski area nowadays that will let you on the lift with a kid in your backpack let alone the family dog for last run but we’re talking apples and oranges here with a boys’ week west vs. Family Day Weekend. I’m going to do both. But where’s the romance of travel if all the details are planned in advance? It’s simply what guys do best. Head out onto the road with at least one vague plan, get lost and not ask for directions, lose stuff and spend hours looking for it until their girlfriends and wives point out it’s right in front of their noses…. As exciting as Vermont’s Von Trapp Family Lodge sounds, I’m going to tell the guys to fly into Cranbrook or Kelowna this winter and we’ll take it from there.

Lori: Okay, but just make sure that wherever you end up, your cell’s got service. Oops, forgot… you don’t have a cell. As for me, I’ll be by the pool in some swanky spot like Aspen or Park City. Relaxed and rested. Kids with that cute South American ski pro. Me sipping a mojito. Wait, let me add ‘mojitos’ to that spreadsheet…

Lori Knowles and Iain MacMillan don’t agree on much… except how much fun it is write about skiing. This article originally appered in the Travel section of The Globe and Mail.

 

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Spring skiing for the whole family.

Spring can serve up some of the season’s best — and cheapest — skiing, you’ve just got to know where to look. Here’s a list of some easy-to-reach-at-the-last-minute ski resorts that are both spring- and wallet-friendly:

Whistler, BC: With the close of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games came a ton of new snow for Whistler, BC as well as some deals on ski-and-stay packages… the ski town is keen to keep the Olympic spirit alive. Three-night, two-day packages start at…

For the remainder of the story, including deals from Killington, Vail, Aspen, Le Massif, Mont-Saint-Anne and Tremblant, visit:

http://www.torontosun.com/travel/2010/03/26/13369781-qmi.html

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Gold Medal winner Ashleigh McIvor blows a kiss to the crowd.

Whistler skier Ashleigh McIvor stepped up to win Olympic gold on home snow — scoring first place for Canada Tuesday in women’s Ski Cross.

“Who could go out and represent Canada better than a Whistler girl?” the skier asked after the race, adding, “I’ve been shredding pow, dropping cliffs and chasing the boys my whole life, and that’s what Ski Cross is all about.”

McIvor, who dominated nearly every heat she skied during preliminary rounds at Cypress Mountain, says she felt confident she would win. “This morning people were saying to me: ‘Ashleigh I think this will be your day,’ and they were right,” she said. “I was made for it.”

In the final round, McIvor was chased hard by an impressive field of skiers, including Hedda Bernsten of Norway (Silver) and France’s Marion Josserand. But the gold belonged to McIvor, a favourite heading into the race, who pushed hard at each start, stayed low and balanced through her jumps, and managed to stay ahead of the spectacular crashes that are all part the sport of Ski Cross.

“Ski Cross is such an amazing spectator sport,” summed up McIvor.

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The antlers-wearing paparazzi woman.

Whistler’s gone weird during the Olympics. Here are 10 weird-o things making our ski town spooky and strange… 

1) There’s a blimp flying over Whistler Village. A plain-clothes blimp (no GOODYEAR sign on this one.) No one knows for sure what it’s doing there — it’s all major hush-hush and high security. I suspect it’s the IOC’s (or the CIA’s or the FBI’s) Big Brother eye-in-the-sky watching. Don’t pick your nose… or worse. The RCMP could be tromping up your doorstep. 

2) Forget French. During the Olympics, German is Whistler’s second language. Hell, German is Whistler’s first language. St. Anton has amalgamated Whistler — which doesn’t work in the end, just ask Greater Torontonians. Who are you, and what have you done with our ski town? 

3) There are no lift lines. No. Lift. Lines. Slip up the Glacier Express, slide down Spanky’s, whip up a little white froth on Jersey Cream, glide across  the Peak2Peak for lunch at Pika’s… all in three minutes. (Ok, I’m exaggerating. Four minutes.) 

4) There are a few too many folks carrying their skis over their shoulders with the tips pointing backwards. First, how do you do that? Second, please, please, please bribe your ski valet at the Four Seasons to carry them for you. You’ll save yourself some strife, you’ll save me some strife, and you’ll look like a rich guy instead of a geek doing it. 

