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 TWO / Today you’ll explore Whistler Mountain, starting with Fresh Tracks Breakfast. Fresh Tracks ticketholders (as many as 650) load the Whistler Village Gondola at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast in the Roundhouse Lodge and then get first crack at the slopes.
After uncrowded warm-up runs from the Emerald and Big Red chairs, head to the ski school area for a 9 a.m. private half-day lesson/tour with no lift lines. Tell the instructor you want to ski the Dave Murray Downhill, named after a famous Canadian racer and Whistler local. A World Cup racer can ski this 2010 Olympic downhill in just over two minutes. It takes most mortals more like 20—and that’s without making any stops.
Back at the top of the mountain, duck into Harmony Hut to buy a few slabs of banana bread with chocolate chips for later. If you’re up for it, follow your instructor into Flute Basin. After a 20-minute hike to the top, savor the banana bread and 360-degree views. Your instructor will help with the backcountry-style skiing in Flute—and be sure to ask for powder tips for your snowcat adventure tomorrow. Then make your way down the mountain for lunch at Sushi Village, Whistler’s most popular restaurant. Don’t miss the spicy agedashi tofu, the Beautiful roll, or the SASS roll.
Ditch your ski gear, and wander through some of the village’s distinctively Canadian shops. Lululemon’s line of sports and lifestyle clothing is a Vancouver original. Mountain Moments Gallery features the images of local photographer Greg Griffith. Skitch stocks funky objets made by Canadian artisans. Castro’s Cuban Cigar Store sells 48 different brands of Cubans, including rare finds. Object Design’s contemporary, one-of-a-kind jewelry is crafted by regional artists. Armchair Books has ample local and Canadian lore. Stop next door at Gone Bakery for a cup of tea and a Nanaimo bar (a British Columbian specialty featuring a chocolate crumb base topped by custard and chocolate).
Then head to Solarice Wellness Centre for an aprèsski yoga class or—if you feel like letting someone else do all the work—a deep-tissue massage with a medically certified masseur.
For dinner you’ve reserved a table well in advance for Whistler’s finest culinary experience, the Rimrock Café. This unassuming spot is the French Laundry of the Pacific Northwest, with a great wine cellar and a particular flair for seafood and game. Start with the seafood antipasto tasting platter, and then try chef Rolf Gunther’s seafood trio or mixed grill. Finish with the sticky toffee pudding.
End your evening with a nightcap, sinking into the wingbacks and couches of the Fairmont’s Mallard Lounge.
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