EIGHTEEN MONTHS FROM NOW, when our eh-saying neighbors to the north host the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, you can either be in the middle of the action, cheering on athletes like Seattle’s own kamikaze slalom skier Libby Ludlow and enjoying BC’s best food and lodging, or you can be stuck at home, squinting at figure skaters on TV and stabbing the mute button every time Bob Costas rears his bug-eyed head. It’s all in the planning.

Lucky for you, the planning’s mostly done. We scoped out every Olympic venue from Vancouver to Whistler, and got an IOC official’s-eye view of the events, restaurants, and hotels that the rest of the world will be talking about come game time. If you’re going to beat the planet to the best your own backyard has to offer, you’ve got to act now. Buy your tickets starting October 3 (we’ll show you how), book your room (we’ll show you where), and take heed of this urgent tip, the most important step of your 2010 experience: Read this article now.

* Yes, we know you’re already proactive, but this isn’t standing in line for the latest cellphone. This is the greatest sporting event to hit the Northwest in a generation.

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Cypress Mountain
Freeze Raidcals
Thirty minutes from downtown Vancouver, across the Burrard Inlet and in the dramatic, pine-crested mountains of West Vancouver, Cypress Mountain will be the white-hot center of adrenaline for nearly all 17 days of the Games. If you score coveted snowboard tickets, expect to share the stands with boisterous, high-fiving crowds jonesing for, let’s be honest, avalanche-grade crashes in the high-speed alpine downhill. True shredders will vie for a peek at the acrobatic half-pipe events and four-person, collision-prone boardercross races. Tickets will go even faster for the freestyle skiing events, which include aerials (ski-jump powered gymnastics), moguls (stylish negotiation of giant speed bumps), and the brand new Olympic event, skicross (like boardercross but on two planks instead of one).

Washingtonians to cheer
Moguls skier Patrick Deneen (Cle Elum), alpine snowboarder Vic Wild (White Salmon), snowboardcross racer Marni Yamada (Seattle)

Where you’ll eat
Destination food will be scarce on the hill but plentiful en route, in the quiet retail warrens of West Vancouver. The finest is La Régalade (2232 Marine Dr, Ste 103, West Vancouver, 604-921-2228; www.laregalade.com), the city’s archetypical Little French Bistro, which whispers its civilized charms in the form of bubbling casseroles of coq au vin breathing wine and herbs, and pear-blue cheese tarts oozing butter. Boarding fans craving more action can drive a little farther on to the Ocean Club (100 Park Royal South, Ste 105, West Vancouver, 604-926-2326; www.theoceanclub.ca), where white plush sofas, big video screens, and a backlit bar set a clubby, contemporary pulse. Seafood is good, but the OC Burger is the deserved headliner.

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Canada Hockey Place
Breaking the Ice 
Leave it to the Canadians to plop the hockey venue at the center of the whole freaking Olympic Games universe, right downtown and along the rapid transit line. Expect hockey games, especially any involving the Canadian national team, to sell out fast. Try lower-profile hockey contests across town at the 7,200-seat UBC Thunderbird Arena (6066 Thunderbird Blvd, University of British Columbia). It’s well worth the effort to score admission to a U.S. match. Our men’s hockey team hasn’t won gold since 1980—and it took eighth place at the 2006 Torino Games. The 2010 roster looks promising and a gold medal this time around would go down in sports history. If you do happen to squeeze in for a match, remember, this might not be the time to make Canada jokes—so unless you want a Molson Ice cracked over your crown, hold any impersonations involving “eh” or “aboot” for the car ride home.

Where you’ll eat
Where better than Blood Alley to nosh up before a rousing hockey brawl? Vancouver’s cognoscenti have gone mad for Salt Tasting Room (45 Blood Alley, Gastown, 604-633-1912; www.salttastingroom.com), the minimalist brick-and-concrete shaft of a charcuterie off an alley in seedy Gastown. The idea is tasting plates—a trio each of cured meats and artisan cheeses, with a u-pick assortment of condiments like grainy mustards and peach chutneys—to eat at shared tables with great wine. Or walk just a few blocks to Chambar (562 Beatty St, Downtown, 604-879-7119; www.chambar.com), which—considering its proximity to Canada Hockey Place and its classy Euro-finesse with kicky cocktails and big cast-iron pots of perfect steaming moules frites—is poised to veritably print money (Canadian loonies, of course) during the Olympic siege.

