An Experience of Olympic Proportions

Don SharpeDon Sharpe, Mount Washington Alpine Resort Director of Business Operations, is hard-pressed to come up with one defining story of his Olympic experience this past winter. He pauses, then grins.

He begins to tell a story about how he, Comox Valley Economic Development Officer John Watson, former IPC World Cup Chair Darryl Pippin and Resort Nordic Operations Manager Marc Lyster went to Whistler, B.C. to watch some of the teams they had hosted compete in their respective Winter Olympic events.

The day they were at Whistler, Björn Ferry, a Swedish biathlon star, won a gold medal. One of the Swedish biathlon team members called Sharpe on the phone to tell them Ferry had won, and Sharpe said, “I know he won, we’re here!”

So the team member told Sharpe and his colleagues – none of who had proper accreditation – to come behind the media barrier so they could celebrate too. “He said, ‘they have to come back, they helped us win a gold medal!’”

They were able to celebrate with the team and later attend the gold medal ceremony, as well as share a meal with some of the Swedish team members in the Athletes’ Village. “It was awesome,” Sharpe said.

Nearly seven years after Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics - and the same amount of time Sharpe and the rest of Mount Washington’s staff have been planning their own pre-Olympic events -it’s finally over.

The Resort hosted 400 athletes, coaches and support staff from16 countries prior to the Olympics and Paralympics, and the Comox Valley community embraced “their” athletes: from businesses helping with sponsorships to schoolchildren and other community members cheering on the athletes as they finalized their training at Mount Washington.

“It was an amazing experience,” Sharpe said. “It was well worth all of the work over the past seven years to get to where we were.”

Sharpe estimates athletes who first visited Mount Washington won 25 medals, and every single one of them was celebrated in the Comox Valley.

The positive community reception surprised some of the international visitors at first. But “helpfulness” and “friendliness” were two words that Mount Washington Resort President Peter Gibson said he heard repeatedly. “It seemed everyone here wanted to make their day,” Gibson said.

Sharpe and the rest of the Resort team hope that goodwill will foster growth in the credibility it gained them on the international map.

“I think it will be a slow growth,” Sharpe predicted. “What it does is gives us credibility. If we want to host an event we can say we had 400 international athletes here and we blew them away; that’s probably going to be the biggest legacy for us going into the future, is we can provide the testimonials.”

Len Apedaile, past-president of the Strathcona Nordics Cross-Country Ski Club and the former Manager, Cross-Country Skiing for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games traveled to Hungary to attend International Ski Federation (FIS) meetings in June. Apedaile wanted to leave FIS officials knowing that Mount Washington is ready to host an international event.

The Resort is also looking into hosting provincial snowboarding and ski-cross events, and perhaps another World Cup event (they’ve hosted two International Paralympic Committee events since 2007).

“It’s building on what we already have,” Sharpe said. “We have world-class trails and will have the Mountain Sports Centre. Let’s put one of our athletes on the podium in 2014.”

Cutline: Don Sharpe (middle) enjoying the Olympic experience with Quatchi and Miga.