A Volunteer's View of the 2010 Winter Olympics
(In this article, “Cypress Mountain” refers to the company that runs the ski facilities on Mt. Strachan, Black Mountain, and Hollyburn Mountain. The Olympic venues were located on Black Mountain.)
Like many people in Canada (and indeed throughout the world), I watched the live broadcast of the Closing Ceremonies for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. In his stirring speech that night, John Furlong made reference to Cypress Mountain: “For many of you who toiled behind the scenes no thanks will ever be enough. You took on a stubborn mountain with all your might. The result, Blue Jackets -1, Cypress Mountain Weather - 0. You were tested again and again and reminded us all every day that there is no force that can sustain itself against the full thrust of a determined human heart.”
Even now these words stir strong emotions in me.
I was a radio operator in the Cypress Mountain Venue Communication Centre (VCC) during the Olympics and was in a position to observe firsthand the heroic efforts of paid staff and volunteers to preserve the fields of play, run the snowboarding and freestyle skiing competitions under conditions that were often described as “worst case scenario,” and meet the needs of thousands of spectators. My role was to support Event Services personnel by monitoring conversations, relaying information, and answering questions related to spectators on the EVS 2 radio channel. Another Event Services volunteer looked after the EVS 1 radio channel. Other radio operators were assigned to radio channels dedicated to general operations, mountain operations, medical services, and ‘fields of play’.
The VCC was located in a heated trailer near Cypress Mountain Lodge and was equipped with a large HDTV screen that allowed the radio operators to monitor live feeds from all the Olympic venues as well as the CTV and NBC broadcasts. At times we had to deal with a flurry of activity and some difficult situations. More often than not we sat there waiting a long time for the next radio call. Unlike the majority of staff and volunteers who had to work outside we were always warm and dry.
On Saturday, February 6, during my first daytime trip to “Cypress Mountain” as a volunteer, the security forces were very much in evidence. It was an orientation and training day for the hundreds of police officers and soldiers who were responsible for keeping people safe from terrorist attacks. Overhead, helicopters carried loads of snow and bales of hay to the fields of play on Black Mountain. The following Monday, the armed forces were not so visible as most of them were on patrol somewhere in the mountains. The helicopters still dominated the skies.
Early in the morning on February 12, I had the opportunity climb up to the snowboard stadium and watch tiny figures and machines at work on the half-pipe and the snowboard/ski cross racecourse. Before me was a blank page on which history was about to be written.
During the next two weeks, four gold and two silver medals were won by Canadian athletes on Black Mountain, including the first gold by a Canadian on home soil (Alexandre Bilodeau – men’s moguls) and the first gold by a Canadian woman on home soil (Maelle Ricker – women’s snowboard cross). The radio operators in the VCC were not able to be in the stadiums to witness these events but certainly heard the loud, sustained cheers from the spectators. During our breaks, some of us did manage to make brief trips to the stadiums and watch qualifying heats.
Getting to and from “Cypress Mountain” was an adventure in itself. Those of us living in West Vancouver first had to drive east to Capilano College where we parked our cars and boarded a bus that took us back west along Highway 1 and then north up to the Olympic venues. I would make a point of engaging my seatmate (different every trip) in polite conversation. After our bus had made the turn off Highway 1 onto the Cypress Bowl Road, I would ask if they knew anything about the history of Cypress Mountain. Without exception they answered, “No.” I then felt it was my duty as archivist/historian for the Hollyburn Heritage Society to rectify the matter by generously sharing my knowledge of the local mountains with the captive audience sitting beside me. Sometimes their eyes seemed to glaze over and I felt it prudent to change the subject.
When I wasn’t up at the VCC on Cypress Mountain, my wife, Anna, and I would often head over to Vancouver to soak up the Olympic ‘buzz’ in our beautiful city. We spend hours riding the SkyTrain and walking around the pedestrian-only streets chatting with locals and visitors. We were very blessed to have a number of incredible ‘blue-sky’ days while the world was watching the events in Vancouver and Whistler.
Anna and I were at the intersection of Burrard and Robson on February 28 when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal during the men’s ice hockey final. There were well over 120,000 people on the streets of Vancouver that day. The cheering seemed to go on forever. We heard later that people were out cheering in villages, towns and cities all across Canada.
That evening, during the Closing Ceremonies, John Furlong said, “If we were once the few we are surely now the many. That quiet, humble national pride we were sometimes reluctant to acknowledge seemed to take to the streets as the most beautiful kind of patriotism broke out all across our country . . . . Canadians, you joined each other and our colourful international visitors in common celebration - radiant, jubilant, spontaneous, peaceful. For us you were the wind beneath our wings. You did not just cheer - rather you lived every glorious moment as if you yourselves were competing for gold. You were the bench strength we had hoped for - the difference makers at these Games.”
Some people say that the 2010 Winter Olympics changed Canada. In small but important ways, they certainly changed me.
Donald Grant - April 23, 2010