Many venues are already finished for Vancouver B.C.'s 2010 Winter Olympics, and the public can try them out now.

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WHISTLER, B.C. — On a sunny January day at Whistler Olympic Park, where the 2010 Olympic biathlon will be contested a year from now, three busloads of grade-school kids giggled, glided and skidded on rental cross-country skis during the field trip of a lifetime.

The kids were newcomers to the park’s “Biathlon Experience,” unaware of the second part of the ski-and-shoot Olympic event. At least it looked that way.

That’s because when they saw the shooting range, with its enticing row of perfect black targets, and instructors waiting with real rifles with real ammunition, the collective expression was a mix of anticipation and a dash of disbelief.

As in, “Wait a minute. We get to do this?”

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When the 2010 Winter Olympic Games open next Feb. 12, the snow and ice venues will have already been tested by Olympic-caliber athletes in high-level international events conducted this winter and last in Vancouver and its mountain counterpart, Whistler.

The best part about having sports venues finished a whole winter before the Olympic Games? We get to play on them.

Yes, for a price, we get to do this.

Open at Whistler

Want to test your mettle on the Olympic men’s downhill course? On Whistler Mountain, follow the signs to the Dave Murray Downhill run.

If cross-country skiing’s your thing, the new Whistler Olympic Park in stunning Callaghan Valley lets you ski on the very loops — Olympic 5-kilometer Red and Olympic 5K Blue — on which world-class athletes will be suffering come next February.

Too intense? You have 45 kilometers of other trails to pick from, including the Pooched Loop, where you can bring your dog, or connect with Callaghan Country Trails’ 40K network nearby.

If you’ve ever wondered what ski jumpers see before they take off, you can sign up for a tour via chairlift to the top of the jumps. Or try ski jumping yourself on a temporary — and much smaller — jump during public clinics scheduled for March (see “If You Go”).

There’s also “super luge,” a natural sledding run from the top of the lift to the bottom of the ski-jump hill. It’s not the 1,450-meter-long, concrete refrigerated track that will be used for the Olympics, but you’ll get a feel for the feet-first sliding sport.

To see the real thing, drive about 12 miles from the park to Whistler Sliding Centre on the southeast slope of Blackcomb Mountain. It hosts bobsled, luge and skeleton (face-first) sliding sports. The runs aren’t open to the public, for the most part, until after the Games, but it’ll be worth the wait. Until then, you can tour the facility (see “If You Go”).

Near Vancouver

Closer to the city, snowboarders can ride the same superpipe Olympic gold medalists Shaun White and Kelly Clark will use in 2010 at Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver.

The in-ground pipe features 22-foot walls, requiring an Olympian effort to reach the lip. But you don’t have to be an expert to ride it — you can carve turns at the bottom of the pipe for a taste of the big time.

The 48,000-square-foot Cypress Creek Lodge is part of $40 million in improvements to the mountain that include nine new runs, adding 40 percent more terrain to the area, more lighted trails for skiing and riding and two new high-speed quad chairs, along with snow-making capability. (Bring your goggles because there may be fog.)

In the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, you can take skating lessons this summer — or just take a spin — on the new Richmond Olympic Oval, host to speedskating events. The glittering 363,000-square-foot building, highlighted by an arching, wood-beamed ceiling, is certain to become an icon of these Olympics.

Not far away

The best part: You won’t have to go far to play like an Olympian. Whistler Village, the mountain community that’s home to world-renowned Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, is about 4 ½ hours from Seattle, depending on the border wait.

Part of the drive is along the jaw-droppingly scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway, where the Olympics jump-started a $600 million expansion project workers are rushing to finish by Game time.

Head to Whistler Creekside, a cozy resort just south of Whistler Village and headquarters for next February’s alpine-ski competition, and point your ski tips down the same runs where downhill racers will reach speeds of 80 mph and soar hundreds of feet from jumps. The jumps won’t be there when you are, and the course won’t be watered to near-bulletproof condition like on race day, but you get the idea.

The Dave Murray Downhill is named for one of the original Crazy Canucks, a group of four Canadians who took the World Cup speed circuit by storm in the 1970s and ’80s. Murray, who died of cancer in 1990, was the Whistler ski director.

The course is about 1.8 miles long, with a vertical drop of 2,800 feet. The women’s downhill, a new course, starts on Wild Card, traverses to Franz’s Run and connects with the bottom portion of the Dave Murray Downhill.

Meri-Jo Borzilleri, a freelance writer based in Bellingham, has covered three Olympics, writing about the Games and their athletes for The Seattle Times as well as national publications and Web sites.

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