Sports come in all shapes and sizes. Cheese wheel rolling is definitely one of the sports that has strayed away from cool-kid sports like football or hockey and has remained a nonsensical outcast on the fringes of athleticism’s social circle.
Experiencing the nomadic lifestyle of a mouse in search of a dairy dinner has never been easier.
Canada’s interpretation of the sport took place on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler’s Upper Village on Aug. 14 and was the second annual Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival put on by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. The event also ran in conjunction with Kokanee Crankworx, one of the biggest outdoor bike festivals Canada has to offer.
Inspired by the massive following in the United Kingdom and the thousands that gather every year in Gloucestershire for the sport, the Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival built on the success of last year, which saw over 200 people compete and drew spectators from across B.C.
Solange Heiss, internal director of marketing and nutrition for the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said she hit the jackpot by organizing the event in Whistler, a community already well known for snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking and skateboarding.
“Why did we choose to do it in B.C.?” she said. “It’s a natural. British Columbians are known to be adventurous and they love the outdoors. Whistler is the perfect setting for cheese rolling.”
Not only is rugged athleticism at the heart of Whistler’s cheese rolling, Heiss and the Dairy Farmers of Canada use the event as a fun, family- oriented way to endorse their products.
“We’re promoting cheese. People can learn all about cheese and can taste a variety of kinds,” Heiss said. “We have a farmers’ market here and cheese processors from across Canada. There are about 30 different varieties of cheese for people here to try.”
So what is cheese rolling? Take an 11-pound wheel of cheese, push it down a ridiculously steep hill and have hundreds of contestants tumble, trip and fall down in attempts to catch the enormous, rolling hunk of dairy in search of Gouda glory.
The winner of the zany contest is the first contestant to reach the cheese wheel at the base of the hill. Competitors never actually catch the cheese as it plummets down the hill because of its high velocity. Races are organized in heats and contestants line up in groups of 15 to 20 to kiss or pat the cheese for good luck, followed by the sounding of a horn, which signals the downward descent of the cheese wheel.
Costumes were an integral part for competitors and everything from a gorilla to a mouse was included in the mix. Swedish cheese racer Csaba Mag was one of these individuals and sported a grey, tattered and obviously homemade costume in attempts of recreating himself as a stealthy rodent.
“You need to think like a mouse if you want to win. I’m in the mindset and I love cheese,” said Mag, commenting on the outfit that his roommates and friends helped him put together the night before.
Standing at the top of Blackcomb and peering down, it looked like many competitors did wish they possessed the physique of a mouse.
The downhill slope is treacherously composed of large rocks and holes that are camouflaged by patches of slippery, overgrown grass. After moving your first foot forward and taking the vertical plunge on the downhill sprint, which lasts just under 10 seconds, there is no stopping to tie your laces because momentum makes it impossible to stop at all.
Essentially, the contest intends to send contestants head over heels, making arriving on both feet at the bottom of the hill a difficult feat.
If such obstacles are not able to thwart the cheese wheelers, physical barriers in the form of body-armoured guardians of the cheese patiently wait at the bottom of the hill. In a fashion reminiscent of an MXC episode, these daunting opponents use a foam shield to body check, shove and elbow participants at the bottom of the hill to prevent them from reaching the fast rolling fromage.
Helmets were a mandatory precaution and likely prevented numerous concussions over the course of the day, but contestants’ breaks, scrapes and bruises kept the medical staff at the bottom of the hill extremely busy.
Hailing from the Czech Republic, contestant David Eygudy took home Natural Pastures Cracked Pepper Verdelait cheese wheel and a coveted season’s pass to Whistler’s Blackcomb Mountain ski and snowboarding resort.
“It was just perfect; it reminded me when I was a kid and we used to do the Boy Scouts camp. And you know running in the forest?” Eygudy managed to gasp at the bottom of the hill. “That’s exactly it.”
When asked if a fancy wine and cheese party was in the cards for later, Eygudy ecstatically replied, “I’ll keep a little bit for myself and girlfriend but mostly will share with my friends.”