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December 2008 saw the opening of Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak gondola, an engineering marvel of unprecedented scale that connects the peaks of the two mountains, Whistler and Blackcombe, 4.4 kilometres apart. The gondola is a fitting metaphor for the last lap to the finish line of Olympic preparations – a high-wire balancing act under extreme conditions.


February 23, 2009
By Paul Dixon

Topics

December 2008 saw the opening of Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak gondola, an engineering marvel of unprecedented scale that connects the peaks of the two mountains, Whistler and Blackcombe, 4.4 kilometres apart. The gondola is a fitting metaphor for the last lap to the finish line of Olympic preparations – a high-wire balancing act under extreme conditions.

Winter snow is late arriving on the mountains of Vancouver and Whistler this year, but there is a definite chill in the air, as the tempest on the world financial markets send shivers down the backs of many. For years, the Whistler business community has worked hard to develop the region as a world-class destination resort. For the past decade Whistler has been ranked as the premiere destination ski resort in North America by a wide range of ski and snowboard media from around the world, while Condé Nast Traveler magazine cited two of Whistler’s hotel resorts as numbers one and two in the North American market. That market has grown to more than two million visitors in 2007.

Tempering the success of the past decade is the recent forecast by Tourism Whistler of a 9- to 12-per-cent decline in tourism over the current winter season, while some pundits foresee as much as a 25-per-cent decline by the end of 2009, dependent on world conditions. Intrawest Resorts, operator of Whistler and Blackcombe Mountains and the Whistler area’s largest employer, narrowly avoided a meltdown when its parent company was able to secure $1.7 billion worth of refinancing at the end of October.

Construction on the Olympic venues at Whistler is complete and they will be put to use once winter finally arrives. A large throng of international press was given a tour of the facilities recently and gave overwhelmingly favourable reviews. In Vancouver, while work on most facilities is complete, there has been one glaring exception with work on the Olympic Village lagging behind. The buildings that will serve as the Olympic Village will form the core of what will ultimately be a 32-hectare mixed residential development in the southeast corner of Vancouver’s False Creek. A firestorm of public opinion erupted in early November when it was revealed that during an in-camera meeting in October, Vancouver city councillors had agreed to guarantee a $100 million loan to the development company to keep the work on track and on time. Two weeks later, in municipal elections, Vancouver voters virtually cleaned house, handily voting in a centre-left mix of councillors and a new mayor.

If you plan to come to the Olympics and don’t have a room booked already, you are in for a disappointment. Of the 26,000 or so hotel rooms in the Greater Vancouver area, VANOC has half of them under its umbrella and the rest are pretty much spoken for. The RCMP is struggling to arrange accommodation for the thousands of members it will bring into the region and VANOC is revisiting the idea of leasing cruise ships to house journalists.

The City of Vancouver released its Olympic Traffic Management Plan in November. Significant areas of the downtown core, including the seaplane and helicopter facilities on the harbour, will be sealed off inside a security cordon. Outside the security zone, many downtown streets will have restricted traffic flow and no-parking restrictions, while more streets will be transformed into pedestrian malls. Estimates of the impact on traffic flow in downtown Vancouver range as high as 50 per cent, depending on the time of day. This is just for the City of Vancouver, with no word yet on the rest of Metro Vancouver or the Sea to Sky corridor, but given the limited routes in the region and the volume of people that will have to be moved to meet Olympic schedules, the impact will be significant.

John Furlong, VANOC CEO, speaking to the Vancouver Board of Trade in November, again urged the business community to support 2010 by doing what they could as employers to reduce traffic congestion in Vancouver, with suggestions ranging from mandated vacations, adjusting hours of work and telecommuting. Virginia Green, president of the Business Council of B.C., was quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying that Furlong’s speech was “a good indication that it’s not going to be business as usual in and around Vancouver for the duration of the Olympics.”

Paul Dixon is a freelance photojournalist living in North Vancouver.

Your feedback on this or any other topic is always welcome. Please contact the editor at dmccarthy@annexweb.com or go to www.helicoptersmagazine.com to post a comment on our blog.


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