Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boss: Send medicine to Whistler, I have Olympic Fever

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WHISTLER, B.C. -- Lesson No. 1 for any Prairie folk, like yours truly, making their first trip to this absolutely stunning mountain playground:

Keep your head up walking through the village because getting a ski tip across the lips, we're just guessing here, would be a little like having facial surgery minus the anesthetic or a shot of whisky.

So here's the scene: gleefully arrived here on Thursday from The Free Press 'bureau' in Richmond -- three guys sharing a hotel room would make a Survivorman episode seem like a day trip to the spa -- to chronicle the medal chase of Russell's Jon Montgomery in the skeleton.

Chatting with the boss upon arrival, he suggested a 'Postcard from Whistler' column might make for a good read. That came, we should point out, after he called me a 'lucky (insert series of expletives here)' for being on the ground in one of the coolest places on the globe.

And so there I was walking through Whistler Village, weaving through a global crowd of fans and athletes and gawking up at the mountains when a dude in an Austrian Olympic team jacket carrying his Rossignols over his shoulder stopped suddenly.

Luckily at that same moment I actually lowered my head -- being here for the first time is a bit like sitting in the front row of a movie theatre -- just in time to avoid losing some of my Chiclets on his skis.

Lesson No. 2 for any Prairie folk, like yours truly, making their first trip to this absolutely stunning mountain playground:

Resist the urge, as I did Thursday afternoon, to grab the guy sitting across from you in the gondola by the jacket lapels and then scream: 'Will you look at this freaking view, pal?! What's wrong with you? Why aren't you drooling like me?'

Now, let me say that being at the Olympic Oval in Richmond to watch speedskating was an absolute blast and taking in the first Canadian men's hockey game at Canada Hockey Place in downtown Vancouver was a complete thrill.

But up here in Whistler I officially caught the Olympic Fever.

Bustling

Unlike in Vancouver -- the largest city to ever play host to a Winter Olympics -- Whistler is completely engulfed by the Games. In Vancouver there are thousands still hustling and bustling to work every day and, as we all know now, there is absolutely no snow after the temps reached double digits on Friday.

Here the scene is straight from a winter painting. The village square is over-run by fans and athletes wearing team colours from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Austria -- the Russians, host of the 2014 Games in Sochi, have their own store here -- Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United States, Australia, New Zealand... everywhere.

And up on the mountain -- I was at skeleton but nearby the alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, bobsleigh, luge and biathlon events are also being held -- the true diehards have camped out in full and it's hard not to be caught up in their enthusiasm and patriotism.

Oh, and get this, maybe it's the light air up here -- after all, right now a French journalist across from me is barking into his laptop at his dog via video-conferencing -- but the rabidness of fans even has me thinking that the sound of a cowbell, until now torturous to these ears, can be both welcoming and soothing.

(I know, that makes it official, I DO have Olympic fever.)

Let me also tell you that my preconceived idea of this place was completely wrong. I figured I'd come across a lot more of the rich and famous and overhear a conversation like: 'Tad, you absolutely must try the cafe latte at Chez Snobbery. And do have your Eggs Benedict on the balcony of the Ritz Sophisticate, because the view is positively divine.'

Nope. None of that. This is party central. Queen Latifah was here the other night. We missed her, but she apparently bought a round of shooters for everybody in the bar.

This is a MTV/Much Music crowd. They're here to ski, snowboard, wave their respective flags and drink from dawn to dusk.

If you haven't gathered, I kinda like this place.

"I don't know what it's like for you guys here, being reporters from Canada," said Montgomery, our skeleton rep, "but as an athlete it's unreal. I've got people from my hometown here cheering for me and that never happens anywhere we go. This is out of sight."

Well said.

In summation, then, here's our Whistler scouting report in brief: Keep your head on a swivel, try to minimize losing it on the gondola and if you're eager to par-tay, find a stool near Queen Latifah.

ed.tait@freepres.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2010 D3

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