It’s February 1996 and a high-pressure system has locked over Whistler and Squamish. My brother and I pile into my husband’s old Volvo and navigate the narrow winding highway for a day of down-clad rockclimbing. The highway’s canyon walls press so tightly against us that in places I suck in my breath.
I’m driving, which proves what a high capacity for adrenaline my brother has. A dented looking box suddenly appears in the middle of the road and I plough straight through it.
“Oooh, you don’t want to do that,” says my brother.
“Well, you don’t know what’s in the box. It could be full of wood scraps and nails.”
“Uh-huh.” I’m non-plussed.
He changes tack. “Or, it could have been full of kittens.”
“Oh my god! I could have killed a boxful of kittens!”
This past weekend, the Globe and Mail announced “the end of the killer road”, calling the Sea to Sky highway’s facelift the “greatest legacy of the 2010 Olympic Games.”
Paul Mathews said the same thing when I interviewed him for this winter’s Kootenay Mountain Culture article on Olympic hangovers. Mathews is a mountain resort planner with extensive experience designing venues for Olympic Games and has been masterplanning for Whistler Blackcomb since 1975. He recently admitted to Pique’s Michel Beaudry that his company’s tactics helped “shrink the mountains”.
Those mountains have not just shrunk, but have bungeed closer to the city, with the five-year, $600 million highway upgrade speeding up the drive.
Mathews told me: “The highway is something we could never have gotten without the Olympics. People didn’t like Whistler because it was for the rich, but that road was getting slower and more dangerous. It took more than three hours to get to the airport. You can’t say enough to what it means to the tourism infrastructure of the future. We would never have gotten a new highway in Whistler. That’s the real legacy from these Games… and that we didn’t build anything stupid, like an open air sledge hockey arena in a town where it rains all winter.”
After talking to both Mathews and anti-Olympic activist Chris Shaw, it became obvious that the Olympics isn’t a sporting platform at all. It’s a catalyst for dramatic urban development, because the scale of the event and the pressure of the deadlines fast-track the approval and the financing for massive public infrastructure projects.
So we got a new highway. Which hopefully will be safer – for drivers and kittens.