Despite the weak buying power of the U.S. dollar in Canada, the Winter Olympics will be relatively affordable. A large chunk of the 1.6 million-seat pool for sport event tickets is priced under $100 each, including all luge, bobsled, and biathlon competitions—and some freestyle skiing races. Even the most popular events, such as giant slalom and speed skating, will offer back-of-the-venue seats for under $100.
Even better: Over 100,000 tickets carry a face value of just $25. No, these seats aren't in the inner circle, but you won't feel like you're viewing the action from Mars, either. Vancouver's largest Olympics competition venue, Canada Hockey Place, has about 18,000 seats, making it far smaller than Beijing's 91,000-seat behemoth, National Stadium. In addition, about 800,000 tickets will be available for ceremonies and cultural events at affordable prices.
The Vancouver Games kick off in February 2010, but the first round of ticket orders will be placed on October 3, 2008. It is a ticket request lottery, but it's not as random as it sounds, because you can pick the events you prefer to see. Snub the official Games website (vancouver2010.com), which only sells to Canadians. Americans should place ticket orders through two authorized sellers: Jet Set Sports (908/766-1001, jetsetsports.com) and its sister company, CoSport (877/457-4647, cosport.com), which also provide full lists of events to help you choose your favorites. Be ready with your choices on October 3.* The date when remaining tickets will go on sale hasn't been announced yet, but it is expected to fall between early and mid-2009. The second round is not a lottery; buyers will purchase seats directly, at face value, on the Jet Set and CoSport websites.
As with any Olympic Games, it's best to keep an open mind about events. Even watching a less glamorous round of preliminary contests live in Vancouver (for between $25 and $80 a seat) will still be more thrilling than watching an Olympic sports event on TV.
Vancouver will have two Athletes' Villages: one in Vancouver proper and the other at the Whistler Blackcomb Resort, two hours north along the scenic Sea to Sky highway (Route 99). Events will be split between the two locations: The opening and closing ceremonies, freestyle skiing and snowboarding, ice hockey, and figure and speed skating take place in Vancouver and in Richmond (a city roughly a half-hour drive south of Vancouver), while many other events (such as alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsled, and ski jumping) are in Whistler.
If you intend to fly directly to Vancouver, book early. Airlines start selling fares about a year in advance, so plan to start looking in February 2009. You could fly to Seattle on a discount airline (Virgin America, JetBlue, and Southwest), and drive three hours to Vancouver, but we don't recommend it: Border-control delays are notoriously unpredictable, and heavy restrictions on roads and parking during the Games will make it a liability to have a car. Other options include Amtrak, which connects downtown Seattle and downtown Vancouver on a roughly four-hour train route that typically costs between $60 and $92 round trip. Buses connect Seattle airport with downtown Vancouver (quickcoach.com and gotobus.com, recently about $100 round trip).
As we noted, forget about driving to—or in—Vancouver during the Games. Even now, this environmentally minded city is pushing its citizens out of cars and onto bicycles, buses, and mass transit including the SkyTrain and a new rapid transit system, The Canada Line (canadaline.ca), opening in 2009. Don't stress: Vancouver's public transportation system is comprehensive.
Forget staying on the U.S. side; it's simply too far. Seattle, for example, is about 140 miles away, and border-control delays amplify the distance. Greater Vancouver is a major metropolis with nearly 24,000 hotel rooms, offering a variety of lodging choices. But don't wait too long to book. Many hotels will begin taking reservations in early October after tickets go on sale. Act before travel agencies and tour providers book up blocks of rooms.
You can cut your costs by staying outside of the city in a neighborhood linked by public transportation. Consider finding a hotel, inn, B&B, or apartment in a suburb such as Burnaby, Horseshoe Bay, or Richmond, which are near Olympic venues. For a greater list of serviced suburbs, check the official public transport site (translink.bc.ca). Some private homes will be offered for rent through traditional travel agents, while others will be rented out via online sites like van2010rentals.com.
If you don't want to bother with ticket lotteries, pay a little more for a package that includes tickets and a hotel stay. For example, Sports Traveler, a Chicago-based sports tour operator, provides accommodations ranging from two to five stars, but it won't release its 2010 packages until next year (888/654-7755; sportstraveler.net). CoSport hasn't announced its package prices for the Games in Vancouver yet either, but they'll probably be similar to prices for previous Olympics. Consider that for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, packages that covered four nights of lodging and tickets to one event, but not airfare, started at about $2,700.
Before the Winter Games commence, the Canada-U.S. border crossing rules will change, and documents such as a birth certificate and an ordinary driver's license will no longer be sufficient for authorities. The simplest, most surefire strategy in 2010 will be to bring your passport. If you need to start from scratch and apply for a new passport, know that it currently costs $100; you may prefer to apply for a passport card, which costs only $45. For more info on passports and passport cards, visit the Department of State website (travel.state.gov). By 2009, some states, such as Washington and New York, will be offering enhanced driver's licenses that will be about as cheap and effective as passport cards. You will be able to use a passport, a passport card, or an enhanced driver's license to enter and exit Canada by car, bus, rail, or cruise ship. If you fly between here and Canada, you'll need a passport.
*CLARIFICATION (Oct. 8, 2008). Due to an editing error, the original version of this article included the phrase "The lottery favors early birds." By that phrase, we meant to say that it would be advantageous to apply for tickets in the first round rather than wait. We did not mean to imply that it is a "first-come, first-served" lottery. We should have been more clear in explaining that ticket applications in the first round are given equal weight (and are not prioritized according to the date they were submitted).