The clock is ticking, the venues are ready and athletes, officials and sports-minded travelers are turning their attention to the southwest corner of British Columbia. The 2010 Winter Olympics are now one year away (February 12-28, 2010), and the buzz is building from the streets of Vancouver to the slopes of Whistler.
But why wait for the big event (for which tickets are already scarce and pricey)? This winter, you can slap on the skis, skates or snowboard and check out many of the venues yourself. Better yet, if your visit coincides with one of the following events, you can get a taste of what’s to come without the Olympian crowds or high costs. (All prices are in Canadian dollars.)
The venue: Thirty minutes from downtown Vancouver, Cypress Mountain has long been known for its easy access and stunning city views. During the Olympics, it will also serve as the venue for the Games’ snowboarding and freestyle skiing events.
Though relatively small — six chairs, 52 runs and 2,010 vertical feet — Cypress dishes up plenty of big-mountain fun with a halfpipe, two terrain parks and rollicking runs like Fork and P.G.S. (sites of the Olympic snowboard cross and parallel giant slalom, respectively). Last year, the resort added a high-speed quad chair and nine new runs; this year, a new daylodge offers relief when it’s time to relax or recharge.
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The competition: If you show up February 12–15, you can also watch the world’s best snowboarders compete during the 2009 LG Snowboard FIS World Cup. Whether it’s the mass-start mayhem of snowboard cross, the split-second timing of the parallel giant slalom or the aerial antics in the halfpipe, there should be thrills and spills in equal measure.
The nitty-gritty: Daily adult lift tickets at Cypress are $56–$60 and provide entry to World Cup events. For non-riders, daily event tickets are $10 and include roundtrip bus transportation from West Vancouver.
The venue: A year from now, several hundred cross-country skiers, biathletes and ski jumpers will head to the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley, 16 kilometers south of Whistler. They’ll be joined by thousands of spectators accommodated in three temporary stadiums to be constructed on site.
This year, though, you’re more likely to have the place just about to yourself. You can ski 55 kilometers of trails, tour (but, alas, not go off) the ski jumps and even take a crack (shot) at the odd-couple, cardio-marksmanship sport of biathlon.
The competition: This season, upcoming events include the IPC Biathlon and Cross-Country World Cup, a precursor to next year’s Paralympics, March 4–7, and the IBU World Cup Biathlon March 11–15. Admission is free.
The nitty-gritty: Adult trail passes are $20 for cross-country skiing, $8 for snowshoeing. Tours, lessons and rentals are available on site.
The venue: Originally conceived in a bid for the 1968 Olympics, Whistler grabbed the brass ring six years ago when Vancouver was named host city for 2010. Now, the Olympic rings themselves are flying as the resort prepares to host the Games’ alpine skiing events.
The resort will also host the Games’ sliding events (bobsleigh, luge and skeleton), but the best place to test your personal mettle is on the Dave Murray Downhill course. Dropping 3,200 vertical feet in approximately two miles, it’s considered one of the toughest courses on the World Cup circuit, although at mortal speeds, a strong intermediate can handle it.
The competition: Many of the athletes who will participate in the 2010 Paralympic Games (March 12-21, 2010) will be competing in the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup March 9–14.
The nitty-gritty: Single-day adult lift tickets are $89, with discounts available by ordering online or as part of a lift/lodging package. Click here for details.
The venue: While many Olympic events in Vancouver will utilize existing venues, the Richmond Olympic Oval, south of downtown, was built from scratch. Overlooking a channel of the Fraser River — and designed to echo the river’s flowing curves — it opened in December and will host the (long track) speed skating events in 2010.
In the meantime, the facility is open for public skating during select hours, which means you can lace up the skates and hit the 400-meter track yourself. And if you really feel the need for speed, public speed skating sessions are offered several days a week. Rental skates and helmets (highly recommended) are available.
The competition: The Oval will host some of the world’s fastest skaters during the Essent ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships March 12–15. Among the highlights will be the Team Pursuit races, which joined the official Olympic roster in 2006.
The nitty-gritty: Daily admission to the Oval is $12.50 (ages 22–65) and $8 (ages 13–21). Tickets for the Championships are $32 per day or $100 for a four-day package.
Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.
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