For the athletes travelling to British Columbia this winter, it’s all about the focus of competition.
For the rest of us, it’s all about the fun. From the deep snows of the mountains to the bright lights of the city, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games are going to be a celebration for the ages.
It’s been called “the biggest potlatch the world has ever seen,” and the good news is that you don’t need a ticket to feel the Olympic rush. While there are hundreds of events with free and open access, here are 10 best bets to get into the spirit of British Columbia’s world-welcoming bash.
2010 Winter Games: 10 Things to do without a ticket
Go to Granville Island
With its vibrant arts scene and bustling public market, Granville Island has always been one of Vancouver’s favourite attractions. Come Games time, the island promises to showcase the city’s flair for cultural convergence as host of Atlantic Canada House, Place de la Francophonie and the House of Switzerland. Over the course of an afternoon you can kick it up at an Atlantic-style kitchen party, sample some of the country’s best culinary traditions and sip a perfectly-poured Swiss espresso. For more fun in February, check out the island’s annual Winterruption Festival – an eclectic blend of musical beats, performance art and local menus.
Honour Aboriginal Heritage in Canada
On the Plaza of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in the heart of downtown Vancouver, the 2010 Aboriginal Pavilion promises to be an incredible showcase and celebration of Aboriginals from across Canada. With contemporary performances, multimedia shows and stunning Aboriginal art, the white-domed five-storey pavilion will prove one of the signature buildings of the Games; a site that both honours the past and looks towards the future, the 2010 Aboriginal Pavilion is a must-see for visitors and Vancouverites alike. Here, you’ll have a chance to nibble contemporary Aboriginal cuisine-think musk ox prosciutto and wine from Nk’mip Cellars-on the traditional territory of the Four Host First Nations. The pavilion will be open to the public February 12 – 28 from 11 a.m. to midnight.
Enter the O Zone
Home to the speed skating events for the 2010 Winter Games, the city of Richmond, just south ofVancouver, will also be home turf to another anticipated draw: the O Zone. A short walk from the new Canada Line rapid transit system, this official celebration site for the Games boasts 24 hectares (60 acres) of free activities, exhibits and entertainment. Check out the BCLC 2010 Winter Games Dome, where you can become a virtual athlete: imagine racing down a bobsled course, shooting targets in biathlon and joining the Paralympic sit-ski team. Giant ice art installations, an exhibit from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, outdoor ice skating, a massive HD screen and a main stage with performances by big-name bands, including Our Lady Peace, Hawksley Workman and Bedouin Soundclash, will also draw crowds. It’s all free and family-friendly-except, perhaps, for the lager-inspired Holland Heineken House. O Zone festivities run daily February 12 – 28, weekdays from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.; 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. weekends. Holland Heineken House is open daily from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m.
Skate in Robson Square
Eager to twirl across the rink like an Olympic ice dancer? The newly-renovated GE Plaza is the second coming for the Robson Square skating rink; set in Vancouver’s vibrant downtown core, the glass-domed outdoor rink features free skating for all ages. Lit by energy-efficient LED lights, and open from 10 a.m. to midnight for the duration of the Games, this is a truly Canadian winter experience nestled within in the city streets. (Skate and helmet rentals are also available.) As a bonus, the rink is just steps away from the Vancouver Art Gallery, which will be offering free admission to exhibits from February 12 – 28, including the BC Canada Pavilion, Visions of British Columbia: A Landscape Manual and Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man.
