With only one sign on either side of the highway and a gravel entrance beside a highway crew work yard, the Whistler Olympic Park started out with a low profile in Sea to Sky this past December.
However, it didn’t take long for the public to discover the park. By the end of the season, the park was selling 500 tickets on a Saturday while hosting hundreds of others that had purchased season passes.
VANOC director of Nordic sports and Olympic Park manager John Aalberg said the first season in operation went better than they ever expected.
“We’re pretty happy with the year, our numbers look good,” he said. “Obviously we would still like to grow in the next few years and after the Games, but it was a very good start without much marketing at all.”
Aalberg says the park boasted more than 32,000 skier days in just over four months of operation. That figure includes athletes taking part in various events, school groups, and other groups using the park for training. During the cross-country national championships, with 700 athletes and coaches taking part, Aalberg estimates there were more than 1,200 people using the venue on the weekend.
It’s too early to make projections, but Aalberg says the numbers bode well for maintaining the park as a legacy after the 2010 Games.
“We will be using this year and next to look at the money questions and operational budgets,” he said. “Right now our costs are a lot higher because we’re preparing for the Games and we’re running events every week or every other week. With a couple of years in operation we’ll be able to look at the numbers and get a good idea of what our post-Games costs will be and our expected revenue.”
Like other Olympic and Paralympic venues, Whistler Olympic Park is also backed by the 2010 Games Operating Trust endowment fund. It’s unknown how much the Olympic Park will receive annually from the $133 million fund, but Aalberg says everything will be done to make the park self-funding in the long term.
“Just looking at the numbers for this year, and the reputation it’s starting to get, it looks very good for the future,” he said.
“I’ve seen quite a few Olympics, this will be number six for me including two as an athlete, and this is my fourth as an organizer. Looking back at those examples I think, and everybody agrees, that this is the best (Games) in terms of legacy planning and focusing on building something that will benefit not just Olympic athletes but also the recreational community, school kids, athletes and so forth. Just by being able to build 55 kilometres of trails, when only 15 (km) are needed for the Games, that’s a huge commitment from VANOC to building a legacy. We’ve also had a legacy fund in the bank the past four years, and I’ve never heard of anything like that.”