WHETHER YOU’RE HEADING TO VANCOUVER FOR NEXT MONTH’S 2010 OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES OR YOU’RE VISITING AFTER THE HOOPLA HAS DIED DOWN, WE HAVE THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ALL THAT THIS GREAT CITY HAS TO OFFER.
The engine of the DHC-2 Beaver throbs as the seaplane tops 2,000 feet, climbing steadily through the air over the outskirts of Vancouver. A whirling propeller and a carpet of conifers dominate the view from my cockpit window.
Through an in-flight headset, 30-yearold bush pilot Michael Grattan of Harbour Air is telling me, “It’s just amazing what this airplane can do … it does all the work.” We’re taking an aerial run at Cypress Mountain, a ski and snowboard area a dozen miles outside of Vancouver and one of three local resorts within a half hour of the city center.
The problem with getting a good view of Cypress’s peaks from a small floatplane is that the terrain rises thousands of feet into the air within scant miles of the ocean. The mountains rise faster than the 30-footlong airplane can climb — and the Beaver can clear about 500 feet a minute. Grattan gently begins to wheel the airplane away from the steep mountainside, and as we turn, I get a good look at the backside of one of Cypress’s three peaks — a handful of bright white trails curving like fingers over the rounded top of Black Mountain. The resort is hosting the freestyle skiing and snowboard Olympic competitions next month, and as the seaplane peels away, I silently vow to get a good look at the Olympic venue from a pair of skis.
We start our descent into the city, waiting as the air-traffic controller gives us permission to land. Grattan eases back on the throttle and settles the bush plane’s pontoons neatly onto the smooth surface of Burrard Inlet. The airplane bobs slightly as Grattan ferries us to the downtown seaplane port, the largest and busiest in North America. From anywhere in Vancouver, even here at sea level, snow-capped mountains beckon on the horizon.
The city is busily preparing for the global invasion that is the 2010 Winter Olympics. The magnitude of the event appeared early as Vancouver got a makeover for the games — city officials built an extension of the SkyTrain rapid transit system, closed party-district Granville Street to vehicle traffic in order to resurface it, and constructed a large-scale residential development that will first house Olympic athletes and then residents. Cypress Mountain also built a new lodge so that it could host Olympic events, and other local ski parks are preparing to stay open 24 hours to cater to area residents who will be shut out from the various parks.
Despite these changes, though, Vancouver remains resistant to the Olympic pressure — and true to its laid-back heart. The mountainous terrain infuses the people with a healthy, carefree spirit that even the frequent rain cannot dampen. When the eyes of the world turn to Vancouver, they’ll find a city populated with easygoing people who want to go outdoors and stay there. They’ll find a wide range of fine restaurants with local twists on international themes. They’ll find a young city — signed into existence in 1886 — that makes up in attitude what it lacks in history.