bridges whistler
Image: V.A.N.O.C.

Whistler Olympic Park

The next day, still hoping to catch a bit of the Olympic spirit, I rented a car and drove to the new Whistler Olympic Park. Located 10 miles west of town in the rugged Callaghan Valley, the park, ringed by mountain peaks and old-growth forest, will be the site of the cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and biathlon events. Already open to the public, it features more than 30 miles of expertly groomed cross-country ski trails, a 164-foot biathlon shooting range, and two roller-coaster-size ski jumps.

My intent was simply to walk the grounds that one day will host hundreds of elite athletes, but when I drove up, I couldn’t believe what I saw: three lanky guys clad in blue-and-red Lycra suits emblazoned with “USA.”

In an adrenaline-fueled act of uncharacteristic impulsiveness, I burst out of the car and ran toward them. “Hey!” I shouted. “Are you Olympic athletes?”

Chewing nonchalantly on a Clif bar, one of them said they were junior members of the biathlon team. After I assured them I wasn’t a nut job, they introduced me to their coach, Mikael Löfgren, a four-time Swedish Olympian who won two bronze medals in the biathlon during the 1992 Games in Albertville, France.

Still beaming from my encounter with in-the-flesh Olympians, I then met Munny, the manager of the park and a native Whistlerite. Munny, too, could barely contain his excitement that athletes were using the track. “To bring the whole world here to showcase this,” he said referring to the surrounding peaks and wilderness. “You can’t beat it.” For a moment I thought he might even shed a tear.

On the drive back to Whistler, I thought about Munny and the love he showed for his homeland, and then about old Wilhelmsen, the man whose Olympic dreams were partly inspired by the overwhelming beauty of these mountains. Suddenly, my relentless pursuit of all things Olympian seemed a little artificial. What makes Whistler such a special place, I realized, is the sight of a snow-covered peak tinged pink by the sunset, and locals who act as if they’ve never met a stranger—attributes you can’t measure by the size of a new highway, the speed of a gondola, or the slickness of a luge track. It may sound sappy, but to me it was Munny—even more than those athletes—who embodied the true spirit of those Olympic rings.

But lest you think I’ve gone soft, you bet I’ll be watching the biathlon, and I fully expect Team USA to give Team Canada hell.