Bardonecchia is a nice town of perhaps 6,000 people, 90 kilometres from Torino in the Piedmontese Alps. It has a train station and a pedestrian-friendly commercial street lined with what appear to be locally-owned pastry shops, sports stores, bars, restaurants, grocery stores and retailers. On the balconies of many of the buildings are flags from various nations participating at the Olympics and Paralympics.
The merchants are friendly, welcoming to foreigners and residents alike as they stroll down Via Medail in the evenings in search of an aperitif and the finger food that, by Piedmont custom, accompanies a drink before dinner.
Bardonecchia also has three ski areas on its outskirts, one of which – Melezet – hosted the Olympic snowboard events.
Melezet is three or four kilometres outside of town, on the way to the local golf course/cross-country ski area. The stands at the base of the halfpipe and snowboard cross courses held about 4,000 spectators, and behind the stands was a small village of tents housing food outlets, souvenir shops, toilets, the ubiquitous mag & bag security check points and all the offices required by press and officials.
The events themselves came off well. But after the medalists took the podium and the national anthem was played the energy and excitement dissipated. Spectators tried to find the correct bus to take them back to wherever they were staying, in Bardonecchia, Oulx, Cesana or two hours away in Torino. There was no gathering place where Norwegians, Germans, Americans and all the other spectators who had come thousands of kilometres could celebrate, unless they went into Torino for the medals presentation. And particularly after a high-energy event like snowboard cross, that’s a shame.
The situation was similar at San Sicario, which hosted the women’s downhill and the biathlon events. The spectator areas were well removed from whatever village centre there is in San Sicario. After the event people crammed into buses and shuttled back down the mountain to another transportation hub, or to endure a long bus ride home.
The events at most mountain venues worked, it’s just that, as Gertrude Stein said, there was no there there. For spectators, the Olympic experience at some of these events was no more than another competition – a very important competition, but not much else. And as only official Olympic sponsors were allowed to sell products within the venue areas, spectators don’t even get to taste the local beer or sausages.Swedish snowboard cross racer Mattias Blomberg is comforted by coach after crashing out.
Of course it was different in Torino, where the whole city surrounds the ice venues and people gathered nightly in the piazzas for the official medal ceremonies and concerts. There was even a sense of the Olympic spirit when you brought several thousand people of various nationalities together in a baroque piazza under a full moon to listen to music and watch fireworks. And the bars and restaurants surrounding the piazzas did a good business selling Barolo wines, truffles and pasta.