5) Whistler’s in-town bus service during the Games is seriously wonky. From the bus circle at Whistler you have to go to Nesters, White Gold, Function Junction, Whistler Creekside, and up the Benchlands… just to get to the base of Blackcomb. (Yes, you could walk faster, but see No.4 RE: strife caused by ski tips pointing backwards.) 

6) Too many people are wearing red-and-white, alien-looking antlers on top of their heads. Folks, these types of headwear are embarrassing. You must be huge luge fans. 

7) You must have a reservation… to do anything. Dinner at Sushi Village at 3 pm? Need a reservation. Lunch at Subway? Need a reservation. Gotta go pee? Need a reservation. 

8) There is an exception to every rule, and I am now writing one for No.7 (see above.) I SAILED into Citta’s for a beer at 5pm while Bedoin Soundclash was on the outdoor stage at the Village plaza. I waltzed up the stairs, secured a table by the enormous front window and watched the concert warm and dry and with a beer on the table. This NEVER happens on an ordinary day in Whistler, even when a major rock band isn’t playing. 

9) The sun is shining. Ok, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights leading up to the Olympics… so much so that ducks were using the luge run as a waterslide. But the sun is shining now. (Maybe it’s not real sunshine. Maybe the blimp is beaming a massive spotlight all day on Whistler.) 

10) With The Barenaked Ladies, Michael Bublé and Rob Boyd in the crowd, Canadians in Whistler are getting a little high hoping to be caught by ‘The Paparazzi.’ When I asked one woman wearing those darn red-and-white, alien-looking antlers if I could take her picture, she looked at me deadpan and said: “Sure, I haven’t been paparazzied yet today.” 

Like I said, who are you, and what have you done with our Whistler? 

Lori Knowles is covering Whistler and Vancouver from the streets for the Toronto Sun and Ski Press World. 

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Dancing inside Whistler's new cultural centre.

At any given moment it’s rain, sun and snow here in Whistler, BC, during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, but no one inside the local Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) seems to notice. Men, women and children from all parts of the world sit transfixed as Aboriginal peoples dance, sing and tell their stories — vivid, rousing performances that capture the hearts, minds and respect of cheering audiences.

It’s all in a day’s work at this Centre, a new and strikingly beautiful cedar-and-glass structure set amid Whistler’s tall trees, snow and mountains. It has been built as an Olympic legacy to showcase the heritage and culture of Canada’s First Nations.  

The SLCC is an opportunity for Olympic watchers and future ski resort visitors to realize the connection the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations have to Whistler. Squamish territory is to the south and Lil’wat territory is to the north; the two meet at Whistler, and have peacefully shared the land long before they shared it with skiers.

The museum is a hugely open space filled with the art, clothing, transportation and tools these two nations have used for centuries. There’s a massive hand-carved cedar canoe dug out from a single tree, ceremonial masks, weavings and house poles — tall, carved structures that resemble totems. There’s a traditional Squamish longhouse and a Lil’wat pit house. Gigantic, hand-carved cedar spindles whirl overhead. When they’re not dancing and singing, guides wander about in traditional regalia, banging their drums, greeting visitors and answering questions.

The centre's massive 40-foot dugout canoe dug out from a single cedar.

“We lead a red cedar life,” explains Gerald Paul, a cultural interpreter and member of the Squamish nation, as he shows off a 40-foot canoe dug from a single cedar tree. “The red cedar tree cradles our babies and our elders, we use it for clothing, transportation and shelter. Nothing from it is wasted.”

Paul takes his own deerhide drum down from a nearby wall and proudly explains it was made for him by his grandfather. Paul — an artist — has decorated the drum himself, creating a design that incorporates the human eye. “It is meant to remind us to keep ourselves humble,” he says. “Someone is always watching.”

Whistler is not the only BC community to benefit from Olympic exposure to First Nations communities. “A number of other cultural centres have also opened in the last few years,” says Paula Amos, spokesperson for BC’s Aboriginal Tourism Association. Those centres include the Haida Heritage Centre at Haida Gwaii along BC’s northwest coast, as well as a museum attached to the St. Eugene Resort near Cranbrook, BC.

