Our 4-hour whirlwind tour provided by our local expert Jocelyne Morrison from Time Out for Touring took us into Alberta's second most visited attraction outside of the Rockies: Canada Olympic Park, visited every year by more than 1.3 million people. This is the flagship site of the XV Olympic Winter Games, which were held in Calgary in 1988. It is located just 15 minutes from downtown on the west side towards the Rocky Mountains. What makes Canada Olympic Park unique is that it continues to function as a multi-purpose competition, training and recreation area that is available year round to athletes as well as the general public.
During the winter, almost 300,000 skiers and snowboarders visit the park. It also houses the second largest snow academy in the country, making lessons and programs available to people of all ages and abilities. During the summer, Canada Olympic Park turns into mountain biking facilities with more than 25 kilometers of trails, an obstacle course, trials park and facilities for BMX bikers and freeride stunts. We started off with the Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum which houses a whole variety of Olympic-themed exhibits and paraphernalia. This is the only Canadian museum devoted to the Olympic Games in Canada, and it is the largest in all of North America. Exhibits on two floors chronicle Canada's participation at the Olympic Winter Games since their inception in 1924.
A particularly fascinating exhibit are the 20 of the 31 Olympic torches, dating back all the way to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The Blood, Sweat and Cheers exhibit pays tribute to Canada's Olympic Medal winners at the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002. The flags displayed in the museum and in the Plaza represent all the nations that competed in the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary.
Key highlights of the Museum are a reproduction of the bobsleigh used by the Jamaican bobsleigh team in the 1988 Olympics (the film "Cool Runnings" was based on this story), an original hockey jacket from 1956 which inspired the 1988 Olympic attire, and medals for all 12 sports that were held in Calgary in the 1988 Olympics. Snowboarders love the Superpipe, opened in 2002 and the only pipe of its kind in Alberta, with walls that are at least 15 feet high. It is also used for training Canadian athletes to compete at international and Olympic competitions.Our guide Jocelyne also took us to the Icehouse which is the world's only indoor refrigerated track where luge, bobsleigh and skeleton athletes practice the ever-important push start techniques. All the tracks feature multiple cameras and interval timing mechanisms that allow the athletes to analyze their push-start technique moving from frame to frame in intervals of a fraction of a second.
Many foreign teams come to this facility to practice their push-start techniques.The Ice House features some interesting statistics:
- it is 143 m along (almost the length of one football field) and four stories high
- nine kilometers of steel piping is used to cool the three tracks
- tracks are kept at a constant temperature of -2 to -3 degrees Celsius
- a unique monorail system automatically returns the bobsleigh and skeleton sleds to the push-start area while allowing for continuous training
- a vide system incorporates standard video and the latest DVD playback technology.After our visit to the Ice House we drove up the hill past the Olympic Bobsleigh Track which includes 14 twists and turns, the place where the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team made their first Olympic appearance and won the hearts of spectators all over the world. It is still used as a Word Cup circuit venue for bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events. Our next stop was the 90 meter ski jump tower ? incidentally the highest point in Calgary and today, as the weather was clearing up, we started to get a great view of the downtown area. Jocelyne explained that with today's new ski jumping techniques, the 90 m ski jump can no longer be used since skiers are now able to jump 120 m and more and there would not be enough space for them to land safely.
Nevertheless, riding the glass elevator up to the observation level of this tower and peering down the ski jump is an awesome experience. Jocelyne explained that Canada Olympic Park is also an archeological site where remains have been found that indicate that this hill used to be a buffalo jump, a place that native tribes used to hunt buffalo. Many of the Canadian Olympic athletes who did so well at the recent 2006 Torino Olympics actually train at Canada Olympic Park, and this year's success of Canadian Olympic athletes bodes well for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games..Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (http://www.
travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest (http://www.travelandtransitions.
com/contests.htm) and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River."Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons". The story with photos is published at Travel Stories and Photos (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/calgary_olympic_park.
By: Susanne Pacher