They spent $886 million on security for the games. This is why there are over 500 soldiers stationed in Whistler for the games. Some of them hide in the backcountry, well-armed, watching. They wait for skiers to make the wrong turn and head toward the athlete village via the Whistler backcountry. The army has set up a trailer city near the athlete village complete with its own barbershop, movie theatre, and gym. Any would-be terrorist with mad backcountry ski skills knows it to be the easiest way in to the athlete village. This is why a small portion of Whistler���s backcountry is in lock-down mode. There have been reports of snowboarders being intercepted in the backcountry by soldiers and diverted back to the village; of spotters in trees and soldiers lower down doing the dirty work.
Canadians tend to be less security-crazy than Americans and a small but vocal group of locals whined that the military presence was overkill. But on Saturday, the athlete village was presented with a legitimate security scare. A tourist found a suspiciously detailed map of the athlete village and turned it in to authorities. Police with the Olympics Integrated Security Unit said the map had ominous notes on it but wouldn���t reveal the details. They then searched the athlete village with bomb sniffer dogs and found nothing but soiled spandex.
I wanted to see what the histrionics were all about; what an organization with the oh-so ominous ���Integrated��� word in its name actually looked like; how $886 million in security spending manifests itself in the snow. I wanted to see the automatic weapons and white camouflage suits. I decided to get caught.
Getting caught couldn���t be too hard. So, from the top of Whistler���s Peak Chair, I set off down a well-groomed beginner���s run to access my favorite backcountry lap, currently under army watch. I got to the top and looked for guns and bad haircuts. Nothing. I skied down a little further and left the ski area boundary. I listened intently and waited. Silence. I waved my ski poles around and yelled ���Hey!��� I whacked my ski poles together and tried to look terroristy.
Nobody came to get in my face. I sat down for a few minutes, and asked no one watching me in the trees where the athletes were at because I, sir, was ready to party. Crickets. I gave up on getting caught. Either they saw me and recognized that I was behaving like an idiot and was no serious threat or they weren���t there.
Next stop was down to Creekside, the terminus of Whistler���s ski racing events. Beside it was a row of blue fencing with official logos, cheerfully explaining to all that I shouldn���t even look in its direction. I did, then tried to get on the Creekside gondola. And I was denied. This was only for course workers. Even media credentials weren���t good enough.
But at least I���d found the so-called nefarious, wasteful, overkill security detail. It consisted of a few RCMP officers with well-groomed facial hair and a Quebecer dressed head-to-toe in a neon yellow suit wearing Elvis Costello glasses, about as intimidating as an accountant. ���I���m just the checkpoint guy,��� he said. ���But we don���t expect anything to get out of hand. The police are everywhere.���
This is true. There are RCMP officers stationed all over Whistler. They come from all over Canada. I���ve seen uniform patches identifying them as constabulary from Newfoundland, Ontario, and smaller communities in British Columbia. They stand on corners and event venue margins, and a handful ski in the regulation RCMP uniform, down to the Gore-Tex yellow stripe running the length of their ski pants.
Like the army, they come prepared for the elements. On every corner is a black, 40-square-foot cube���a temporary shelter for police. The cube shelters offer the law a break from the elements, should it start raining again, and have drawn attention from the locals. They call them Pigloos.