British Columbia has tried to secure the Winter Olympics no fewer than six times. In fact, the town of Whistler was built for this very purpose: In 1960, four Vancouver businessmen began developing the ski resort 75 miles to the north, hoping to win the 1968 event. They failed. Four decades later, Vancouver and Whistler have finally landed the 2010 Games. Which means that in exactly 12 months, Van city and its ritzy northern outpost will erupt. But the athletes are already here competing, and the crowds have yet to arriveso you can get an Olympic-caliber experience without the hype or hassle.
A waterfront to shame Seattle's; craggy, Alaska-scale relief on the horizon; 40-degree temps in February; an urban green zone that makes Central Park look like a backyardyou could enjoy weeks of adventure in Vancouver without once leaving the city limits. Upon arrival, check in to the Westin Bayshore, overlooking schooner-dotted Coal Harbor (doubles regularly cost US$375, but check for online specials that drop the price to US$120; westinbayshore.com). Just blocks away, Spokes Bicycle Rentals supplies everything from single-speeds to dual-suspension mountain bikes (spokesbicyclerentals.com). After working your way around 1,000-acre Stanley Park, get into some local fish. The Raincity Grill, just outside the park's limits, serves up a US$25 prix fixe three-course early dinner (raincitygrill.com), but you should be able to find good seafood just about anywhere, since chinook in Vancouver is about as ubiquitous as vodka in Moscow. By night, head to the Railway Club to hear good local bands (therailwayclub.com).
This February and March, Vancouver and Whistler host a series of test eventspre-Olympic showcases during which the world's best compete in newly built venues. Mark your calendar for these three competitions:
(1) The FIS Ski Jumping World Cup at Whistler Olympic Park, January 2325; skijump-vancouver.com. It's the slam-dunk contest of snow, only with a greater possibility of carnage.
(2) The FIBT Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup, at Whistler's new Sliding Centre, February 57; whistlerslidingworldcup.com. Organizers say the course looks particularly fast, like the Beijing pool on ice.
(3) The FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup, at Vancouver's CypressMountain, Feb. 5-8; fis-ski.com. Look for Daron Rahlves competing in the newest Olympic event, skiercrossessentially a Chinese downhill with a few gates thrown in.
If you head to Whistlernow a two-hour drive, due to pre-Olympic construction on the Sea to Sky Highwaymake like Bode and ski the Dave Murray course, where the Olympians will race for gold next year. Staying a week? Go to whistler.com and book a five-night stay with a four-day lift ticket for US$480. Tip: If it rainsand it willcall Whistler Fly Fishing and set up a steelheading trip in Squamish, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler (from US$175; whistlerflyfishing.com). The winter steelhead average about 11 pounds, but they can top 20. Everything is bigger here.