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Close Call in Whistler

From the Travel Book I'll Never Write. This chapter takes place in Whistler, British Columbia, April, 2009.

You are at the top of an Olympic ski jump hill. You lean up against the starting gate and look down, nearly straight down. What would it feel like to actually descend down the insanely steep decline only to have it abruptly propel you skyward with nothing to help you land except two boards strapped to your feet? That is exactly what I was wondering when I saw the police car.

It was April vacation, 2009. We were in British Columbia, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Only eight months from the Opening Ceremonies, preparations were underway everywhere. As we drove to the mountains along Highway 99, the famed Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver, we passed many turnoffs for the different venues in the various stages of preparation. There was still plenty of snow and the ski resorts of Whistler and Blackcomb were in full operation.

I woke up early and everyone was asleep so I figured I would drive out to the Whistler Olympic Park, located about 11 miles from our mountainside base. This area would host the Nordic events: ski jump, cross country, biathlon, etc. Seeing the site first hand would increase my enjoyment of watching later on TV.

I drove up the long mountain road and was pleased to find the gate wide open and the security station unmanned. I was surprised by the open access. I was able to drive right up to the various event areas.

The Ilanaaq rock formation that served as the logo for the games was represented prominently in the middle of the sprawling outdoor complex. I parked in a lot nearby and began walking around. As I walked on some of the snowpacked cross country trails I noticed a path that led to the ski jumping hill.

When I got to the base of the hill, I could see a sort of gate house on the opposite side near the smaller hill. It was unattended. No chance for a guided tour. Where I stood, on the left side there was a metal stairway. I didn’t see any signs that said the area was off limits so I started to climb. The stairs hadn’t been shoveled. I trudged through the snow, held on to the cold metal railing and climbed and climbed and climbed. 

Every now and then I would stop to catch my breath and the view become more elevated and more spectacular. It would be exhausting to make it to the top but it had to be done. Step by step I made my way.

I finally made it. I was at the starting gate, alone in a spot that in a few short months would be the center of a global sports celebration. Dressed in dark jeans and a black jacket, I was a dark contrast against the white backdrop. I grinned as I pictured myself tumbling down the slope like that unfortunate individual immortalized as the symbol of “the agony of defeat” on the opening of Wide World of Sports.

As I looked out down among the winding roads that looked like mere trails I could see a small moving speck at the base of the complex. Slowly it was twisting its way up. It was a police car.

Needless to say, I looked highly suspicious. It was shortly after sunrise. I had no official business there. I had no identification. I didn't even have my wallet. This was not going to be good. Maybe they would accept my truthful story that I came to look around and kept encountering open gates. Then again, maybe they were under strict orders to make a big deal about any person they determined to be sneaking around. How was I going to explain this one to my wife?

Although not intentional, my car was parked behind a massive snow mound from where the lots had been plowed. This meant the car would not be visible from the road. I could only hope that the officer was making his early rounds and wouldn’t notice the dope from New England, perched at the top of the ski jump with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.

I just sort of slouched a little and waited, and watched. The vehicle kept moving slowly. He didn’t stop, he didn’t turn. Having driven the route earlier, I knew the road went a good distance further. As soon as he was out of sight I paused and admired the view one last time and hastily retreated. I had to be careful not to slip on the cold snowy steps. I would guess that I went down ten times faster than I went up. I just wanted to get off that man made hill on onto firm ground before he returned on the back side of his rounds.

When I stepped back on the cross country trail, my heart was pounding from the climb and the thought of explaining myself from the back of a foreign police car.

The complex was springing to life as I exited. The security area was now staffed. As I passed through the gate, I thanked the officers and I wished them good luck with the upcoming Olympics. Then I exhaled a massive sigh of relief.

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