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Pacific Coliseum
Fire on Ice 
Don’t give a puck about the host country’s favorite sport? Don’t count the ice out. Men’s, women’s, and pairs figure skating are among the most sought-after events. Competitors aren’t cloaked in a helmet, goggles, or mask, allowing the audience to connect with the athletes. Plus, there always seems to be some juicy rink-side drama (thank you, Tonya Harding). But if the prospect of jealous, thug-hiring starlets doesn’t satisfy your urge to see aggressive behavior, there’s always short-track speed skating, in which four to six skaters battle for position around a tight, 121-yard oval.

Washingtonian to cheer
Speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno (Federal Way)

Where you’ll eat
Pacific Coliseum is situated just beyond a district that’s evolving from Little Italy into an epicurean world tour. One of the newbies, Me and Julio (2095 Commercial Dr, Commercial Drive, 604-696-9997; www.meandjulio.ca), playfully celebrates alt Mexican novelties, like plantain- and ancho-chile-crusted wild sockeye salmon and prawn-and-grilled-pineapple tacos, all within a beach hut of a room overrepresented by palm fronds, tequila bottles, and people who really ought to be carded. (In this happy province, that’s anyone who looks younger than 19.) Or consider La Casa Gelato (1033 Venables St, East Side, 604-251-3211; www.lacasagelato.com) for a spin around the gelato rink. Dozens of Vince Misceo’s 500 rotating flavors—mango candied ginger, pear Gorgonzola, chocolate super Montego—line the huge room, sample-spoonfuls free for the asking.

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Whistler Olympic park
Frequent Flyers 
This venue in the Callaghan Valley (an area so remote, black bears have been known to amble close enough to your car that you half expect them to ask for a lift into town) will host an eclectic mix of events—events that are themselves the most eclectic of the Winter Games. Cross-country ski racers are trail neighbors with racers in the biathlon, which combines Nordic skiing with rifle shooting. Hillside, the astronauts of ski jumping, who rocket to skyscraper heights, take on one of two jumps, normal and large (normal is the “small” jump, but the normal jumpers get mad if you call it that). And in the Nordic combined event, some of those same jumpers scoot over a few yards after their flight for a timed cross-country ski run. The remoteness of the venue, 10 miles from Whistler Village—and the no-car, mandatory-bus-in-bus-out factor—will likely mean plenty of available tickets.

Washingtonians to watch
Cross-country skiers Torin Koos (Leavenworth), Laura Valaas (Wenatchee)

Where you’ll eat
To get to the Nordic/jumping venue you speed past a place they call Function Junction—the blue-collar “suburb” of glossy Whistler—which consists of about three dead-end commercial streets. But boy can it do up some breakfast. Wild Wood Café (1085 Millar Creek Rd, Ste 4, Function Junction, 604-905-5066; www.wildwoodrestaurants.ca) is known for its staggering largesse with the morning meal, served here till early afternoon: groaning plates of banana-bread French toast lavished with fresh strawberries; omelet plates whose eggs can barely contain all the sausages and good cheddar, alongside a mini mountain of fine roasted red potatoes and thick wedges of grainy buttered toast. It’s the laid-back, menu-on-the-blackboard, hangover-slayer of a joint found in every ski village the world over, and its locals-only flavor will provide a shot of sanity when the tourists stream in.

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Richmond Oval
Running in Circles
This venue, still under construction, is in the suburb of Richmond, 10 miles south of downtown, which may slow ticket sales. Good for you, since we can think of few sports more exhilarating than speed skating. In the traditional race, two skaters, one on the inside lane, the other on the outside, slice around an oval track, exchanging lanes every lap to even out the distance skated. It’s exciting to watch the skaters zoom around the 437-yard oval, but the real thrills are usually when they swap lanes, coming dangerously close to a collision. We’re also excited about team pursuit, a sort of roller derby on ice—sans punching and hair pulling—which debuted in Torino in 2006. Two teams of three scissor around the oval as teammates trade lead positions, with the skaters in back benefiting from the air current created by the frontrunner. First team to have all three members across the finish line wins.

Where you’ll eat
There may be a period of about five minutes where you will regret that your speed skating tickets fling you all the way out to Richmond. That’s how long it’ll take you to consult your guidebooks and discover that Richmond’s Chinese food is among the finest in the world. And serving some of the best is Sun Sui Wah (4940 No. 3 Rd, Ste 102, Richmond, 604-273-8208; www.sunsuiwah.com), the sprawling, fluorescent-lit home to some of the region’s best dim sum. Standouts to check on the card are the shrimp and garlic spring rolls, whose fragile pastry shatters on contact, and chicken feet steamed in a pungent black bean sauce. The place is enormous; prepare to wait anyway.

