The crowds of yesteryear have disappeared. The cheers and jeers have long been forgotten in the Olympic town of Sestriere; the names of winners and losers faded from memory two years later.
The 96 Kilometer ride from Torino - the home city of the 2006 Olympics - to Sestriere took about 90 minutes, mostly on a highway. It was a reminder that spectators and participants had to either stay in one location or the other, thereby limiting which venue they wanted to view. The opening and closing ceremony and the ice events all took place in Torino, whereas, Alpine and Nordic events - including luge, bobsled and biathlon - took place in and around Sestriere.
I was struck by one constant. There was no visual evidence in Torino, or on the road from Torino to Sestriere, or in the town of Sestriere, that the Winter 2006 Olympics ever took place. I looked in vain for banners and signs that said Sesteire was indeed the exciting city of the Alpine and Nordic events. Nothing. Not one sign. Not one banner. The town was quiet. The Olympic Villages, arenas and support facilities are now used for other purposes. The units in the village that housed the athletes In Sestriere are either rented out or used for condos.
My guide, Alberto Surico from the Provincial Board, kindly drove me around to look at nearby venues that I remembered from the telecasts. The only evidence of any activity was a lone ski jumper on his way home from practice on the Pragelato ski jump. There was no snow on this late September visit, but the landing area was padded with artificial turf suitable for the landing and ski-out during the non-snow months.
We checked out the cross-country course and finish line - the visible section that we could see - and the downhill, slalom, and giant slalom mountains used for these events. If not for that one lone ski jumper, a ski-ghost-town would come to mind. Time was short, so we could not view the area now used for snow tubing nor the winter bobsled run in Cesana now used for fun.
No put-down here intended. Sestiere looks like a ski resort that I'd want to stay a week or more when snow has covered the mountains and horse-drawn carriages trek visitors through the streets of white. After all, Sestriere is part of the "Vialattea" - or "Milky Way" - that encompasses 105 lifts and 248 miles of downhill runs that flow over into the ski towns of Sauze d'Oulx, San Sicario, Cesana, Claviere, Pragelato; and Montgenevere in France. It is a true international "ski circus."
It's also a good deal at 117 € for a 4-day, all-valley ticket. Nearby Bardonechhia also has a mini-ski circus that encompasses, Jafferau, Melezet, and Campo Smith. There are four snowparks among the towns of Sestriere, Sauze d'Oulx, San Sicario, and Claviere.
Sestriere is an Olympic Village, not an Olympic town, such as Innsbruck, Austria. It is relatively small and walkable from one end to the other. The architecture is indicative of a purpose-built ski resort, e.g., not very exciting. Signor Agnelli of Fiat renown and indeed the Fiat automaking company itself, are credited with the construction and institution of the ski resort of Sestriere in 1934.
Club Med still uses one of the buildings described by Blue Book of European Ski Resorts Editor Ted Heck as, "family-size cans of baked beans." There is one advantage of these round structures; not only is there a window with a view, but there is a view from every window.
So, our little group departed the Vialattea with the anticipation that one day we would return when the ski town is in full bloom and all the Olympic venues would be in use by non-Olympians.
It was ironic that upon visiting the "Vino del Ghiaccio" ice wine vineyards in Chiomonte on the return to Turino Maria Luisa Alberico presented us with a bottle of delicious S. Sebastiano ice wine, and gave us all a banner left over from the 2006 Winter Olympics. I finally had proof that an Olympics took place in Torino in 2006.