Another local custom I soon pick up: In Vancouver, it’s the mountain by day (unless you go night skiing — most local mountains are open until 10 p.m.) and partying by night. So, after a full day of stamping around in snowdrifts, I take a hot shower and set out for Granville Street, the hub of Vancouver’s nightlife. The strip is lined with lounges, cafés, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, and theaters that cater to nearly every taste and demographic.
Outside one popular spot, Republic, well-dressed clubgoers stand in a line chattering with one another to keep their minds off the damp chill. Once inside, I expect to see a dance club filled with refugees from the city’s universities, but instead I see urban professionals of all stripes eager to dance, preen, and flirt. “Since Vancouver is diverse in many ways, it translates into what you see in our club,” says Johnny Cantiveros, Republic’s 31-year-old guest-service coordinator. “You will see business guys mixed with scenesters, fashionistas, and pro athletes. It’s a beautiful clientele.”
Cantiveros says that Vancouver’s reputation will be tested by the impending global bash. “Vancouver is growing at a great pace when it comes to being a party city,” Cantiveros says. “By no means is it like Vegas or New York City. But then again, I have out-of-town clients [who] prefer Vancouver to those places.”
The next day, while sweating out the previous evening’s vodka tonics on Cypress Mountain, I learn that gawking and skiing don’t mix. This lesson is imparted on a trail called Panorama, where I lose my balance when I see how the run earned its name.
Arrayed before and beneath me is the city of Vancouver — 3,900 feet down, a narrow inlet separates the slope of the mountains from the green knob of the city’s Stanley Park; standing behind the deep green of the park are stacks of high-rises; and framing the entire city is flat, calm water colored pewter by the sun’s struggle to penetrate the gray clouds. A small bush plane is rising in the air after a watery takeoff.
I’m seeing the view that I glimpsed from the cockpit window days ago, but in reverse, a disorienting thought that makes me forget I’m moving fast on skis. The only way to keep from falling is to slide to a halt. “It’s hard to concentrate with a scene like that,” I explain to my ski partner for the day, Kia Sanjabi, who’s a ski instructor and a student at the University of British Columbia.
As a student of kinetics, he makes a fine teacher — there is no one better with whom to spend the day discussing the physics of skiing. The born-and-raised Vancouverite soon has me aware of my center of gravity and the angle of my body against the slope, and consequently my turns become smoother and rounder.
But our real mission is to explore the Olympic venues on Cypress. The first stop after Panorama is the freestyle venue, a row of perfectly formed and spaced moguls that the world’s best skiers will hurtle through, their powerful legs bouncing like shock absorbers. Near the end of the mogul run is a frighteningly steep jump from which skiers will launch to perform elaborate tricks during the aerials competitions. The landing area is also steep: Sanjabi points out that the steep angle helps spread the impact of landing. During our next run, Sanjabi guides me along the Olympic slalom slope and, beneath that, to the pale-blue half-pipe, which is open to the public now — helmets required — but will be closed come game time.
“There’s never more than two days that go by in the winter when I don’t ski,” Sanjabi says as we start another run. Watching the locals zip effortlessly down the slopes, I understand that Vancouverites don’t need their hometown validated by the Olympics: The combination of good food, open attitudes, clean exercise, and natural beauty should — and will soon — be the envy of cities around the world.
As I shove off on my poles to follow the student down the mountain, I think: Who needs a vacation package when you can borrow a lifestyle?