Get Live in Vancouver
There are Olympic events happening all across the province, but some of the biggest celebrations belong to Vancouver. Didn’t score any tickets to the competitions? Two major outdoor celebration sites – LiveCity Downtown and LiveCity Yaletown – will have you mingling with thousands of other fans to watch events, take in live local and international entertainment and check out artistic and educational programming. There’s nothing like watching live sports within a sea of cheering fans, and these draws promise an effervescent experience not to be missed. In addition, LiveCity Yaletown, set to feature closing shows each night, will boast some innovative touches: in good Vancouver fashion, the ground coverings will be constructed from recycled rubber tires. LiveCity Downtown runs February 13 – 27, 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., and February 28, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; LiveCity Yaletown, February 11, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., February 12, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and February 13 – 28, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Get Wired in Whistler
For even more live entertainment out-of-doors, head north to the mountain resort of Whistler. During the Games, the Whistler Live! program is sure to have the crowds hopping, thanks to six different locations throughout the Village where you can see athlete appearances, works in progress by Sea to Sky artists, live sports on huge public screens, The Fire and Ice Remix in Skiers Plaza and intimate concerts from musicians like Blue Rodeo, Damien Marley and the Sam Roberts Band. The pedestrian boulevards of the Village are always buzzing with energy, and during the Games the party dial is sure to be cranked to high. So, pull on your toque and gloves, grab a latté, and take it outside. Whistler Live! will be showcasing the action each day from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Hit the Hills
Whistler Blackcomb is one of the world’s best places to ski and snowboard, so it’s no surprise that the legendary twin mountains are serving as the venue for the 2010 alpine skiing events. The good news? Besides playing host to incredible competition, a full 90 per cent of the mountain terrain will be open to skiers and snowboarders throughout the Games. While the downhillers are going for gold at high speed over at Whistler Creekside, you can be searching for powder in Symphony Bowl, carving turns at Seventh Heaven or charging down a double-black couloir. The Solar Coaster chairlift will provide a bird’s eye view of the Olympic racers training on the Springboard run, and the spectacular new PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola will be fully open as well. To get an even better look at the action, special viewing pods nestled beside a number of runs on Whistler Mountain will showcase both Olympic and Paralympic alpine events. Get your skis tuned up, grab your camera, and head up for some of the best lines you’ll ever see.
Explore the Mountains
At their core, Olympic competition is all about inspiration. And while there aren’t many of us who have what it takes to get on the podium, that doesn’t mean we can’t indulge in outdoor play worthy of the gold. BC’s mountain resorts offer plenty of opportunity to hit the heights, take in the alpine air and feel the Olympic spirit. Resorts like Big White, Silver Star and Sun Peaks in the province’s Thompson Okanagan will be throwing their own versions of the Games with skills challenges, family fun races and luge runs in the tube parks. On Vancouver Island, Mount Washington Alpine Resort – the training site for 30 different Olympic and Paralympic teams from 13 countries – will offer special 2010 packages in conjunction with the seaside Tigh-Na-Mara Resort. Closer to Vancouver, Grouse Mountain will be open 24 hours a day during the Games; a visit to the North Shore promises snowshoeing, ice skating and even an opportunity to ski with your crew in the wee hours, complete with a view of the city lights. In all, there are plenty of ways to find your own Olympic inspiration in the mountains of British Columbia – just don’t forget your skis, snowboards, snowshoes…you get the idea.
Find a New Neighbourhood
Need a break from all the Olympic action? Scope out some of the province’s diverse neighbourhoods – and discover a few haunts favoured by the locals. In Vancouver, walk, run or bike through Stanley Park, cruise the bohemias of Main Street and Commercial Drive, shop along 4th Avenue or watch the sunset from the beaches of Spanish Banks. Further afield, check out the ever-green landscapes in the mountain enclave of Deep Cove or nibble just-caught bounty from the sea in Steveston, Richmond’s historic fishing village. In Whistler, hit the cross country trails in Lost Lake Park, learn about local First Nations heritage at Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre or wander the pedestrian-friendly Upper Village to peruse the galleries, shop for finds or raise a pint.
Follow Your Heart
The 2010 Winter Games may be Canada’s Games, but consider this: once you’ve cheered for the home team, why not take the opportunity to explore the country’s westernmost province beyond the roaring crowd. On Vancouver Island’s wild west coast, hit the surf and ride the waves along the legendary shores of Tofino; ski into the backcountry in the province’s Kootenay Rockies; sip local wines in the Thompson Okanagan; explore cowboy country in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast; or make tracks by dogsled through Northern BC’s forested landscape. With almost a million square kilometres of natural beauty, British Columbia has more diverse terrain than any of us can imagine. Where you go is up to you-all you have to do is get a good guidebook, pack your bags and follow your heart.
For more on visiting British Columbia, go to: www.HelloBC.com.