Image: Whistler Olympic Park
Jonathan Hayward  /  The Canadian Press via AP file
A ski jumper prepares to launch off the newly built ski jump at Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, British Columbia, during the Canadian Ski Jumping Championships on Friday, Jan. 4.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/5/2008 9:58:33 AM ET 2008-02-05T14:58:33

The countdown continues.

Two years from now, approximately 5,000 athletes and coaches, 10,000 members of the media and upwards of 1.5 million spectators will descend on Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Tickets for the Games, which will run February 12–28, will go on sale this October (click here for details), but if you’re an active traveler, you may want to consider visiting this winter. The venues at Whistler and Cypress Mountain are up and running, and all but a few are open to the public.

Several of the venues are also hosting their first major competitions this year, which means you can get a sense of what’s to come in 2010. Whether you opt to watch the pros go or go for the glory yourself, here’s what to expect (all prices are in Canadian dollars):

ALPINE EVENTS

The venue
In 2010, Whistler will host the alpine skiing races (downhill, slalom, giant slalom, etc.) and the sliding events (bobsled, luge, etc.). The former will take place on the Creekside face of Whistler Mountain; the latter, on a recently completed track above Whistler Village.

For a taste of the action, drop into the men’s or women’s downhill course. (The sliding center is closed to the public.) The men’s course follows the Dave Murray Downhill trail, a twisting snake of a run with fallaway curves and huge, rolling jumps. The women’s course — Wild Card to Franz’s to Lower Dave Murray — is a bit shorter, but even twistier. Both offer plenty of thrills, even if you don’t hit the 80 miles per hour that the top Olympians will.

The competition
For a slightly less intense experience, visitors hitting the slopes this month can watch past (and presumably future) Olympians tackle the same slopes during the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships (February 9–11) or the Whistler World Cup (February 19–24).

The nitty-gritty
Single-day adult lift tickets are $83, with discounts available by ordering online or as part of lift/lodging packages. Click here for details.

NORDIC EVENTS

The venue
Twelve kilometers south of Whistler, a new road leads into the isolated Callaghan Valley where several construction trailers and a half-built daylodge mark the site of Whistler Olympic Park. As the venue for the Games’ cross-country, biathlon (skiing/target shooting) and ski-jumping events, the area will eventually boast three temporary stadiums, each with space for 12,000 spectators.

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Visit this winter, however, and you’re likely to have the place to yourself. Thirty-five kilometers of groomed and set trails wind through the woods with 10 kilometers lit for night-skiing. The trail network also hooks into the 42-kilometer Callaghan Country trail system, which leads farther up-valley to Callaghan Lodge, a rustic retreat with space for just 22 guests.

While you’re in the area, check out the two ski jumps towering over the trails — and be thankful that you’re looking up at them and not down their inruns. The larger one, it’s said, will send a jumper soaring 450 feet or more; the smaller one, a mere 350 or so.

The competition
This winter, world-class jumpers will take to the air during the FIS Cup competition (February 27–28) and FIS Continental Cup (March 1­–2). Other events include the Canadian National Cross-Country Championships (March 16–23) and Canadian National Biathlon Championships (March 25–30).

The nitty-gritty
Adult trail passes at Whistler Olympic Park are $16 per day, $8 for night-skiing. Cross Country Connection offers guided tours of the park via skis or snowshoes; tours start at $45 per person.

SNOWBOARDING/FREESTYLE EVENTS

The venue
With six chairs, 52 runs and a semi-suburban location above West Vancouver, Cypress Mountain will never be mistaken for Whistler. Nevertheless, it will draw the world’s attention in 2010 as the venue for the Games’ snowboarding and freestyle skiing events.

For a hint of what’s to come, take the Eagle Express quad to the top of Black Mountain and drop into Fork or P.G.S. The former will host the Games’ snowboard cross, a mass-start event in which four racers tackle a course of jumps, ramps and obstacles, while the latter will host the parallel giant slalom, a head-to-head competition with multiple gates. Both runs are open to the public — as is the superpipe at their base — and offer enough excitement to keep the most radical rider entertained.

The competition
Unfortunately, the freestyle venue (aerials and moguls) is closed to the public, but it will be center stage February 9–10, when Cypress hosts the Canada Post Freestyle Grand Prix, a sanctioned World Cup event. Elite snowboarders (and their fans) will get their turn during the Canadian Nationals Snowboard Championships April 2–6.

The nitty-gritty
Daily lift tickets are $50 ($55 during peak periods) for adults, $45.28 (or $49.06) for youths ages 13–18 and $26.42 ($29.25) for children ages 6–12, plus tax.

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