Every facet of Whistler Olympic Park is being tested over the next 10 days as the venue hosts Nordic Festival, back-to-back-to-back World Cup events that will be broadcast to a worldwide audience of 20 to 30 million viewers. The action starts this weekend with World Cup cross country and Nordic combined events, and continues the following weekend with ski jumping.
“This is just huge compared to anything we’ve hosted here so far,” said John Aalberg, director of Whistler Olympic Park. “If you come here and walk around, you won’t recognize the place, there are so many people and so much equipment around.”
The chaos was intentional, says Aalberg. All three events are official Olympic test events for 2010, testing everything from the infrastructure, to the timing, to athlete services, to media services, to the abilities of newly trained officials and volunteers.
“I scheduled these events on purpose to be so close together so we could have a good test for our organizing committee, and so far it seems like the facilities are working as planned,” he said. “I’m quite happy with the way that things are looking. We won’t get the crowds until Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but it’s been building up steadily day by day.”
This week more than 300 cross-country and 100 Nordic combined athletes and coaches arrived to train at the facilities, setting up waxing and tuning trailers and hitting the cross-country ski trails and ski jumps. The quality of the snow took a hit with rain and snow last week, but conditions are improving and the weather forecast is calling for sun this weekend — perfect for views of the surrounding mountains.
“We struggled a little last week with the snow and rain, but things are clearing up as we speak and we hope to have a view this weekend,” said Aalberg. “These events are live on television for 20 to 30 million viewers, so it would be nice to look good.”
There was a small avalanche of snow on a slope to one side of the ski jumps, but Aalberg says there was no risk to the facility itself or the athletes. The cause is likely similar to other avalanches reported in the Whistler area in recent weeks, with heavy snow causing shearing at a weak lower layer. They don’t do avalanche control on the ski jump slope, which is built into the side of the mountain, but Aalberg says they have looked the area over and are satisfied that there is no risk to the World Cup events.
“It was just a minor slide,” he said. “It was close, right adjacent to the field of play, it was not on it.”
The media has also arrived at Whistler Olympic Park, with 100 broadcast film crews, and over 200 accredited media including 50 international media.
There are also more than 700 volunteers working on site over the next 10 days, in addition to trained officials and race marshals. A total of 24 World Cup medals will be presented from Friday to Sunday.
“We’re ready, this is what everybody has been working and training for the past year and a bit, and everybody is feeling really confident that these are going to be great events,” he said. “Our committee team is setting up tents and trailers, they’re laying the cabling and everything is going very well. There is a lot to do for a big venue like this, and I think people will be amazed if they come here this weekend to watch the events.”
There is no cost to spectators for any of Nordic Festival events.