- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Admit it. After watching the opening ceremonies on television, there was a little bit of desire to see some of the world’s best winter athletes competing for gold in Vancouver.

It’s a rare opportunity for sports fans, as the Olympics won’t return to North America for at least another eight years — if not longer. And the fact it’s being held in one of the continent’s most scenic cities doesn’t hurt matters, either.

While many fans think that the door has closed on a trip to see history, it hasn’t. It just takes some creativity if you want to stay within a budget.

The first part of the trip is airfare to the Pacific Northwest, and while you can still get flights into Vancouver, it tends to be very pricey with the lack of routes to British Columbia from the United States.

However, an American’s best bet is to fly into Seattle, which sits just three hours south of the city. Flights into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport can still be had for around $300 from the Washington area, even with less the customary 14-day advance purchase.

From there, the good news is the prices for rental cars and hotels in Washington state have dropped noticeably as car rental companies and inns look to fill rooms they had blocked out at much higher prices.

Rental cars that would run nearly $400 a week just a month ago are now running about half that, while U.S. hotels near the Canadian border have also dropped noticeably. There are many hotels around Bellingham, Washington — an hour south of the SkyLink train station in Surrey, B.C., where you can catch the train to city-based events.

During the games, Vancouver’s SkyTrain is offering free rides to anyone holding an Olympic event or ceremony ticket on that date, allowing fans easy access from Washington state. The nearest station sits just 15 miles away from the U.S. border, and is a 40-minute ride into downtown Vancouver.

The trickiest part — and most expensive part — of looking to travel book an Olympic trip at this late date is the event tickets themselves, but even they can still be found.

While Vancouver organizers boast of selling all 1.6 million tickets to the events, U.S. fans still can purchase them without going to overly exorbitant prices.

CoSport (cosport.com), the official seller of tickets to U.S. citizens, still has inventory for many events — including the highly coveted hockey games. Although the ticket prices are marked up from what Vancouver organizers originally charged, they are still cheaper than other resellers. The official site of the Olympics — Vancouver2010.com — is also hosting a reseller service for fans who can’t use tickets they purchased, but it tends to run significantly more expensive than CoSport’s inventory.

Even fans who head to British Columbia without a ticket still have a good chance to get to events, with a variety around town from curling to hockey to even taking in a nightly concert and medal ceremony, some of which can still be had for prices as low as $22 CDN.

The one exception to the rule about the accessibility of the Vancouver Olympics is fans wishing to go to Whistler to see some of the alpine events. The “Sea-to-Sky” highway, which runs from Vancouver to Whistler, is a two-lane narrow road, and during the Olympics the travel is limited to buses. So unless you get a ticket and a ride up the mountain, fans won’t be able to get to Whistler.

The other caveat for fans is the more stringent rules for getting back into the United States. While crossing the border northward is relatively easy — although be forewarned with fans with prior criminal offenses, even ranging down to DUIs may be denied entry — new rules were put in place last summer requiring fans driving back from Canada to have a U.S. passport, a passport card or a special driver’s license that is currently only available in Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington.

While these rules won’t impact fans already holding a valid passport, others who don’t have one will be hard-pressed to get one in a short period without paying a lot for the quick turnaround. And although unofficially the border guards will likely allow U.S. residents back in with proof of citizenship back into the United States, it certainly would prove to be a hassle with a lengthy delay while customs officials verify a traveler’s citizenship. It can be done, but likely won’t be a smooth or an experience a traveler wants to have.

As for those border crossings, extra guards have been implemented for the games. Officials are planning so even the lengthiest delay won’t exceed 90 minutes, even at the busiest crossing in Washington state at the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington, where Interstate 5 runs into British Columbia. If there is a lengthy delay at the I-5 crossing, there are other alternatives to get into British Columbia faster, but even with a decent delay at the border, a fan can get from a hotel in Bellingham to the SkyTrain station in less than two hours.

So, for fans who want to sample the Olympic experience with a North American flair, it’s not too late to get to Vancouver reasonably inexpensively. One just has to be a bit creative.

WHAT: XXI Winter Olympics, Vanvouver, British Columbia, Canada

WHEN: Feb. 12-28, 2010

WHERE: CoSport (cosport.com); Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (Vancouver2010.com)

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