Organizers of Vancouver's 2010 Olympic Winter Games bid spent Tuesday defending the Whistler fiasco.

On Monday, International Olympic Committee evaluation team chairman Gerhard Heiberg expressed concerns about the distance between Vancouver and Whistler, the proposed site for alpine skiing, bobsled and luge.

"It's too far from Vancouver," Heiberg said of the 120-kilometre trek along the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

"You need to shorten the time, if possible."

On Tuesday, Vancouver 2010 Bid Corp. tried to soften the impact of the verbal blow to its bid.

"We explored the notion of moving Whistler a little closer to Vancouver and abandoned that early on in the game," joked Jack Poole, chairman and chief executive officer of Bid Corp.

Added Bid Corp. president and chief operating officer John Furlong: "In Europe, you're driving through manicured farmlands and property. Here, you're driving through wilderness.

"It's one of our attractions. We think Sea-to-Sky is one of our selling features."

In spite of its panoramic vistas, the two-lane highway through the mountains can be treacherous, as evidenced by the 2,500 accidents and 24 fatalities between 1996 and 2000.

With that in mind, the B.C. government has pledged $600 million to improve the highway by 2009.

"It's not as if this road issue was invented yesterday," Poole argued. "We've been dealing with it for a long time and the provincial government has given us 600 million reasons (dollars) why we shouldn't worry about it.

"The proposed upgrades are going to shave 20 to 25 minutes off the current driving time, so I think we're as comfortable as we can be and, frankly, I don't think it's an issue at all in our bid."

"I drove (the Sea-to-Sky) with Mr. Heiberg last night," Furlong continued. "And my sense of what happened yesterday was, in fact, an inspirational comment.

"We need to get on with fixing the road and we're committed to it. And his comments were largely directed to, 'We're looking forward to seeing what those improvements will be' and I think he recognizes that those improvements that are planned are going to make the trip to Whistler faster."

Like Whistler, nearby Callaghan Valley is yet another key locale being pitched by bid organizers.

Located 10 kilometres away, it is slated to house an athlete's village, plus host cross-country skiing, nordic combined and ski jumping.

"I don't think anything to do with that is any threat to the bid," Furlong said. "I think what you're going to see at the end of the process, every bid is going to be scored on various things and there will be a broad assessment made on the overall concept."

The IOC evaluation committee began its four-day technical inspection Sunday.

Vancouver's competition for the 2010 Games is the South Korean city of Pyeongchang and Salzburg, Austria.

The IOC will announce the winning bid July 2 in Prague, Czech Republic.

with files from CP Online