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Whistler Creekside
Fast and Furious
Speed fiends unite—at Whistler Creekside, home of the quickest sports in the Winter Games. Watch downhillers descend the mountain in an 80-mile-per-hour blur, slalom and giant slalom skiers wend through tight turns, and Super-G racers wend through tight turns and go 80 miles per hour. Unlike most of the 2010 venues, this site is accustomed to hosting international sporting events. Considered one of the best ski resorts on the planet, Whistler Creekside regularly features World Cup competitions. Expect world records to be shattered on the Dave Murray run, site of the men’s downhill—and to be just as awestruck by the speed at which tickets sell.

Washingtonians to cheer
Giant slalom skier Will Brandenburg (Spokane), slalom skier Libby Ludlow (Seattle), downhiller Scott Macartney (Crystal Mountain), slalom skier Paul McDonald (Bellevue)

Where you’ll eat
The food at the raftered, raw-beamed RimRock Café (2117 Whistler Rd, Whistler Creekside, 604-932-5565; www.rimrockwhistler.com) reliably shines, from the house-baked bread through to the carefully prepared, cracking-skin duck breast and bourbon-sauced buffalo spareribs, all the way to what can only be called freakishly fine desserts. Meanwhile, Jordan’s Crossing (2131 Lake Placid Rd, Whistler Creekside, 604-966-5705; www.nitalakelodge.com), the glossy off-the-lobby restaurant at the brand new Nita Lake Lodge is a chill wood-and-glass room overlooking sparkling Nita Lake and a menu of inventively tweaked Continental warhorses—celeriac-and-leek ravioli with apple-frisée salad, and a sensational rack of lamb brilliantly paired with a cauliflower pakora and lemon crème fraîche.

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BC Place Stadium
Let the Games Begin
Olympic host countries view the opening ceremony as a chance to show off their culture and history. When the U.S. hosted the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake, for instance, the whole gamut of American history and pop culture (Steven Spielberg and John Glenn made the cut) slid on the stage for a Disney on Ice–grade, multimillion-dollar theatrical show. Vancouver officials are button-lipped about who will appear at their coming-out party, but we predict appearances by Canadians Avril Lavigne, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Nelly Furtado, Alanis Morissette, (fingers crossed) Leonard Cohen, and (uncrossed) Pamela Anderson. Tickets to this event are virtually impossible to acquire; most go to Olympic sponsors, athletes, and dignitaries—and the leftovers are pricey ($1,083 American for nonnosebleed seats). Same goes for the closing ceremony ($767 American). Fortunately, BC Place, like Whistler Village, will also host free nightly victory ceremonies.

Where you’ll eat
With nightly medal presentations taking place under the big white dome, you’ll be needing lots of downtown dinners—good thing, since that’s where most of the emerging culinary vigor in this town is to be found. Best of the classics is Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar (1095 Hamilton St, Yaletown, 604-688-8078; www.bluewatercafe.net), whose generic San Francisco fish-house feel belies an exhilarating local homage to seafood (a stunning BC oyster list, an architectural presentation of prawns in chili-lemongrass broth) brought off with exceptionally pure flavors. Or head into the tenderloin known as Gastown, where low rents, enterprising restaurateurs, and Vancouver’s fearless palates are creating the perfect storm for innovation. Best of the newbies is Boneta (1 W Cordova St, Gastown, 604-684-1844; www.boneta.ca), a whitewashed, multilevel den of metrosexual elegance (dig the suspended mirrors) serving essentials like sure-handed bacon-Caesar salads and braised-chicken sandwiches with taramasalata.

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The Whistler Sliding Centre
Massive Sled Games 
Canadians are mighty proud of their brand new sliding center, and rightly so. Pitched high above Blackcomb ski area, the spot for 2010’s sledding action is the steepest, fastest track on the planet. Four-person bobsled teams—or “bobsleigh” to our Northerly friends—reach speeds of 75 miles per hour. The track itself looks like a giant spaghetti noodle—a pretty sedate image, until you realize that the lugers blast down that tube faster than your Prius in the diamond lane, with little more than what looks like ice-skate blades sutured to their backbones. In skeleton it’s the same thing, except racers do it headfirst! Due to its close proximity to Whistler Square (it’s just a short drive up the hill) and speed-demon draw, expect tickets to the sliding center events to disappear faster than an IOC official confronted with a doping scandal.

