February 21, 2010

There are many complaints from US viewers about the lame coverage of the Olympics by NBC, both for the overproduced and melodramatic prime time shows, compounded for those on the west coast who watch tape delayed coverage of the few competitions broadcast live on the east coast.  In addition complaints from Washington state where cable viewers had grown accustomed to CBC coverage of past Olympics.

Being in Whistler we are able to compare them side-by-side and there is good reason for all the complaints.  We have all day live coverage on “CTV”, actually several channels making up the Canadian Olympics Broadcast Media Consortium.  Every run of the men’s super combined earlier today.  (which we chose to watch over curling).  Commercials relegated to times where there is a hold on the course cause by a clearing a fall.   Women’s biathlon this afternoon tape delayed by 45 minutes, but shown in entirety.  As are many, many events.

So by the time NBC gets going in earnest at 8 p.m. Pacific, we have seen most everything of interest and are able to evaluate some of the editorial choices being made.  Take the Men’s Super G competition on Saturday which I watched slope side.  The medalists were Svindal from Norway and Miller and Weibrecht from the US.  On CTV, the entire event was shown live and then later in the day the runs of the first 30 skiers (who are seeded randomly from the top 30 in World Cup rankings) were repeated in order.   While I didn’t keep careful notes, the NBC version was quite the contrast.  Perhaps 10 runs were shown; I recall the runs of the medalists, two other US competitors (places 19 and 23), Defago who had won the downhill (place 15), the first two racers (places 12 and 13) to set context for Weibrecht–the third down the run–moving into the lead, a veteran Swiss skier Cuche (place 10) which accounts for nine runs.  What was missing from the story line was how close Weibrecht came from falling from the bronze medal.  Take as an example the Canadian skier Erik Guay who placed 5th.  Svindal was the 19th skier and took the lead, Guay was the 20th skier and his run was not shown even though he finished 0.03 seconds behind Weibrecht.  Instead the story line taken was to show Defago as the threat to the US place holders.  Plus a commercial or two and a up close and personal segment <update> about Cuche, see above </update> to punctuate the action.

Another pleasure of CTV is that the announcers are not as smooth and experienced.  <update>They use the traditional terms for segments of the men’s race course:  one segment being “Toilet Bowl” and then down the run “Sewer”.</update> And also some great lines.  My highlight so far, with respect to a pair of figure skaters: “it looks like their costumes were designed by their competitors”.   And there is a frenzy of commentary on the relative scarcity of Canadian medals after the cost of Canada’s “Own the Podium” program.  But most striking is the lead-in to the Canada-US hockey game which gets underway at 4:40 p.m. Pacific.  I was quite unaware of the long history between these bitter rivals,  teams composed primarily of NHL team mates split by nationality.  Leaves me wondering if the government will fall if Canada loses the game <update> , which they did 5-3 </update>.

Olympics Days 1-6

February 17, 2010

Already Day 6?  I’m far behind!

One reason is that despite best laid plans, five years in preparation, I needed to be in Seattle Thursday through Sunday, so Days 1-3 had passed before I returned to Whistler at 2 a.m. on Monday morning.  Awaiting me was an e-mail to ski with friends Rod and Stan on Monday and I was up at 8:45 to meet them at 10:00 a.m. on Day 4.

We decided to venture over to Whistler to see how the viewing “pods” on the men’s downhill course would be.  Great decision, we had an excellent view of the starting house and from that vantage point could see (having now measured it on Google Earth), about a quarter of the course.  I had cow bells along and we watched perhaps 30 starts.  Bode Miller had skied just before we arrived, but we did see Defago and Svindal, the gold and silver medalists.  We also ran into Seattle friends Doug and Robin and I depleted my case of cow bells by one.  Son Mark was at the next pod down the course and I’ll add some pictures (or visit my Facebook account in the meantime).

Day 5 was snowy with alpine skiing canceled.  Good day to stay in.

Day 6 started with the Women’s Downhill.  Tobae and Mark headed to viewing pods, while Daniel and I stayed in and alternated between live CTV and the view of the course on the front porch.  (Picture of Lindsey Vonn’s run taken by Daniel also to come).   NBC gets low marks for declaring the competition over a good 40 minutes before it was complete, much like they call presidential races.  Not to be outdone, CTV did the same thing 15 minutes early.

I met Tobae late afternoon in the village and we headed to the sliding center for doubles luge.  We started by placing ourselves right next to the course on the last turn, Turn 16, at the “2” in “Vancouver 2000”.  The nearby Jumbotron was essential, very much what is televised and comprehensible.   But the televised version of luge doesn’t begin to capture how fast they are moving.  I caught on to very rapid turn of head and neck necessary to track the sled over quite a distance, but we eventually moved to easier viewing spots, both up course where speeds are lower and well back in the finish area where we could just move our eyes to capture nearly all of Turn 16.  I don’t own photographic equipment that could possibly capture the action, except I suppose as artistic blurs.

