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Five thirty comes very early in the morning, especially if you’ve been out late the night before. But somehow I made it on time to the invitation-only Alberta Train yesterday — along with a handful of other media, some politicians, business types, tourism folks and even a couple of cowboys — despite the three hours’ sleep and excess partying, which seems to be the way we’re all rolling throughout these Olympic Games.
It wasn’t quite a Stampede Party on rail tracks, but it came awful close.
We were sipping mimosas and caesars shortly after the train left the Pemberton Station in North Van at 6 a.m., and not long after that we were tucking into a hearty breakfast of fine Alberta fare. Wild boar bacon, yum.
You know, one thing I can say after five years of living in Calgary: Albertans sure know how to put on a decent bash. This one was in aid of attracting business to the province, and a clever idea it was, too, to take the Rocky Mountaineer up to Whistler for the day to enjoy the village vibe and maybe even an alpine event or two. No wonder this has become one of the most coveted invites of the Games.
You might think it’s a bit odd to be traveling up to Whistler to hear about Alberta, but it makes sense in a way. Even before Calgary loaned us a Zamboni to replace the ice resurfacer that kept leaking hot water all over the Richmond Oval, there’d been a close relationship between the two provinces throughout the leadup to the Games. So many of the athletes train in Calgary, for one thing, and of course VANOC has relied on Calgary’s experiences during the 1988 Olympics to help plan these Games.
Anyway, the first rays of the sun appeared as we were chugging our way up the Sea-to-Sky corridor. And by the time we arrived in Whistler, the whole place was bathed in brilliant sunlight. We started off by making our way up the mountain to the downhill portion of the ladies super-combined, getting there just in time to watch Lindsay Vonn swoosh down to the finish line. So exciting to be part of the crowd!
Then it was off to the village, and wow, the energy is just great here. Vancouver may be filled with gazillions of happy people all decked out in their national colours, but the cosy size of Whistler made us feel like we were all actively part of the Games, not just tourists standing in lineups. Sat on the patio at Citta for a while as they set up for the afternoon’s bands in the Celebration Site. Watched a couple of guys walking around with this giant Canada flag — every time they went by, everyone let out a big cheer. Same with the four hilarious goofballs in speed-skating gear. And the guys in Canada-themed long johns. Any excuse, I guess, for this high-spirited crowd.
Over at the medal plaza, everyone was getting their pictures taken with — or rather, on — the Olympic Rings. Down by the gondola, a crowd gathered to watch the ladies slalom event. Wished I could stay for the party action later on; it’s supposed to be epic.
Stopped by the Fairmont Chateau Whistler to enjoy one of their crazy Olympic-themed cocktails with the hotel’s publicist, Lynn Gervais. Learned that there are a few rooms still available around Whistler, especially towards the end of next week. You know, if you can get up there, you really should go. This really feels like the heart of the Olympics.
Then it was back to Alberta House — located in the Whistler Golf Course clubhouse for all you nostalgic former Edmontonians — for a beer and a snack. And then it was back to the train for the ride home.
Things got rolling with a toast to the athletes with a glass of Sumac Ridge Tribute sparkling wine, and after that the wine just kept on flowing. Good thing, in a way, since darkness fell as the train left the Creekside station and there wasn’t much of a view on the way back. But no problem. We were kept happily entertained with a terrific Alberta-themed meal, starting with a “prairie chowder” of beans, barley and mushrooms. It was fantastic. Seriously. Have been thinking about it all day and plan to visit the chef down at Alberta house to get the recipe. Then there were lamb burgers, roast pork tenderloin on polenta, shredded elk on a bun, beef skewers, grilled goat cheese sandwiches and these crazy-delicious one-bite chocolate cups filled with chocolate mousse and topped with saskatoon berries.
We were a sleepy but sated (and slightly tipsy) crowd when we rolled off the train in North Van shortly after 9 p.m. Now I’m thinking I might just have to check out the Calgary Stampede this year. Hey, it would be worth it just for more of that prairie chowder. Yee-ha!