Washingtonian to cheer
Luger Christian Niccum (Woodinville)

Where you’ll eat
You’ll need comfort food after watching perfectly decent humans turn themselves into torpedoes. Luckily La Rúa (Le Chamois Whistler Hotel, 4557 Blackcomb Way, Upper Village, 604-932-5011; www.larua-restaurante.com) features decidedly Old World seafood and lamb and duck and pasta preparations in intimate rooms bedecked in Mediterranean terra cotta and wrought iron. For a more casual bite, the Dubh Linn Gate Old Irish Pub (Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside Hotel, 4320 Sundial Crescent, Ste 170, Whistler Village, 604-905-4047; www.dubhlinngate.com) offers brews from across the Commonwealth, and, with fare like shepherd’s pie and Irish stew, is a blessed respite from the relentlessly Continental drift of the rest of the menus across the village.

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Hillcrest / Nat Bailey Stadium Park
Watch for Sliding Rocks
Everyone seems to joke about the Olympic-worthiness of curling, the perpetual whipping boy of every Winter Games. No worries, curling fans, we’re on your side. All we’ll say—for the sake of comprehension, of course—is that curling is some mad amalgam of bowling, darts, and sweeping up after yourself after eating unshelled peanuts. It goes like this: A team of four tries to hit a bull’s eye on an icy surface with 42-pound stones. One player shoves a stone across the ice and others sweep to manipulate the ice to affect the stone’s speed and direction (or curl). The team that gets its rocks closest to the circle’s center wins tickets to see a real sport. Oh stop, curlers, we kid, we kid. In actuality, because it’s so misunderstood, this is probably one of your surest bets when it comes to scoring tickets. When you get to the event, please don’t repeat any of what we said here, except to tell those 42-pound-stone-wielding athletes that we’re big, big fans.

Where you’ll eat
A curvaceous, plywood-clad café in the burgeoning dining district of South Main, Aurora Bistro (2420 Main St, South Main, 604-873-9944; www.aurorabistro.ca), trades in West Coast neo–comfort food: arugula-hazelnut pesto with white-bean puree and goat cheese on baguette, lamb sirloin with potatoes and minted pea sauce. Nearly all of it’s locally wrought, including an impressive all-BC wine list. Après-curling, cap the evening with a belt in the hot new Cascade Room (2616 Main St, South Main, 604-709-8650; www.thecascade.ca). Average as a restaurant but off the charts as a cocktail bar, the Cascade Room features red wallpaper, hipster prowlers, pulsing music, hot bartenders, and killer mojitos.

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Whistler Village
Full Medal Racket 
Okay, party people, this is where it’s at. Every night after the competitions are over, Whistler Village will light up with celebrations honoring the medalists for that day. Here’s your chance to rub shoulders with the athletes and rock out with the masses. Officials are mum about the details. Our guess: performances by Canadian alt rockers the New Pornographers and Arcade Fire. The village already boasts one of the coolest gauntlets of great bars and good cheer we’ve come across anywhere in the Northwest. Add totally inclusive Olympic medal celebrations and we predict big, big fun.

Where you’ll eat
Araxi
(4222 Village Sq, Whistler Village, 604-932-4540; www.araxi.com) is the village’s most central and classiest anchor—white napery, formal waiters, walls the color of lobster bisque—with food so fixed in British Columbia, from the perfect Vancouver Island octopus chunks with the house-smoked char to the bounty of fresh Pemberton root vegetables, it imparts a true culinary sense of place. But if you have just one meal to eat at Whistler (read: one budget to obliterate), let it be at Bearfoot Bistro (Best Western Listel Whistler Hotel, 4121 Village Green, Whistler Village, 604-932-3433), the finest food and most formidable wine selection in town. "Un…deux…trois—voila!" cries a merry band of waiters in unison, lifting the silver domes off of plates to reveal extraordinary preparations of wild caribou loin with black truffle jus and Quebec foie gras crème brûlée with poached fig terrine. Something about the inventive formality of the fare within an ambience this casual—rustic stone fireplace, brassy Sinatra standards, martini trolley trundling by—makes Bearfoot an enchanting original.

This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.

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