Olympics/Venue: Whistler, North America's skiing pearl

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The Independent Online

Whistler, host of alpine, nordic and sliding events during the Olympic Games, is located in the western Canadian province of British Columbia and is part of the largest ski area in North America.

The Whistler Blackcomb area boasts 8,171 acres (33 square km) of skiable pistes based around the Whistler (2,182m/7,160ft) and Blackcomb mountains, the skiing networks of which were merged in 1996.

The Whistler mountain ski area was opened in 1966, with Blackcomb mountain opening up in 1980, the two areas now featuring three glaciers and 12 'alpine bowls', with more than 200 pistes serviced by 38 lifts.

Not surprisingly, the town of Whistler - with an altitude of 675m (2,214ft) and a regular year-round population of under 10,000 - attracts some two million visitors a year.

One of the most stunning developments in recent years was the connection of the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains at approximately 1,800m (6,000ft) with the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.

This lift opened in December 2008, soaring for 4.4km (2.7 miles) with an unsupported span of 3.02km (1.88 miles), and at points 436m (1,427ft) above the valley floor. The ride lasts 11 minutes.

For the February 12-28 Games, Whistler Mountain will host the alpine skiing events.

The men's skiing will take place on the Dave Murray Downhill course, while women's skiing will take place on a new course, which starts on Wild Card, cuts across Jimmy's Joker to Franz's Run and connects at the bottom of the Dave Murray Downhill.

Whistler Blackcomb have said the mountains will remain 90 percent open to the public during the 2010 Winter Games.

The Whistler Sliding Centre will host bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton events. Meanwhile, Whistler Olympic Park will host the biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping.

All freestyle skiing and snowboarding events will be hosted at Cypress Mountain near Vancouver, located 125 km (78 miles) south of Whistler.

Development ahead of the Games has included 600 million dollars spent on the so-called Sea-to-Sky highway between Vancouver and Whistler, as well as creating sports venues and a 'village' to host 2,400 athletes.

Despite Whistler Blackcomb enjoying an average snowfall of 402 inches/33.5 feet a year, there have also been a doubling of snowmaking maintenance crews.

The resorts use 130-180 million gallons of water per season to produce snow through 270 snowguns.

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