Everything I know about Canada I learned on the TV show “South Park.”
That was a bad start to my education, but the show has hit some true points: For example, Canadians do say “eh” a lot, often for no reason at all.
I traveled to Canada with my dad Feb. 12 for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was my first time visiting our northerly neighbor.
You know the saying everything is bigger in Texas? Well, everything is bigger in Canada, too: the mountains, the Canadian bacon, the prices. A little après ski came at a steep price. But the experience of being in Whistler Village with bands playing, outdoor TVs airing live events and people waving flags from all across the world was well worth ponying up for.
There isn’t much of a culture shock traveling to Canada, but every time I turned around, I was asking another stupid question: Do you need a passport to go to Canada? (You do.) Can you pay with U.S. dollars? (You can, but it costs more.) Can you buy an American flag? (You can’t.) Will there be Hawaiian pizza? (There is.) Does Canada have a president? (There is a prime minister.) And my favorite: Where do the bears go during the winter? I’m blaming it on the latitude.
Despite my apparent lack of functioning synapses, I couldn’t wait to soak in as much of the Olympics as possible.
The games got off to a tragic start with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a practice run Feb. 12. After the accident, the start gate was lowered in an attempt to keep top speeds under 90 miles per hour. At women’s singles luge last week, speeds still were in excess of 80 mph.
The weather didn’t cooperate, either, postponing the men’s downhill and men’s super combined at Whistler. Weather troubles continued at Cypress Mountain where the freestyle events were held. Extra snow had to be flown in on the days of the events, and tubes of dry ice were placed in jumps for aerials and moguls to keep them from melting. Warm weather also made standing areas unstable for spectators near the snowboard cross finish line, and hundreds with tickets were denied admittance.
The behind-the-scenes work during the Olympics is pretty amazing. Thousands of volunteers help with every aspect of the games. One woman I met on the chairlift at Whistler was part of a group that sidestepped the entire downhill course at night to loosen up the snow, then side-slipped it in the morning to smooth the course out. She said her shift started at 3 a.m., and she used a headlamp to see her way in the dark. After each skier passed during competition, volunteers side-slipped the course again to smooth it out for the next skier.
During the luge, volunteers sprayed down the course with water, then smoothed out rough areas and swept off any excess ice after about every 10 racers. During breaks between runs, shades were lowered to protect the track from the sun. For freestyle moguls, holes from big crashes were filled and smoothed out and jumps and moguls were repaired.
All this work between competitors makes for a lot of standing and waiting by the crowds. I never had any idea how much waiting around there is at the Olympics. I assumed — for no particular reason — that it happened pretty much the way I’ve seen it on TV.
There was a two-hour break between men’s moguls qualifying and final runs, and an hour break between the third and fourth luge runs. There’s not much to do during the breaks but stake your claim on a good viewing spot or buy overpriced Olympic merchandise.
I chose to put my money toward beer to reward myself after a long day of standing in one spot.
Patience pays off, though. After a two-hour wait for a medals ceremony in Whistler Village, my dad and I were in the front row of thousands of people to see Bode Miller get his bronze medal for the downhill — and to experience his I-don’t-care-about-anything attitude. The gold medalist was Swiss, but seeing the American flag raised was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
My trip is over, but the Olympics are not, and I’m excited to be back home in Steamboat to cheer for our own Olympic heroes.
During Tuesday’s Nordic combined team event, Todd Lodwick, Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong will inspire people all across the world from a place not so far away from home.