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Originally published February 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 13, 2009 at 12:23 PM

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Pooches, too, can enjoy new Olympic Park

New Whistler Olympic Park caters to cross-country skiers, and dogs, too.

Special to The Seattle Times

Get ski and boarding conditions all winter long with webcams, snow alerts and more at seattletimes.com/snowsports

For 25 years, Nina Allison and her husband, Sandy, of Ontario, have been staying in a condo nestled at Whistler's base. Today, they've left the convenience of the slopes for cross-country skiing on Whistler Olympic Park's Pooched Loop.

They have their two golden retrievers, Simon and Jake, to thank for the change of scenery. After a couple hours of off-leash, unfettered romping, Simon, 12, and Jake, 4, are slumped in a happy, soggy heap behind the seats of the Allisons' pickup, almost too tired to greet a visitor at the truck's window.

"They just love it," says Nina Allison. "They're running around with us. They just absolutely love it. Everyone who comes here is just friendly. Everyone is quite responsible with their dogs."

Whistler Olympic Park could be the new crown jewel of these Olympics. It opened last winter to raves from competitors and recreational cross-country skiers for its terrain and layout.

For the first time in Olympic history, all four Nordic disciplines (Nordic combined, cross-country, ski jumping and biathlon) will occur at the same venue. The park features trails for both skate- and classic skiers and is in Callaghan Valley, famous for its abundant snowfall.

Glide on skinny skis through any one of the three completed stadiums and imagine the scene next February when 12,000 people from all over the world are cheering on their nations' athletes.

There's a new day lodge, open and airy, with sofas and glass window shimmering in the sun. It's almost too nice for the low-key, practical mien of typical cross-country skiers, like Vancouver's Frank and Margaret Prat.

"It's a beautiful building," says Frank Prat, standing outside the lodge after an afternoon on the trails, "but where are the cubbyholes and shelves?"

Planners got the trails right. Credit Callaghan architects for maintaining the character of British Columbia wilderness. Skiers find themselves gliding on rolling terrain under a canopy of red cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock.

But open areas abound, providing scenery of the mountains across Callaghan Valley and of the striking volcanic pinnacle, Black Tusk. The park's green-rated (easiest) "Top of the World" trail offers views in all directions.

While most venues have proven Olympics-worthy, the best part about them is this: They'll be around long after the Games are gone.

Margaret Prat sounds like she can't wait for the fuss to be over. She says she won't be watching the Olympics, in person or on TV.

"I have better things to do in my life," she says, as she and her husband pack gear into their car. "Like ski."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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