Riding the Peak to Peak Gondola in Whistler, Jim's deal of day: Danube Cruise
WHISTLER, B.C. - Sometimes, sorry, lots of times, in this job I have to pinch myself.
Monday was one of those days.
After working on a story for the sports section and taking part in a panel discussion at a Canadian travel media conference here, I hopped on a gondola that took myself and a bunch of other travel types to the top of Whistler Mountain, some 6,000 feet above sea level. It was about 21 degrees, take or give, even at the top of the mountain.
It was a fun ride up the hill, over the top of the towering conifers and with great views down to Whistler Village. But nothing prepares you for the silence and the beauty of the Peak to Peak Gondola, an 11-minute ride over a narrow, deep slot valley that whisks you from Whistler Mountain to the peak of Blackcomb Mountain.
I gotta admit I had my reservations, not being so fond of heights and all. But it was fine. Most of the ride is over the top of trees, but not all THAT much above them. After a few minutes you’re some 432 meters above the valley floor. But if you think about it, even a fall of 40 meters would likely kill you so why worry when you’re higher than that? It’s very smooth and quiet and only a couple minutes of the trip is all that high, so I say give her a shot.
You go some 27 mph in all, and it’s a 4.4 km stretch; the longest such gondola ride in the world. We had a great BC dinner afterward, and were greeted by Miss Whistler and Miss Blackcomb; young women dressed in skirts that showed maps of the ski runs and who wore tiny red gondolas on their head. See the photo; it was hilarious.
For some reason, a lot of folks sat inside the roundhouse at the top of the mountain. I stayed outside to enjoy the fine weather and the incredible, roof-of-the-world views.
I mean, how many chances does one have to eat dinner at 6,000 feet and watch the sun set over towering spires of rock and trees and glaciers? Afterwards, we rode down to the village in the dark, the lights of Whistler winking at us from thousands of feet up the mountain and the stars twinkling overhead. Sheer magic.
WAVING THE FLAG IN WHISTLER
It’s one thing to have a TV campaign that urges Canadians to get loud at the Vancouver/Whistler Olympics. But some folks out here in la-la-land have their hookah pipes in a knot over a seemingly innocent booklet sent out to Whistler municipal workers; a booklet that urges folks to wear red-and-white and sing Oh, Canada during medal presentations for Canadian athletes and other such tidbits (see today’s sports section in the Star for my story).
Still, the buildup in Whistler is all too much for some.
"They’re so worried,’’ said Shaun Gillis, who works at the Hempire store in Whistler village, selling smoking accessories and hemp gear. “They’re so concerned about great customer service. But wages are the same and people are suffering who live here. They want people to be happy but people are getting screwed. There’s already three people living to a room around here. And the Aussies (a couple thousand seasonal workers) aren’t even here yet.”
What about building a little spirit, he was asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Canadians are naturally kind of mellow.”
Vancouver 2010 Olympic/Paralympic chief John Furlong says he thinks it's great to get Canadians' motor running in advance of the Games.
"It's like the COC's new Paint the Town Red program (which was unveiled today; go to www.olympic.ca for information). It's another way to get the public to recognize the responsibility they have when it comes to the Games to give support but also stretch it out onto the streets. I think it's great. We've been reluctant to stand up and cheer and wear our victories proudly."
Furlong says it's a huge help to Canadian athletes to have the crowd on their side.
"When an athlete is on the field of play and it’s a sea of red it just gives you that buzz. I think it's all about building atmosphere and giving people a sense that they're part of it all.”
The lack of enthusiasm in some corners of Whistler, as well as Vancouver, is to be expected. It's not uncommon for the negative side of the ledger to get the most ink prior to the Games. It happened in Sydney, where pre-Olympic papers were filled with stories about how Bondi Beach was going to be ruined by beach volleyball. Once the Games started the city went bonkers and most of those cares were forgotten. Nowadays, on the other hand, some folks wonder if the cost was worth it.
HOW ABOUT SOME DECENT DISCOUNTS IN CANADA
Winnipeg Airports Authority says it's starting to feel the pinch as cost-conscious Manitoba folks drive to Grand Forks or Fargo, N.D. to get cheap faires to Orlando or Vegas or other spots, CanWest reports. The cost of the flights is said to be about half of what it would cost to jet out of Winnipeg.
Apparently you can buy a return trip to Vegas from Grand Forks on Allegiant Air for as little as $206 U.S., compared to an Air Canada deal (through Denver) of $464.49 Canadian.
I've never flown out of Buffalo but sounds like it's worth a try sometime...
JIM'S DEAL OF THE DAY
The Oct. 2, 2009 departure of AMA Waterways’ Blue Danube Discovery cruise is on sale at a hefty discount of $3,000 per cabin, based on double occupancy, for bookings made by Sept. 28. Before the discount, the lead-in price is $4,930 per person, and that includes airfare, pre- and post-cruise hotel accommodation with two nights in Budapest before the cruise and three nights in Prague after the cruise, and the seven-day sail along the Danube visiting Bratislava, Vienna, Linz, Nuremburg and more on the new MS Amalyra. AMA Waterways is represented in Canada by GLP Worldwide Expedition Travel and Tours. See www.europeanwaterways.ca.