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WHISTLER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Having spent close to $2 billion on an Olympic Games, you would expect a few perks as host nation, and Canada's Alpine ski team is planning to take full advantage.
The world's best skiers have descended on Whistler mountain this week for a series of World Cup races that will also serve as test events for the Vancouver Olympics and the only opportunity to survey layouts they will not see again for two years.
But while the mighty Austrians, Swiss and other European ski powers will spend the week studying layouts as if they are cramming for exams, Canadian skiers will have two years to learn the subtleties and nuances of the Dave Murray and Franz's Downhill courses.
"It's a huge advantage," former-Crazy Canuck and head of Alpine Canada Ken Read told Reuters. "There's official stuff and then there is unofficial stuff, like having your athletes living in the community, walking up the hill, down the hill.
"The more you know the hill, the more you ski on the hill, the more intimate you become with the hill."
"You've seen athletes literally travel across the world to walk a track," he added.
There are four races scheduled for Whistler, starting with a men's super-G on Thursday followed by a women's downhill on Friday, a men's giant slalom on Saturday and a women's super-combined on Sunday.
The last World Cup race staged at Whistler was a men's super-G in 1995. The resort was later removed from the FIS calendar after poor weather forced the cancellation of races in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
The Vancouver Olympic Organising Committee (VANOC) budgeted $27.6 million to upgrade the layouts, transforming them into some of the most technical and demanding on the World Cup.
By the time Canadian skiers push out of the start hut in 2010 they will have spent hundreds of hours surveying the courses.
They will have contested three Canadian championships at the Olympic venue and will have held summer and winter training camps in Whistler.
They will experience the unpredictable weather the region is infamous for and have the opportunity to walk the piste in winter and summer with coaches and course designers, studying every nuance in the terrain that might provide an advantage in races decided by fractions of seconds.
"You have to be smart to run this course," said Canadian gold medal hope Kelly Vanderbeek. "You need a lot of experience and smart skiers will do something here.
"It's going to take some studying, it's going to take some work and it's going to take some experience to really put a run together."
Perhaps no skier understands the home mountain advantage better than Britt Janyk, who grew up in Whistler and has been skiing on the mountain since she was five-years old, according to Canadian women's downhill coach Rob Boyd.
"She's grown up here, she's skied that run how many thousands times," he said.
"But to ski it with the mindset and eyes of a racer coming down...It's all part of getting to know it like the back of your hand so you can almost do it in your sleep."
Editing by Martin Petty