Gondola among Whistler Blackcomb's Olympic improvements

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Does winning all the time get boring? Chances are British Columbia's Whistler Blackcomb, ranked No. 1 for the 12th year in a row by Skiing Magazine, doesn't think so.

In fact, rather than rest on its laurels, the resort, which also held onto its No. 3 spot in Ski Magazine's annual Top 50 Resort Guide, is going all out for the upcoming season with a slew of improvements designed in part to gear up for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The biggest upgrade is the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which is set to open officially open Dec. 12, linking the two mountains for the first time.

In addition to opening up ski runs and the Nintendo Terrain Parks to skiers and snowboarders, the 11-minute gondola ride is expected to draw visitors eager to experience such on-mountain dining outlets as Whistler's Chic Pea Restaurant and Blackcomb's Crystal Hut.

The gondola breaks numerous records in the industry by traveling 2.73 miles, 1.88 miles of which comprises the world's longest free span, and climbing to 1,427 feet.

Accessibility is undergoing an upgrade, with $600 million in improvements to the highway that links Vancouver to Whistler Blackcomb nearly three-quarters completed.

Other features at the resort that received awards for excellence include the Best Apres Scene award from Skiing Magazine, with a nod toward its culinary services and live concerts, as well as a top five ranking for backcountry access, steeps and park and a top 10 ranking for trees.

Combined, the two mountains offer 8,171 acres of skiable terrain and a one-mile vertical rise, broken into more than 17 alpine bowls, four glaciers and a whopping 200 trails.

Opening day is set for Nov. 27, with yearlong pre-Olympic festivities on tap to begin in February.

In addition to serving as the venue for the downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super-combined events for men and women, the Whistler Sliding Center will host bobsled, luge and skeleton events.

The Olympic and Paralympic biathlon, Olympic and Paralympic cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping will take place at Whistler Olympic Park.

Potential visitors worried that the mountain is in disarray in preparation for the events can relax.

All the Olympic venues are completed, and more than 90% of the mountain will be open to the public during the 2009-2010 season.

And while the Creekside Gondola will be closed for part of the season for training and competition, the Whistler Village Gondola will remain open.

Nonskiers can enjoy a wide menu of winter activities, including a lift-assisted tube park, treetop ziplining between the two mountains, horse-drawn sleigh rides and dog sledding.

With the family package, good for bookings made by Nov. 15, kids 12 and under stay, ski, rent and transfer for free, for a savings of up to 33%.

For more, visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com.

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