Amos says dozens of galleries featuring First Nations art have popped up across Vancouver, as well a several tourism projects throughout BC that offer everything from canoe trips to seminars in First Nations art and culture. During the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Vancouver’s Pan Pacific Hotel has created an Aboriginal village called Kla-how-ya, meaning “welcome from the heart” in Chinook, a traditional trading language among First Nations. The exposition features aboriginal fashions, traditional dancing, cedar bark weaving, birch bark chewing, moose hide tufting, jewelry making, carving and, of course, storytelling.

Vancouver 2010 marks the first time Aboriginal peoples have fully participated in an Olympic Games right from the bidding process. “The experience has rejuvenated our culture,” says Amos. “It’s not just about revitalizing our economy, it’s about having the opportunity to share and celebrate our traditions.” Adds Amos: “British Columbia now leads North America in Aboriginal cultural tourism.”

For more information on Whistler’s Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), visit www.slcc.com. For more information on British Columbia’s Aboriginal tourism, visit www.aboriginalbc.com.

Lori Knowles is covering the Olympics live from Vancouver and Whistler for the Toronto Sun’s travel section, and blogging daily at www.LoriExploring.Wordpress.com .

This article appeared in the Toronto Sun, Wednesday Feburary 17, 2010.

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To all the single ladies out there — and the not-so-single ski racer chasers — here are some sexy photos of men downhillers. They may not be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but they ought to be!

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway

(The Svindal pic is here soley for my friend Lisa S!)

Canada's Manny Osborne-Paradis

The USA's Steve Nyman

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Olympic journalists are 90% male.  And German…. Those are my first thoughts as I mount the steps to the Whistler Creekside finish area of the Olympic Downhill—the first alpine event of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

The finish of the men's downhill at Whistler Creekside

Journos—droves of them—with camera lenses the length of flagpoles are marching up the slope alongside me. Faces set in serious frowns. I smile at every one but I don’t get much back in return. “Gutten morgen” is about all I’m getting here. They probably think I’m American.

First thing I do inside the media centre is nab a start list. Patrik Jaerbyn of Sweden will be first down. Bode Miller is No.8, followed by Canada’s Erik Guay in No. 9. The guy you gotta watch is Manny Osborne-Paradis in the No.19 bib. Robbie Dixon is No.23. Jan Hudec is No.31.

Crowd outside is going wild. Loud music. Cowbells galore. Canadian flags draped over shoulders. The scene is absolutely awesome. There’s not a person left asleep in Whistler this morning. The air electric.

I’ll try to track it all live on www.twitter.com/loriexploring

— Lori Knowles

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The streets of Vancouver are lined with friendly people. Smiles are worn by everyone. “Hello!” is heard often. The city is nearly beside itself with anticipation of the Olympics opening. I started my day watching a stunned-looking Arnold Schwartzenegger carry the torch through the dark, early morning of Vancouver. There were so many people crowded around him, shouting his name, reaching out to touch him. He seemed genuinely shocked by the adulation. Soon after came Terry Fox’s father, then Walter Gretzky–The Great One’s father–both of whom made people cry in the streets. To see this was something.

The view from Vancouver's Main Media Centre

I rode the Canada Line once again downtown to the Media Centre. I’ve never become casually aquainted to so many people so quickly on a single ride on a subway. “Are you from Burton?” one old guy asked me. “No,” I said, “I’m not. It just says Burton on my suitcase.” He gave me a friendly nod, but honestly… he looked enormously disappointed!

Barbara H. Henderson from Baton Rouge, Louisiana was the driver of my massive media bus up to Whistler — me and four other journalists on a bus that could fit 100. Barbara had driven the coach in a convoy of them all the way from Alabama to help out at the Olympics. “Is this the farthest you’ve ever been away from home?” she asked me.

“No,” I said. “You?”

“It sure is,” she said. “Next I’m gonna go to Disney.”

Mounties stand tall of O' Canada

Halfway up to Whistler I got an email saying the men’s and women’s downhill training had been cancelled for the day. No surprise to anyone who’s ever spent any time in Whistler. It’s raining here, folks. On the day the Olympics open, it’s really, really, raining.

The friendliness of the people here does not include the media. What a grumpy bunch! They’re always blathering on their cells and madly checking their Blackberrys. None of them talk to anyone. To the ones they do speak to, they do so in hushed voices, as if fearing everyone around them is going to steal the story they’re working on.

