Winter Olympics: Revelers say Whistler cops are killing the buzz
By JOJI SAKURAI
AP National Writer
WHISTLER, British Columbia — It’s Saturday night at GLC, and DJ Kid Koala is scratching up a storm. Cheers go up as Olympic mascots Quatchi and Miga burst in and hit the dance floor with clubbers in knit caps and baggy snowboard gear.
A typically lively Whistler scene, but something’s a little odd: There’s plenty of space at the bar and no need to elbow your way around. Outside, people wait in a long line in the driving rain.
As the Olympics kick off, the vibe at many of Whistler’s premier party spots is strangely subdued. And in a town where joints on the bar patio can be as common as jugs of beer, the famous cannabis culture has definitely gone underground.
Club managers and revelers say police inspections as often as every hour and a draconian enforcement of crowd regulations are cramping the style of this boisterous ski resort, host to Alpine and sliding events at the 2010 Games.
“This is the biggest party that the world throws,” said Nicole Althoof, manager of the Savage Beagle. “In Whistler, we’re known for having a great time. We should be living up to our name.”
The clubs say local authorities are preoccupied with protecting Whistler’s image as the world watches. Police say the increased inspections are because more clubs have been exceeding capacity lately, not because of the Olympics.
While acknowledging people feel safer when police are around, Althoof said the constant sight of uniforms in her establishment and the need to worry about regulations has been a big downer, both for herself and her patrons.
After all, how do you let loose when there are cops in the room?
Whistler became famous for its weed culture in 1998, when favorite son Ross Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana at the Nagano Olympics and his snowboarding gold medal was stripped. It was later reinstated — after he claimed he had merely been exposed to pot smoke at a party in Whistler.
During these games, people here say their buzz is being seriously harshed.
Whistler’s normal police force of about 30 has been more than doubled for the games, with reinforcements sent in from throughout British Columbia. Clusters of officers are on just about every street corner.
“Usually in Whistler you won’t even see a cop,” said Daniel Donnelly, a 20-year-old snowboarder in a grungy rainbow poncho. “It’s weird right now.”
Authorities extended the hours that establishments are allowed to stay open during the games by a half-hour — to 3 a.m. for clubs and 2 a.m. for restaurants and pubs.
Whistler police Staff Sgt. Steve Leclair insisted the crackdown stems from recent overcrowding busts. Asked whether the extra monitoring was an attempt to keep a lid on rowdiness during the games, he said: “Definitely not. Unequivocally, no.”
Still, he acknowledged concerns about public inebriation. There were 20 arrests in Whistler for public inebriation from Friday through Monday, about the same as the weekend before.
“When you’re adding alcohol to an environment, that’s what causes a problem. It’s not two sober guys walking down the street that may get into a fight, but two drunk guys.”
Locals say the authorities are being extra-vigilant to make sure the town gets through the games without blemishes on its image.
“It is such a beautiful spot,” said Ryan Kenney, 24. “They are bringing in massive amounts of people, and they don’t want Whistler to get a scratch, because it’s such a polished place.”