During the 2012 London Olympics, Vacay.ca is looking at the best Canadian Olympic cities — those places that honour the spirit of the Olympics and feature unique Olympic experiences for visitors. Earlier, Vancouver took bronze. The second of three cities profiled hosted skiing and biathlon events during the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Story by Jody Robbins
CANMORE, ALBERTA — Site of the Nordic skiing and biathlon events during the 1988 Winter Olympics, Canmore is home to more Olympians than any other place in Canada. In fact, Kelly VanderBeek (Olympic alpine skier) and David Ford (five-time Olympic kayaker) just moved to town last week.
So why are so many athletes flocking to this former coal-mining town, now emerging from under Banff’s shadow?
“Canmore’s a haven for Nordic skiers and is becoming more popular in the Alpine scene as well. The town’s got great facilities and there’s a healthy vibe going on. It’s just a magnet for athletes and healthy people,” says Thomas Grandi (four-time Olympian in Alpine skiing). He puts the number of Olympians, including those from other countries, at 50 living in a city of just 12,288.
Grandi’s called Canmore home for the past 15 years, and together with his wife, Sara Renner (silver medalist at the 2006 Winter Olympics), gave Vacay.ca the low-down on how to live like an Olympian in this authentic Rocky Mountain town.
Work It Out
Surrounded by impressive peaks, Canmore offers plenty of hikes to get your cardio on. Ha Ling Peak is similar to the Grouse Grind in Vancouver, says Grandi. “It’s a great work out, you can really grind it out on Ha Ling or Lady MacDonald, on the other side of the valley.”
Grassi Lakes is a favourite for families, including Renner and Grandi and their two daughters. It doesn’t matter if you walk up the fire road (good for strollers) or choose the more difficult trail, because both meet at two turquoise lakes after about an hour.
For biking, the Nordic Centre boasts great trails such as the EKG loop for intermediate to advanced riders. The Highline Trail that contours the side of Ha Ling Peak has become a classic in Canmore, and there’s also G8 on other side of the valley.
“I just did G8 this past weekend, and didn’t see a soul,” Renner points out.
Rent mountain bikes from Trail Sports at the Nordic Centre, and learn all there is to know about riding single track through its mountain bike skills course ($60/90 minutes).
If you’re bringing your own bike, Rebound Cycle does full service repairs, and offers loads of bike accessories and clothing to temp sporty shoppers.
Crazyweed, with its Asian-influenced menu, is hands down, the favourite of all local Olympians. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, you can take in sublime views of the Bow Valley, while noshing on wood-oven pizzas ($18) or Vietnamese pork meatballs ($14).
The best sushi in town can be had at Chef’s Studio Japan, where diners are encouraged to leave comments on the blackboard walls of the bathrooms.
You’ll understand how everyone manages to stay healthy in this town, yet still eat out while dining at Communitea Cafe. This hub for live music, healthy snacks and lunches has a coding system on its menu that makes it a breeze to select gluten-free, vegan, or fast-food choices.
And yes, even athlete’s have a sweet tooth. You’ll occasionally find them lined up for ice cream with the rest of the crowds at the Old School Bus in the parking lot on the east side of Main Street.
Rest and Recovery
Grandi and Renner run Paintbox Lodge, a bed and breakfast-cum-boutique hotel located right downtown, making it easy to explore the town right from the door. Each of the five spacious suites ($159-$259) are unique — some have fireplaces, while others sport decks.
Most teams, however, stay at Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge and consider this supportive motel their home away from home.
Renner swears by the massages from World Cup champion Jan Hudec’s mom at Wildflower, a holistic day spa. “It’s no fluff and buff. People come here to get things worked on,” Renner notes.
How to Spot an Olympian
“It’s really hard to tell who are the Olympians, as regular Canmore people are so fit,” says Renner.
Your best bet is to head to the Nordic Centre and look for robust young people on roller skis and with shaved legs.
“Not that I ever did that!” Grandi swears.
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NOTE: Bow River photo courtesy of Tourism Canmore; Thomas Grandi and Sara Renner photo courtesy of the Paintbox Lodge.