There may be great mountains just a quick drive from Los Angeles, but nothing beats the mountains back home in Canada, where the resort town of Whistler is just two hours north of Vancouver.
A year-round destination, Whistler is mostly known for its dual-mountain winter resorts, Whistler and Blackcomb. One can participate in almost every cold-weather pursuit: skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, skating, heli-skiing, you name it. Whistler, along with Vancouver, hosted the 2010 Olympics and is one of few places where one can try out Olympic sports like bobsleigh and skeleton and spend the day on the slopes with an Olympic athlete.
Last time I was in town, I went snowboarding with Olympic skier Julia Murray as my mountain guide. I haven't gone snowboarding in close to six years, so it was a proper welcome back to the sport. She took it easy on me and even played Sherpa by pulling me with her ski pole when I hit some flats. She shared stories about her Olympic experience when we had down time on the lifts. (I also loved the ski school line access, which made wait times less than a few minutes.)
The thrill-seeker in me signed up for bobsledding at the Whistler Sliding Centre. I definitely started having second thoughts while signing waiver forms and watching sleds zip past me. When it got to my group's turn, I hoped that the forty seconds would only feel like one. At the top of the course, the sled went quite slow and I scoffed at myself for being scared. Then we hit a turn and started speeding up, peaking at around 76 miles an hour. Everything I learned in the pre-ride briefing exited my brain when we hit what felt break-neck speeds — I felt like a human bobble head. When we finally got to the bottom, I was happy to be alive.
I was done, but if you're the kind of person who likes to keep the blood pumping, you can go winter bungee jumping, zip-lining, ice climbing, and dog sledding. Families can sleigh ride, toboggan, or ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the highest and longest gondola in the world (it connects Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains).
WHAT TO DO OFF SLOPE
When not getting schooled by an Olympic athlete or breaking speed limits down the mountain, there are plenty of ways to keep busy in Whistler Village (locals call it the Village):
End a day on the mountain with drinks and snacks at the Garibaldi Lift Company or Longhorn Saloon at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Don't forget to have the classic Caesar cocktail, a Canadian twist on the Bloody Mary.
New to Whistler is Bar Oso, a Spanish tapas bar from the long time Whistler fixture and favorite, Araxi. Order a craft beer or gin cocktail and nosh on some locally sourced pintxos. Bearfoot Bistro's Vodka Ice Room is the coldest ice room in the world. Don a Canada Goose jacket before sampling vodkas from all over the world. For late-night action, head to Buffalo Bills or Maxx Fish.
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Scandinave is a Scandinavian-style spa nestled in a forest with views of Whistler's peaks and valleys. Get a massage, sweat it out in a Eucalyptus steam room or a Finnish sauna, or take the hot/cold plunge with Nordic hydrotherapy.
WHERE TO EAT
Try out the very relaxed Alta Bistro which serves a seasonal menu with locally sourced ingredients and craft beers.
Araxi, located right in the heart of Whistler Village, was an early pioneer in the farm to table movement. Executive Chef James Walt's seasonally focused menu acknowledges the high quality of food grown in the local area.
Take a break from the black diamonds for a sit-down meal away from the ski-lift crowds at Christine's. The menu offers comfort foods with a classy twist and their patio offers stunning panoramic views.
Pure Bread began as a humble farmer's market good but morphed into three full-fledged bakeries (two in Whistler and one in downtown Vancouver) where you can pick up bread, cakes, and treats along with coffee or tea.
If you're staying south of the Village or want a change of atmosphere, make your way to Creekside to dine in one of the restaurants at Nita Lake Lodge. The refined Aura restaurant sources its ingredients from local farmers, fisheries, foragers, and in warmer months, its own rooftop garden. Cure Lounge is a great place to share plates and drinks après ski. Start your mornings with (gluten-free) baked goods, coffee, smoothies, and juice at local favorite Fix Café.
WHERE TO SLEEP
The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler is located in the heart of Whistler Village next to gondolas for Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain. Each suite is equipped with fireplaces, fully equipped kitchens, and soaker tubs. Steam rooms, hot tubs, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools are also on-site.
Nita Lake Lodge is located on Nita Lake in Creekside, away from the busy Whistler Village. It has spacious suites, rooftop hot tubs, and an intimate spa. Take their complimentary shuttle into the Village or get up the mountain quicker using the nearby Whistler's Creekside gondola.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
We never know what Mother Nature has in store for Whistler from year to year. Last January, I was riding powder in the sun but by Spring, many resorts in southern British Columbia had closed. Thankfully, winter operations held up due to a strong start early in the season, 270 snow guns, and relatively cool temperatures. Check the Whistler Blackcomb website for current snow forecasts and live webcam views.
Whistler is a scenic, two-hour drive north from Vancouver. For a car-free holiday, take the Pacific Coach Lines Skylinx bus service from Vancouver Airport or select stops in the city's downtown core.
Mark Your Calendar
Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, formerly known as WinterPRIDE, is one of North America's biggest gay and lesbian ski events. The celebration of diversity has been held every January for over two decades.
Every year in April, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival—the biggest annual gathering of winter sports, music, arts, and culture in North America — happens in Whistler. There are free outdoor concerts, a photography and film contest, and lots of partying.
To learn more about British Columbia's food and wine scene, attend Whistler's 11-day fall festival, Cornucopia. Dine on locally grown food, take part in mixers, or educate yourself at expert-led seminars.
This story was originally published on Fathom.
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