WHEN PEOPLE SAY WHISTLER IS big, they’re not just talking about the Canadian mountain resort’s size. It’s true that this once-obscure British Columbia fishing, logging, and ski town is now the largest ski and snowboard resort in North America. (At 8,171 skiable acres, it dwarfs even Vail.) It’s also true that its twin peaks, Whistler and Blackcomb, rise higher from base to summit than any other chairlift-equipped mountains on the continent, rambling from cedar rain forests to glacier-capped peaks and delivering a vertical mile of skiing. But what’s biggest about Whistler is its personality. Alternately thrilling and serene, urbane and untamed, Whistler is a winter destination best-suited to those who like to play hard. Whistler’s weather can be capricious, but—with glacier skiing and sprawling mountainscapes, a thriving gourmet scene and dance clubs, great activities for kids and a bustling, international vibe—the town’s fun factor never wavers. Located 75 miles north of Vancouver in a lake-dotted valley at the easy-to-handle elevation of 2,000 feet, Whistler spent its first 50 years as a summer fishing hamlet called Alta Lake. In the early 1960s, a group of Canadian businessmen pinpointed one local peak as a potential site for the 1968 Winter Olympic Games. That first Olympic bid failed, but in February 1966 Whistler Mountain opened for business. And the games are finally coming to town in 2010. Today both ski mountains are owned by Intrawest Corp., a resort and real estate conglomerate known for some of the continent’s best ski areas. So prepare to play and get pampered—no matter your ability level on skis or snowboard. Get ready, in other words, for three perfectly hedonistic, action-packed days.
Author Susan Reifer Photography Dave Lauridsen
DAY ONE / Whistler and Blackcomb reward early birds. You wake before 7 after a restful night in front of a flickering fire at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
The chateau, a modern take on Canadian Pacific’s grand railway hotels, delivers plush comforts and superb yet un-snooty service amid a décor of Canadian folk art and antiques. Best of all, it’s mere feet from the slopes. Last night, you checked in to the exclusive (and newly redecorated) Fairmont Gold hotel-within-a-hotel. Pad down the hall in your jammies to the clubby Fairmont Gold lounge for some coffee and juice before checking the day’s weather report.
Whistler’s weather can vary wildly from valley floor to summit. Even if it’s misty outside the hotel, there may be fresh powder or perhaps even sun on top. Dress in layers and head for breakfast at Ciao-Thyme Bistro, a tiny, open-kitchen café devoted to creating epicurean experiences from regional, seasonal, and organic ingredients. Try the smoked-salmon omelet with brie and asparagus or the eggs Benedict trio with rosemary hash browns.
Gear up at the chateau’s slopeside ski room, and then walk the few yards to Blackcomb’s Wizard Express. Unless you are a rank beginner, head all the way up the mountain before starting back down, connecting from Wizard to the Solar Coaster Express. As you get off Solar, glide straight ahead to the information shack to see what’s been groomed. Whistler-Blackcomb manicures 1,200 acres from peak to valley every night, so start with warm-up laps wherever there is corduroy.
The best way to experience Blackcomb is to ski or ride it in sections, exploring runs off one lift before switching lifts. Begin with a few laps down Solar Coaster’s rolling, open boulevards. When the light-board at the top of Solar indicates Seventh Heaven is open, take a few laps there.
When it’s time for a snack, find your way to Crystal Hut, a cozy log cabin famous for its giant, made-to-order Belgian waffles topped with fresh whipped cream, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate chips, and maple syrup. As you wipe the whipped cream from your nose, check the weather. If it’s snowy or foggy, stay midmountain on the tree-flanked runs below Crystal Hut, taking laps on the one-two combo of Excelerator Chair and Crystal Chair. Explore runs like Ridge Runner (an intermediate favorite) or Arthur’s Choice, Outer Limits, and Rider’s Revenge (for experts). If it’s clear, take Glacier Express and the Showcase T-bar to the top and follow the short boot-pack hike to the entrance of Blackcomb
Glacier, a vast and majestic alpine arena that is part of
British Columbia’s Parks system. Intermediates can glide right down the center of the basin; experts can try Blow Hole and Surf’s Up but should watch for cliff bands.
At 1 p.m., make your way to the Rendezvous Lodge, where you have a reservation at Christine’s. Sip a crisp B.C. Pinot Gris or a Canadian pilsner, gaze at the craggy white views, and choose between the spinach and goat cheese salad with Skidegate salmon or the Tuscan portobello ciabatta.
After lunch, glide down to the chateau, switch into warm, dry shoes and gloves, and then take the free Fairmont shuttle bus to the Village Loop. Follow the signs to Ziptrek Ecotours, where you have a reservation for your 3 o’clock Zipline adventure. Ziptrek harnesses its guests to pulleys that glide along steel cables suspended over the rushing creek that divides Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The tour’s few minutes of adrenaline rush are interspersed with several hours of peaceful and informative walks among the treetops.
For some après-ski revelry, head to the Dubh Linn Gate Old Irish Pub for pints of Guinness and foot-tapping to live Celtic music. Then it’s a short wander to My Foot Reflexology for a revitalizing Singapore-style foot massage.
After a quick change, ask the Fairmont shuttle to drop you at the Whistler Outdoor Centre, where a sleigh pulled by Belgian draft horses takes you for a jingle-bell ride over the river, through the woods, and along the shores of Green Lake to the Edgewater Lodge. It’s better than Grandma’s house, by far. Executive chef Thomas Piekarski fuses Pacific Northwest and high Swiss culinary styles for specialties like pan-seared Camembert with black fig mousse and mango chutney. For entrées, organic venison is the specialty of the house. The candlelit, lakefront dining room’s big views are a perfect end to a very big day.
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