As our bus approached Whistler we all got notice (on our blackberrys!) that a Georgian luger had been killed on the luge sliding track. But none of the journalists would discuss it with one another. We pulled into the bus circle and they piled off (all four of them) and demanded rudely: “HOW DO I GET TO THE SLIDING CENTRE?”

Oy.

Whistler's memorial for Georgian's fallen luge athlete.

Needless to say, the mood is downcast here in Whistler. It’s raining, it’s foggy, the training runs have been cancelled and now there’s been a death on the luge track. Even John Furlong teared up at the press conference.

I think they should all take a trip down to Vancouver for a little liquid sunshine. Judging by the joie de vivre down there, the city’s got plenty of it.

More later. Lori

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They say the Olympic Winter Games, opening in just a few days in Vancouver and Whistler, is the planet’s largest sporting event. The world will be watching — a very good thing for Whistler-Blackcomb, one of Canada’s most captivating ski resorts.

 It has been a long time coming.

 Hosting the Olympics was a dream sparked 50 years ago — before Whistler, the ski resort, even existed — by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA). A group of Vancouver guys intent on bringing the Olympics to British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, scouted the peaks north of Squamish, B.C., to establish a ski resort with enough vertical to stage an Olympic downhill. They settled on London Mountain — now Whistler Mountain — built a ski resort, and bid for the 1968 Games. They lost their bid to Grenoble in ’68, then lost four more in 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1988. But they didn’t lose their dream. It took 42 years, but the Games are finally on London Mountain.

At the 2010 Games, the Men’s Downhill event — the race most skiers consider the highlight of a Winter Olympics — will rocket down the Dave Murray Downhill. As you’ll see on television during the Games, it’s a course that snakes dangerously down Whistler Creekside on a run named after Dave Murray, an original member of alpine skiing’s Crazy Canucks. Murray, a longtime Whistlerite, lost his life to cancer in 1990; his daughter, Julia Murray, is a 2010 Canadian medal hope in the new women’s Ski Cross event.

 The Dave Murray course is revered among elite racers; it has hosted more than 10 World Cup events since 1975, including the World Cup downhill Whistler-raised Rob Boyd won in 1989. Boyd returns to Whistler in 2010 as a coach for the women’s Canadian ski team. The women — along with all Paralympic alpine skiers — will be racing on a newly designed set of courses that track down Whistler runs: Wildcard, Jimmy’s Joker and Franz’s Trail.

 Both the men’s and women’s alpine ski races finish at Creekside Village, a satellite base containing a few restaurants and loads of condos, which is located about four kilometres south of Whistler’s main village and gondola.

 Whistler-Blackcomb’s total terrain tops out at a massive 8,717 acres. While officials are claiming 90 per cent of it will be open for public skiing for the Games, skiers won’t be able to access runs surrounding the Dave Murray Downhill or Franz’s. The terrain won’t reopen until March 28, following the close of the Paralympic alpine events.

 Back in Whistler’s main village, an amphitheatre has been newly built to showcase the medal ceremonies for the events taking place at Whistler —alpine skiing’s downhill, giant slalom, slalom and super-G , plus bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events that take place at the Whistler Sliding Centre. The Whistler Medals Plaza has enough tiered seating for 5,000 spectators watching medal ceremonies and Whistler’s nightly concerts between February 13 and 27. The Whistler Live concerts include performances by Feist, Our Lady Peace, Usher, The Fray, and the All American Rejects.

 Much of this will be easily spotted during the Games on TV. If you’re watching — or lucky enough to be there skiing — also check out Whistler’s new Peak 2 Peak, a gondola that spans the 4.4-kilometre distance between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. It’s the gondola with the world’s longest unsupported span (3.024 kilometres between two towers), plus it’s the world’s highest lift of its kind at 436 metres above the Fitzsimmons Creek valley floor… a fitting spectacle for the world’s biggest snow sporting spectacle.

 Lori Knowles will be covering the Olympics live from Vancouver and Whistler for the Toronto Sun’s travel section, and blogging at www.LoriExploring.Wordpress.com . This column originally appeared in the travel section of  The Toronto Sun, Sunday January 31, 2010.

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