Tales from the Lift Line VI: Olympians

By Mary-Colleen Jenkins

Photo at right: Olympic Rings by Megan Jenkins

When we originally booked the trip to Whistler, B.C., it didn’t even cross my mind that we’d be at the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics just a week before the 2014 Winter Games opened in Sochi, Russia. Early booking and subsequent Super Bowl mania made it easy to forget that our favorite sports extravaganza was on its way (well, our favorite before the Seahawks turned us into late-blooming football fans).

I wouldn’t have remained clueless for long, however. An enormous statue of Ilanaaq stands tall in front of the lodge on the edge of Whistler Mountain. Ilanaaq, which means “friend” in Inuit, is the most recognized symbol of the 2010 Vancouver Games. If that hadn’t given me a giant hint as our gondola cleared the trees near the top of the mountain, the Olympic rings close by would have smacked me in the face with their obviousness.

Statue of Ilanaaq stands tall at Whistler Mountain. Photo by Megan Jenkins

It’s easy to see why so many Olympic events were held at Whistler-Blackcomb. The trail map is so large that it’s called an atlas and reveals a ski area that covers two separate mountains, has 37 lifts, two gondolas (one – the Peak 2 Peak gondola – is the highest and longest in the world), and 200-plus runs. Even now, tracing our three ski days on the map laid out on the kitchen table, I can’t pinpoint every run we went on. They are wonderfully long and you can hit a variety of conditions in the space of a few thousand vertical feet on the same run. Two mountains’ worth of runs? Wow.

Roadways, groomed to perfection, guide the skiers who spill into them from runs on steeps, bowls and mogul-fields to the next lift that will take them further up, further out. Connecting at major junctions, these roads – perfect for mountain bikers in the summer – are about as wide as a small car. One side rests safely against the mountain; the other is a sheer drop to runs on the downhill side. Other than thin, flexible rods with colored circles on top, there are no barriers between the road and the edge. Orange circles show where the edge is closed; black circles shows where you can drop into treed runs below.

The snow was perfect for running those and picking up lots of speed. Sometimes I could drop into a tuck, crouched low with poles beneath my arms, and let ‘er rip, shifting from edge to edge as I coasted on a straightaway or whipped around a corner.

I’d catch a glimpse of my family up ahead and imagine us all as racers, different colored helmets representing our fictional countries of origin. It was on the flats that I, the perennial underdog in speed competitions, could finally pass the youngest and smallest member of our family. Her skis were no match for my much longer, fatter skis; her short poles couldn’t make up for momentum mine could give me when we had to pole our way across slow patches.

“Ha, ha! I beat you!” I’d gloat as I slid past.

Hitting the road. Photo by Mary-Colleen Jenkins

“Mommy!” she’d exclaim and then proceed to skunk me on the next slope. My daughter may already be a better skier than I’ll ever be – but as long as my skis are twice as long as hers are, I’ll still have my moments of glory.

I got my comeuppance late on our second day, when I was so far behind that I lost track of Team Jenkins, missed a turn and wound up inching my way down the mountain behind school after school of tots on skis. They followed one another in long, snaking lines, taking wide turns across the run… right into my path every time.

An imaginary commentator popped into my head. “And she’s disqualified! Another DQ for Jenkins.” I’d obviously missed my gate.

It’s hard to resist letting my imagination take over when skiing is going well. I’ve watched enough freeride movies and World Cup races and Olympic coverage to see how the professionals do it on their best (and worst) days. Listening to commentators discuss what works for the winners and what goes wrong adds to my ongoing ski education as I negotiate different conditions on my own corner of the mountains.

On our last afternoon in Whistler, the family steered me over to the run where I’d lost them the day before.

“You have to do this one,” said Michael. “It’s so much fun!”

My daughter looked at me, smiling, “I will warn you. We might leave you behind!”

Might? Ah, no. Definitely.

We were about to enter the lower part of the Dave Murray Downhill course. This is same course where in 2010 our favorite skiers Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Elisabeth Goergl won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. This is a course where skiers can get to speeds up to 85 mph. This is a course that still had the unmistakable blue lines painted on it from the crazy Peak to Valley Race that had taken place the day before.

Oh, I was left behind all right.

Compass Points. Photo by Mary-Colleen Jenkins

But I didn’t care. I was about to burst through the starting gate (OK, OK, it was a very large space in the nylon fence, but still). My imaginary commentator warmed up the mic.

“And she’s off! Lindsey Vonn-Jenkins takes to the first turn at speed… oooh… maybe just a bit too fast. She needs to get those edges dug in when she’s on the harder ice toward the middle. Oh, that line’s a bit too high, she should angle toward lower lines on either side of that ice where there’s more snow to grip… oops, almost lost it there. That flat light has got to be affecting her! No, she’s got things under control. Or does she? Oh! She’s down! Sliding! Can she recover? Ah, she’s okay folks!”

Pausing, I switched from being Lindsey Vonn-Jenkins to being Julia Mancuso-Jenkins – the real Lindsey Vonn is out of the 2014 Olympics with a knee injury. I didn’t want to tempt fate, after all.

Unlike the groomed roads we’d skied to get us from one run to another over the weekend, this was built specifically for racing. It’s wide, there’s plenty of room for the traffic – lots of people wanted to test their mettle on the Dave Murray course – but it’s meant to be a challenge. It was easy to see how skiers could reach speeds they might not be able to control.

As I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath and to commiserate with other skiers who were experiencing “thigh fry,” I watched my competitors. They were skiers and snowboarders, young kids and older folks, all wanting to test themselves on a course that the best skiers in the world had won medals on. Many fell, but they all got right back up and started again.

When I reached the bottom, tired and still full of adrenaline, I saw my mini-fan section watching and waiting. They cheered as I neared.

“Did you come all the way down without stopping?” I asked.

They nodded happily.

“Have you been waiting for me for a long time?”

“Oh, no. We just got here.”

“How long ago?”

“Um, about 10 minutes.”

10 minutes!

Okay, maybe I didn’t win this time. Maybe I needed to go more full out, but I have until 2018 to conquer the Dave Murray Downhill. That’s the thing about the Olympics; there’s always next time.

(Author’s note: Here’s how they really do it on the Dave Murray Course. Top three women in 2010: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ_Mivy4Fc8)

Winter weekends call Mary-Colleen out to the snow, but during the week she can be found warm and dry and working with words. Jenkins is a freelance editor, writing coach, and writer of two blogs,Too Fond of Books (toofondofbooks-sea.blogspot.com) and Along the Branches(www.alongthebranches.wordpress.com). You can find her on Twitter at @EmceeReads.

Catch up with all the previous posts of “Tales from the Lift Line” below.


>> I. Waiting for Winter

>> II. Dorothy and Oz

>> III. The Poles You Save May Be Your Own

>> IV. Vittels

>> V. What kind of parents let their kids…?

>> VI. Olympians

>> VII. Emergence

>> VIII. Nickels and Dimes

>> IX. Nickels and Dimes Part II

>> X. Letting Them Run



>> I. The Beginning

>> II. When Seeing is Believing

>> III. Expeditionary Forces

>> IV. Velocity

>> V. Pack Rat

>> VI. Dude

>> VII. Expectations

>> VIII. Don’t Cry in the Trees

>> IX. The Sounds of Silence

>> X. Known/Unknown

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