The countdown to the next Winter Olympics is on and we are eager to see the newest addition to a long list of outstanding host venues. But what makes a resort worthy of Olympians? We take a look the top five resorts which have hosted the games to bring you a flavour of the winning criteria.
Eight years ago, the Canadian resorts of Whistler and Cypress Mountain played hosts for the Winter Olympics. The venues stretched from Richmond through Vancouver itself and up to Whistler, with the snowboard and freestyle events taking place at Cypress Mountain, just 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Whistler hosted Olympic and Paralympic Alpine skiing, cross-country and biathlon skiing plus Olympic Nordic combined and ski jumping. Compared to other North American resorts, Whistler has more of an Alpine feel given its vast size, high bowls and glaciers. It’s woodland runs and excellent snow record make it a reliable option, but rainy conditions and crowded lifts and slopes can sometimes put snowsports enthusiasts off. The women’s Olympic downhill, known as ‘Franz's Downhill’, started on Wildcard slope on Whistler mountain and went down Jimmy's Joker before joining the Lower Franz slope and merging with the men's downhill course, ‘Dave Murray’. If you’re ever in Whistler, you should give it a go!
Sestriere, Cesana San-Sicario, Sauze d’Oulx and Pragelato Plan, Turin 2006
During the second Italian winter Olympics, a record 2,508 athletes competed and live video footage was available for the first time across five continents. There was certainly Olympic spirit in the air when Canadian Sara Renner broke one of her poles in the cross-country skiing and Norwegian head coach Bjørnar Håkensmoen lent her his pole. Ironically the act of sportsmanship helped her team gain silver but subsequently robbed Norway of a medal. The downhill and giant slalom took place in Sestriere, on the Col de Sises run which has great off-piste opportunities. The slopestyle and slalom was hosted in Cesana San-Sicario, moguls in Sauze d’Oulx and cross-country in Pragelato Plan, all part of the Milky Way ski area. Sestriere itself was purpose-built at high altitude for snow and it isn’t easy on the eye, especially given the monstrous multi-storey Olympic accommodation block built in the middle of it. However, neighbouring Pragelato is a more attractive option linked by cable car.
Lillehammer and Kvitfjell, Norway 1994
With a population of around 26,000, Lillehammer is a small town by Olympic standards. The 1994 games took place during the Bosnian War, but Olympic spirit was evident as the Bosnia and Herzegovina four-man bob team was made up of one Croatian, two Bosnians and a Serbian. The slalom, giant slalom and downhill races took place 35km north of Lillehammer in Kvitfjell, on steeper slopes designed specifically for the Olympics. Kvitfjell has 18km of varied pistes with some challenging reds and lovely blue tree routes. Nowhere as small as Lillehammer has hosted the games since 1994 and the Olympic legacy is evident; the infrastructure was improved and Gardermoen airport was built, plus Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena is now a major landmark in the city. It was built to host the ski jumping and Nordic combined events and now towers over the town and serves as a popular tourist attraction in summer and winter, regularly hosting the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup and FIS Nordic Combined World Cup tournaments.
Patscherkofel Mountain, Kuhtai, Axamer and Nordkette, Innsbruck 1976 & 1964
In 1976 the games were originally awarded to Denver but the people of Colorado voted against using public funds for it, so Innsbruck stepped in to save the day. In 1964 the resort suffered an unusual snow shortage, so the Austrian army came to the rescue, transporting 40, 000 metres of snow to the Alpine skiing slopes. From Innsbruck, you can ascend 1,700 metres by cable railway to Nordkette which offers excellent off-piste skiing and sensational views. The Olympia SkiWorld area encompasses 260km of pistes including Kühtai, Austria’s highest ski resort at 2,000m. During both Winter Olympics, the men’s downhill races have taken place at Patscherkofel Mountain and the women have raced in Hoadl, Axamer. Both resorts can be reached by ski bus from Innsbruck and have been developed since the games, with snow cannons and new lifts ensuring decent coverage and access. In terms of difficulty, both runs are manageable - the men’s run is red and the women’s is blue
Tignes and Val D’Isere, Albertville 1992
The 1992 Olympics saw the debut of freestyle skiing and the women’s biathlon. While 18 of 57 events were held in the town itself, the surrounding resorts provided world class skiing venues. Val D’isere hosted the downhill and slalom and neighbouring Tignes hosted the slopestyle and mogul events. With a combined ski area of 300km, the Espace Killy ski area offers an exceptional variety of runs for beginners to experts. Excellent snow schools and plenty of gentle runs can be found in Tignes whereas Val D’isere is the ideal location for intermediate and expert skiers to push their boundaries off-piste. If you want to ski in the tracks of athletes, the men’s Olympic downhill took place on La Face, an intimidating black run in Val d’Isere which will really test your nerve and thigh muscles!