Vancouver, host of the 2010 Winter Olympics © Tourism Vancouver / Andy Mons

Seven years may seem a long time to wait for the 2016 Olympics in samba-fuelled Rio. However, if you're more of a snow than a sun worshipper, the Winter Olympics are a mere four months away. Better still, the action takes place against the jaw-dropping beauty of Canada's third largest city, Vancouver.

Vancouver was rated the world's most liveable city in 2009 by The Economist. Nearby Whistler, where several events are planned, has just been ranked North America's number one ski resort by readers of Skiing magazine for the 13th year in a row.

With such impressive credentials, there's no doubt that western Canada offers an outstanding destination for athletes and visitors alike. Susie Henderson helps you to make the most of the 2010 Games.

When do the Games take place?

The Olympic Games will be held from 12-28 February, while the Paralympic Games will take place from 12-21 March.

Getting there

Air Canada and British Airways both offer direct flights from London Heathrow. Canadian Affair operates charter flights from Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow. A cheaper option is taking an indirect flight via the USA. BA also has daily flights to Seattle, a three-hour drive from Vancouver.

Where to stay

Vancouver has seen a handful of glitzy hotels springing up in the past couple of years, including the impressive Shangri-La, part of the city's tallest skyscraper, and the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which opens in January.

How do I buy tickets?

In the UK, tickets are available for the Olympics from Sportsworld and for the Paralympics from Travel Places. Both can also organise flights and accommodation.

Any gold prospects?

The halcyon days of Torvill and Dean's gold-medal-winning Bolero performance may be a distant memory, but don't rule the Brits out.

Scotland's victory over Canada in the 2009 World Championships suggests the men's curling team should put in a strong performance. Watch out for Zoe Gillings, who's currently ranked fifth in the world in snowboard cross. Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke won gold at the 2009 Bobsleigh World Championships, while British women have excelled in recent bob skeleton competitions.

What's going on where?

Vancouver (and nearby Richmond and Cypress Mountain) will host the opening and closing ceremonies, ice hockey, curling, figure skating, speed skating, snowboarding and freestyle skiing.

Whistler will host the alpine and cross-country skiing, biathlon, ski jumping, bobsleigh, skeleton and luge events.

Any other action?

Aside from sporting events, a Cultural Olympiad will showcase an enormous range of Canadian and international artists in a series of concerts, plays, performances and exhibitions from 22 January-21 March.

Even if you don't have tickets, you can experience the buzz of the Games at a collection of live sites. Vancouver will have two sites with large screens, live entertainment and special events; expect things to really kick off on hockey nights. In Richmond, south of the city, the O Zone will feature concerts and an outdoor ice rink.

In Whistler, giant TV screens strung up around the village will broadcast live coverage of events. Each afternoon, you'll be able to listen to bands or check out art exhibitions and interactive shows. Nightly entertainment will range from skiers jumping through rings of fire to a light show, which organisers claim will rival the Northern Lights. All these events are free.

You can also check out the national and sponsor pavilions. Holland House in Richmond's O Zone is said to be the one to party at, having gained legendary status at previous Olympics.

Getting around

TransLink operates an excellent public transit system in Vancouver, combining buses, SkyTrain (a light rail service) and SeaBus. If you hold a ticket to an event, you'll be able to access all public transport free of charge on that day.

The scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler has been widened and improved. There will be no public parking in Whistler, so unless your accommodation comes with spaces, you'll need to board one of the frequent Olympic shuttle buses from Vancouver.

Within Whistler, local buses will connect the venues, neighbourhoods and ski lifts, while the 35km (22-mile) Valley Trail will be cleared for walkers and cross-country skiers.

Will I be able to visit Vancouver's attractions and ski in Whistler during the Games?

Yes, Vancouver attractions will be open to visitors and 90% of Whistler Blackcomb will remain open for skiing and snowboarding, so you never know - you might end up sharing a chairlift with an Olympian.

Can I experience the venues for myself?

While you may not be able to race Bode Miller on the downhill course or shred the halfpipe with Shaun White, you can follow in their tracks if you decide to visit outside the Olympics.

Test your mettle on the Dave Murray Downhill race course in Whistler or attempt a backside 180 in the halfpipe at Cypress Mountain.

Another highlight is Whistler Olympic Park, set in the spectacular Callaghan Valley, with 55km (34 miles) of cross-country ski trails. You can also try your hand at biathlon or ride the lift to the top of the ski jumps.

Further information:
Vancouver 2010
2010 Destination Planning
Tourism Vancouver
Tourism Whistler
Tourism BC

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.