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 THREE / Today you’ll be snowcat skiing, so it’s another early morning. Grab your gear (including fat powder skis rented for the occasion) and catch the shuttle or a cab to the Southside Diner in Creekside, arriving by 7:30 a.m. Slide into one of Southside’s corrugated steel, checkerplate, and leatherette banquettes and fill up on the hearty breakfast buffet while meeting your guides from Powder Mountain Catskiing. After a 20-minute van ride to Powder Mountain’s base of operations at Chance Creek, change into your boots and clamber into one of the three diesel snowcats for the long crawl up to Powder Mountain’s 4,300 acres of unspoiled ski and snowboard terrain. Instead of a chairlift, the snowcats will ferry you from the bottom to the top of each run. Instead of a mountain full of people, there will be only 36 guests and six guides. Instead of busy, bumped-up runs, you’ll likely be floating through untracked fluff. A full day with Powder Mountain includes six or more runs, a picnic lunch, and at least 7,000 vertical feet of downhill action.
Return to the chateau in time for a eucalyptus steam followed by a Thai massage at Vida Wellness Spa. Thai massage is a clothed, invigorating treatment that stretches and releases your muscles—just the thing before your Whistler finale, a peripatetic dine-around and gallery stroll.
Start with champagne and B.C. oysters at the Bearfoot Bistro Wine Bar. Then visit the Adele Campbell Fine Art Gallery, where the collection ranges in style from plein air to expressionism, paying particular homage to Canadian landscapes. Next door, also on Art Gallery Row, the Black Tusk Gallery showcases Native art from the Pacific Northwest, while the Whistler Village Gallery features bold, contemporary sculpture, painting, and glass.
Small tapas-style plates are Whistler’s current food rage. Stop in The Mix by Ric’s for beef carpaccio or ahi niçoise salad; then carry on to après for chef Eric Vernice’s lobster tortellini in a coriander-lemon emulsion and a long list of fine Northwest wines by the glass.
If you’re still hungry, cross the street to Elements and enjoy roasted duck breast in a cassis cranberry sauce. Press your nose against the glass of the Path Gallery for a view of more fine Native art on your way to Araxi for a dessert of artisan cheeses and rare B.C. ice wine.
Finally, slide into Tommy Africa’s, where DJs rule and the dance floor is always crowded. Then head back to the chateau and slide between the silky sheets, floating off to dreamy memories of your perfect ski vacation.
Susan Reifer fled Hollywood for one perfect winter in Whistler and has stayed for nine. She is a longtime contributor to Ski magazine.
Whistler benefits from its location in the heart of the active winter storm track yet close enough to the Pacific to temper the season’s coldest air masses. While some light snow may fall as early as September, November is a more poignant month of transition. Temperatures in the 50s early in the month give way to the season’s first significant snowstorms. Temperatures hover in the 20s or 30s throughout winter, 10 degrees colder on top of the mountain. While summer is warm, it’s also dry, so humidity is tolerable.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Whistler climatological details, visit weather.com.
Drive time from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to Whistler is about two-and-a-half hours along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway. Reserve an all-wheel drive from a rental agency, or ask the Fairmont Gold concierge to arrange for a private limo service to pick you up in a four-wheel drive. You won’t need a car in Whistler. The main commercial district is Whistler Village, but there also are shops and restaurants at Creekside and in the Upper Village (alongside the Fairmont). Fairmont operates a complimentary guest shuttle service around the resort. There also are free and low-cost local buses and abundant taxis.
Magic Castle on Blackcomb and Tree Fort on Whistler (whistlerblackcomb.com) Kid ski zones Tube Park (whistlerblack comb.com) Inner-tube sliding Air Dome (whistlerblack comb.com) An indoor course for mountain bikes The Great Glass Elevator Candy Shop (Tel: 604-935-1076) Great Wall Underground (greatwallclimbing.com) Indoor rock climbing Expressions Art Studio (expressionsartstudio.com) Crafty fun
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