I’ll post now so that Day 7 doesn’t begin and add pictures later.  And next topic CTV vs NBC.

Google Ski View

February 10, 2010

I happened onto a YouTube video of the Google Street View snowmobile in action at Whistler Blackcomb.  And so I fired up Google Earth to check out the products…

Google "Ski View"

This screen capture shows the down slope view along the Dave Murray Men’s Downhill course.  I chose this particular view for the shadow of the snowmobile and the trail of other “ski views” in the lower left.

I had imagined that I would find a full trail down the race course, but no such luck. I’m guessing much of the course was  too steep for travel of this top heavy snowmobile.

You can “spin” this embedded Google Map rendition of a nearby (up slope) ski view of the first pitch of the downhill:  Double Trouble.  (The snowmobile track heads up slope to the flat below the run “Orange Peel”

And here’s our neighborhood.  Our drive is just left of center.  The blue lamp post is now also the bus stop marker for the #101 Nordic Drive bus.  Turn the scene about 180 and the downhill grandstands are now straight ahead (but not yet built when this photo taken!) and dominate the view at the break in the slope of the road.

Olympics Day -3

February 9, 2010

While I was in Seattle, the Olympic Flame passed through Whistler.  I skied with my friend Rod today who had attended the event with his wife Lori and he was very impressed with the event itself and the feeling of “this is really happening”.  And indeed it is.

Rod and I had planned to get meet at 9:30 in Blackcomb Daylodge where we both have lockers.  Tobae was going to meet our friend Dan at the same time for coffee (Dan’s back is bothering him, so no skiing with him) and then join us later in the day.  And so to make this happen we both thought we should try to catch the 8:39 bus, as insurance that the buses were still not finely tuned.  No worries, right on time.  Dropped us at the bottom of the hill.  A route #2 in a couple of minutes, in the village at 8:53.  Time to kill.  We decided to stroll around for I hadn’t been in the village in quite awhile.  We stopped briefly at the “live” CTV broadcast center but nothing really happening so we moved on.  Near “Village Square” we turned the corner and I spotted Dan being interviewed by a CTV roving reporter.

Dan’s wife Catherine is an Olympic volunteer working in public relations (which is one of her past jobs).  She knows that Dan speaks his mind and she has been encouraging him to tone it down not to be overheard by anyone…he needs to be the “chamber of commerce”.  Unreported on my Day -10 entry, when we got off the bus on Day -11 a roving reporter had put a microphone in Dan’s face, asking him “how are the buses running”.  His reply: “The buses are all screwed up”.  So much for the advice from sainted wives.   We quickly rescued him this morning, but are still wondering what he had said during his five minute interview.  NBC Today is in the village at 4 a.m. tomorrow and we are encouraging Dan to do the weather thing.

On to skiing.  It was a blue sky day, unlimited visibility.  The condition of the snow was quite good; I’d call it (nearly) soft packed machine groomed.  *No* lift lines.  Rod and I did three runs then linked up with Tobae and headed to Symphony for some runs, back over to the front side for lunch, couple more runs, back over to Blackcomb via Peak to Peak, aka Restaurant to Restaurant, and skied back out to Blackcomb Daylodge.  Wonderful day.  Whistler is typically quite international compared to say Utah or Colorado.  But we are seeing so many unusual colors and fashions on the slopes and a fascinating mix of the typical and Olympic.  Most unusual today, the Cayman Island team.

End of day.  Skis to locker, Rod offered us a ride home.  But our access road, Nordic Drive, requires a permit until 4 p.m.  Turned out perfectly…the checkpoint was being put away as we passed.  But further up the hill the secondary checkpoint.  Rod was turned back even though we should have been able to turn left onto Taluswood Place, though not go straight ahead.  No worries, short walk, do it all the time with skis.  But this was worrying.  We have friends coming outside of permit hours and if they actually need a placard to continue further this will be a problem.  So I go back to the corner to inquire.  Talk with the Mountie that turned Rod back.  Need to talk with his superior.  Same question to him.  Need to talk with the VANOC supervisor.  Just in time for the VANOC presence at the checkpoint is leaving for the day leaving the RCMP in charge for the night.  I’m right.  We should have been able to continue to the left.  Only problem is that VANOC hasn’t told the security folk this is true.  So at least two of them now know it, but we expect continuing problems.

No Worries

February 9, 2010

I will soon post Olympics Day -3, but Tobae provides this keen insight into VANOC.  She was riding a lift last week with a young Aussie woman who works in the Westin Hotel.  VANOC has been coaching young Australians to not say “no worries”.  Don’t want worries on the radar, even if negated.  Apparently “no problem” is to be equally avoided.

The key according to the Australian woman:  worse thing one can do…tell us what not to do…won’t happen.

