Vancouver never really lost its lustre with Australian winter sports enthusiasts. It’s just that Japan’s star began to shine a lot brighter.

A major distraction from the Games will be views like this. A major distraction from the Games will be views like this. Image: Getty Images

At the turn of the millennium, selling Canada’s white jewel to snow-hungry Antipodeans was a no-contest; about 80 per cent of travel agents’ Northern Hemisphere ski business went to British Columbia and Alberta – and 80 per cent of that went to the closest international resort to Vancouver: Whistler Blackcomb. Sometime shortly thereafter, Japan became the land of the rising ski bum with seemingly every second Aussie with a set of planks or board making the ten-hour flight north. Canada sure felt the pain, its numbers from across the Pacific dropping like jagerbombs during happy hour at an apres bar. But February’s Winter Olympics has put “The Van” well and truly back on the road, not that it ever should’ve left. A stylish centre that feels like Melbourne but looks like Sydney with alps, Vancouver has some undervalued local ski hills and enough to do off the slopes to make a damn fine case for a snow/tourist/big-event holiday triumvirate.

The Resorts 

If the province of British Columbia was a ninth Australian state or territory sitting somewhere due south of Tasmania, no one would ever leave our shores to ski or snowboard. With 75 per cent of its landmass covered in mountains, there’s a three in four chance you’ll be standing on a hill any time you’re there (just do the math). In an area bigger than New South Wales, there are plenty of options. From the family-friendly Big White, to the hard-core love of Red Mountain and more cat and heli-skiing options than anywhere else in the Free World. But if you’re limited to Vancouver and its more immediate surrounds, fear not – there’s good riding in the city limits and just beyond.

Whistler awaits our own Jono Brauer. Whistler awaits our own Jono Brauer. Image: Getty Images

Whistler Blackcomb

If you don’t know Whistler, you don’t know skiing or snowboarding. Frequently voted the best resort area in North America, it towers above most of its serious opposition in all the stats that matter. A vertical drop of more than 1600m, 10.5m of snow per year and 3300 hectares of terrain (about six times the size of Perisher) – all within a 90-minute drive of Vancouver. It can genuinely claim to offer something for everyone with glaciers, double blacks, long groomers and plenty of entry-level terrain, making it a winning destination for mixed groups. Downside is that while there’s every restaurant, bar and burger joint you can think of, the purpose-built village has that generic Intrawest feel. Note: If you’re day-tripping from Vancouver, buy your ski pass from a 7-Eleven, where’ll you save about 15 per cent over on-mountain.

Cypress Mountain

King of the city resorts and host to the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events at the Games, Cypress hits the spot for a day mission or two, given it’s about 30 minutes from downtown. Set on 600 acres, it’s bigger than Thredbo but gets bucket loads more snow and has some pretty sweet terrain for a local hill. Its coastal location makes it prone to variable weather (read: fog, heavy snow, rain and blocks of sunshine) – a bugbear for casual visitors and no doubt Games officials and athletes.

Heading to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics? Heading to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics? Image: Getty Images

Grouse Mountain

Alongside Mt Ruapehu’s view from Crater Lake to the NZ west coast and Italy’s buttes and stratified dolomite rock of the Sella Ronda, ranks the snowy vista from Grouse Mountain. It relies on a clear night and BC Hydro not going into meltdown, but when the stars align it’s the type of eye candy that’s seen many a successful marriage proposal. Skiing and snowboarding wise it’s on the small side, but it has a tidy terrain park and some decent runs in what – on the surface – looks like a confusing layout at the top of the hill. It’s all kept real with a $50 daypass, too.

The City

Like Melbourne, sport and culture make comfortable bedfellows in Vancouver and you can happily down a ‘dog at a Canucks ice hockey game before hitting a wine bar or fine dining in the Gastown district without feeling out of place. Lord Stanley, whose cup is played for in the NHL, is inextricably linked to the city in another way, the eponymously named 400ha park on

the north end of town. If the weather holds up (rain is common between November and April) it’s well worth checking out on a bike. Try Robson Street for shopping, a cold one and maybe some clubbing afterwards. Out of the city centre, Granville Island has terrific markets, Kitsilano is Paddington-hip and Vancouver Island (home to another underrated ski area in Mt Washington) is worth a few days in itself. Public transport is good and while city parking is actually not prohibitively expensive, it’s a great centre to scope out on foot, umbrella and all. Other than some dodgy weather, perhaps Vancouver’s only other major downfall is the seedy and drug-riddled east side of town. Picking up a tourist map is a dead giveaway. In a grid dotted with “places of interest” the blue pointers start drying up when Columbia intersects Hastings Street. Read between the dots and consider that warning enough.

Whistler dominates the skyline. Whistler dominates the skyline. Image: Getty Images

The Games 

With its natural assets, accommodating locals and most facilities (sans the athletes village) ready a year out, Vancouver should be one of the great Winter Games. Events are roughly divided into four areas: downtown (hockey), Richmond (skating), West Vancouver (freestyle/snowboarding) and Whistler (alpine/sliding/jumping). While resorts are largely open to the public during this time (in fact, they’ll be clamouring for your business, as Olympics tend to drive regular punters away), finding an on-mountain bed will be likely hard, expensive or both. Vancouver and its ‘burbs will be the place to go. Late deals may yet come up if rentals fail to be the cash cow many owners thought pre-economic downturn. Visit while deals with packaged event tickets, transportation and host services. The site offers specific information about ticketing for countries outside Canada. For general tourism info visit and

– Glenn Cullen