Yes, you may be in Vancouver for the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t soak up all the city has to offer in your downtime (and with the weather conditions they’ve been having, there’s been plenty of downtime). Barbara Ferry, the director of National Geographic Libraries and Information Services, shares some of the spots she’s visited with her family when they aren’t watching the athletes do their stuff.
If you want to escape the crowds on busy Olympic streets, hop in a taxi or take Vancouver’s excellent bus system and to the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology. During our visit on February 13, there were barely any visitors in sight. The museum’s guards agreed that the lack of attendance that morning was due to the revelry the night before during and after the Opening Ceremonies. But since we were still on East Coast time, my family had no trouble getting to the museum by 10 a.m.
The low attendance certainly had nothing to do with the museum’s excellent Pacific Northwest and global native collections. Aside from the expansive space with towering totem poles and ceremonial bowls large enough to hold food for an entire village, the museum boasts a $55 million (Canadian) renovation to put more of its collections on display. Each artifact in the renovated space is linked to a visual description in central computer kiosks. With these kiosks the collections came to life–and I found my computer-spoiled 10 and 14-year-old kids running back and forth to identify masks, weapons, and other artifacts around the room (watch a video of how they work here). Finally, a museum we could all enjoy!
The Men’s Combined Skiing event was canceled on February 16, which afforded our family some time to relax from our hectic event schedule and enjoy all that Whistler has to offer. We decided to head up to the Peak to Peak Gondola, which runs 4.4 km from Whistler to Blackcomb Mountains over Fitzsimmons Creek. (The highest spot above the ground has you dangling 436 meters over Fitzsimmons Creek.) The Peak to Peak carries skiers and sightseers across the longest unsupported span in the world–3.024 kilometers–and also completes the longest continuous lift system on the globe, according to the Gondola’s website.
The Gondola wasn’t crowded in the early afternoon, as many people go up in the late morning and have lunch at the top, either at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler or at the Crystal Hut at the top of the Crystal Chair on Blackcomb Mountain. I’ve heard from some skiers that the mountains have been less crowded during the Olympics, and locals who know the slopes have had an advantage during the games. My landlord’s family was able to watch the men’s downhill runs from a neighboring slope at Creekside without purchasing event tickets.
There’s another reason to make the trek up to the top of Whistler. At the gondola exchange area is a large stone Inukshuk, a traditional stone sculpture used by Canada’s Inuit people that is the symbol of the Vancouver Olympics. The symbol means generosity, hope, and friendship. The view is spectacular and well worth the short trek in the snow to reach it.
Down in Whistler Village, the celebration starts in mid-morning when the Jumbotrons placed throughout the village are turned on to cover Olympic and local events. By mid-afternoon, there are bands at almost square of the village, along with street performers, and hundreds of celebrating visitors. Outdoor cafes–with outdoor heaters–are packed through the late evening. People line up early to get day-tickets to the Whistler Victory Ceremonies and at 4 p.m. the local Olympic ticket center opens to sell their overflow event tickets for the following day (for a video of the village, click here). Whistler is a resort, so eating out in sit-down restaurants can be on the pricey side, but fortunately for our family the local IGA offers reasonably priced groceries we can prepare in our rented condo. Visitors can also find some inexpensive sandwich and soup offerings, especially in Market Square.
Photos: Barbara Ferry