Our takeaway:  Aussie workers will smile when we (knowingly) say “no worries”.

Olympics, Day -9

February 4, 2010

Kentucky 3K Cow Bell

I need to be in Seattle for a few days, so drove home from Whistler after dinner this evening.

And along with mail and newspapers to take back, my case of cow bells!  Now we are really ready for the Olympics.

I have had a cow bell since 1984, a Treichlen #1 we bought in a hardware store in Zermatt.  Hangs in our kitchen, is never used.  Examining it tonight I see I should do a little maintenance of the metal.  Perhaps it would have been enough.

But many days there will be four of us.  And so I studied cow bells on the web.  I found lots of very fancy Swiss cow bells which would never be seen on a cow (or goat!).  Sites in Europe, sites in the US.  Are there any cow bells meant to be on cows?  To the rescue “Bell Outlet“, a division of Red Hill General Store.  While the Obama cow bell was tempting, the Kentucky series seemed more suited to the task.  And amazingly there were .wav files for each of the bells.  And so now I am the proud owner of a case of 3K Kentucky bells, just listen.

Olympics, Day -10

February 2, 2010

Whistler Bus Pass for February 2010

The countdown continues.

Even though public transportation went into its February mode, there was a conflict in print and web guidance on service on the route that now stops right at the end of our driveway would begin.  Would it start running Monday 2/1 or Wednesday 2/3?  So yesterday, Day -11, we punted and drove to our friend Dan’s, parked in his driveway, and took a bus from there.  Not much of a test, other than Dan learning that his usual bus doesn’t go to where he wants it to go during February.  Which led to a walk across the village and an observation.  We are going to be encountering much more cigarette smoke than usual.  Skiing was good and afterwards we found the locker we have rented in the village so we don’t have to carry skis back and forth.  All was well.  And on the way home we saw a Route 101-Nordic Drive bus!  They were running.

This morning we were planning on touring in the back country so it took some extra time for me to assemble all my gear…Tobae’s is always ready.  In principle there should be a bus every 15 minutes, roughly :09, :24, :39 and :54.  We walked out the front door at 8:36.  Tobae forgot her pack and had to go back and get it.  I’m stressing.  But I continued on hoping that I could get the driver to wait just a minute if the bus was on time.  Nothing to worry about.  There were three people waiting who had been there since 8:05.  Tobae arrived in just a minute or so.  A few minutes later, say 8:43, here one came.  We boarded.  The three scanned their passes.  I scanned my pass.  Tobae inserted her pass into the “insert currency here” slot.   It was gone into the lock box.

And so high praise for the other three (less so for me; I was mortified).  They were very patient while Tobae discussed the problem with the driver as the bus just sat there.  He radioed a supervisor.  He got instructions, which changed a couple of times for they had not armed him with things like transfers and special issue forms, but everything got written down.  (Leaping ahead Tobae was not the only unfortunate one today and there is a cottage industry at the transit office in verifying stories and handing out fresh passes; we think in due course her bus rides today will not set us back $38.50.)  With the paperwork done, the bus could now move.  The driver was friendly and talkative.  He had arrived from Montreal yesterday.  They gave him a bus and a map.  This was his first time on the route.  It was hard work for him (“it all looks the same, trees, snow, houses, no landmarks, no McDonald’s on the corner so you know to turn”).  We all knew what the route was suppose to be so we could help him.   We reached exactly the bus stop that I thought we would reach.  And we crossed the street to the next bus stop, but it was posted “Closed for February, Use Bus Stop on Highway”, so we walked 50 meters and joined a group of perhaps 15.  But coming up the highway was a Route #2 bus with a driver accustomed to old routes.  He bypassed us by turning right into the Creekside loop, aka London Lane.  But just a couple minutes later a Route #98 bus picked us up after lots of vigorous waving to flag him down.  And into the village.  Tobae swore that we were parking in Dan’s driveway everyday.

This afternoon went much better.  I added my backcountry skis to our locker, but Tobae decided she was hanging on to hers.  So I met her at the bus stop maybe 10 minutes after we reached the village.  Pretty quickly we were on a Route #1 Creekside Express and were delivered right next to Creekside Grocery.  Tobae ran up to buy a loaf of bread and another couple of cartons of ice cream (we have lots of ice cream in the freezer).  We went out to the highway bus stop and in just a couple of minutes a Route #101 bus to take us home.  Four aboard in all: driver, either supervisor or fellow route-learning driver, and the two of us.  About halfway home we caught up with the #101 ahead of us which I saw leave while Tobae was in the grocery store.  Just a few minutes and dropped  right at our door.  Maybe these buses will work?

For now, many drivers who are rookies in Whistler and with most buses having a supervisor on board to help teach the route.  Cries out for GPS in place of the supervisors, many of them new to Whistler as well.