Set in British Columbia’s spectacular Coast Mountains, Whistler is the Pacific Northwest’s premier winter playground. The two-hour drive from Vancouver, B.C., along the Sea-to-Sky corridor sets the dramatic stage with ocean vistas featuring forested islands, soaring mountains in the distance, and waterfalls adjacent to the highway. Home to the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler has a well-regarded reputation among snow sports enthusiasts. The skiing is fantastic, especially on a bluebird day, but there is so much more to do, see, and experience in this scenic mountain town.
Where to Stay
Whistler is great, but hardly what you’d call a best-kept secret. Many families may prefer a condo or home rental for lodging. Hotels range from classic and swanky (yep, t
here’s a Fairmont Chateau and a Four Seasons) to the funky alternative hotel-hostel mashup concept, Pangea Pod Hotel, located smack in the middle of the village. Pangea was conceived for solo travelers, featuring private sleeping pods just big enough for a bed and only half the height of a traditional room (rooms are stacked), with shared common areas, like a cafe and rooftop patio for relaxation and social interaction.
Nita Lake Lodge, located at the base of Whistler Mountain’s Creekside gondola, is the perfect place to unwind — it’s far enough away from the aprés-ski revelers to enjoy a little peace and quiet, but close enough to walk to the chair lift in the morning. Nita’s in-house restaurant, Aura, serves delicious seasonal dishes like duck confit gnocchi and braised short ribs with horseradish potatoes and local mushrooms. Upstairs, the Spa at Nita Lake Lodge offers the use of its rooftop hot tub — and requisite views of the sunset hitting Blackcomb Mountain — as well as a full assortment of spa services. Cushy robes, e
ssential oils, and one of the best hot stone massages I’ve ever experienced eased sore skiing and traveling muscles into sweet oblivion.
Most people head to Whistler Blackcomb Resort for its 8,100 acres of ski and snowboard terrain, featuring more than 200 trails over a one-mile vertical drop accessed by 37 lifts. Whistler Blackcomb has terrain variety in spades. Be the first to carve up the powder with a Fresh Tracks ticket that includes a massive breakfast at Roundhouse Lodge. Fresh Tracks offers early birds (starting at 7 a.m.) early loading privileges at the Whistler Village Gondola, all-you-can-eat breakfast up top as the sun rises over the mountain (the photo ops are phenomenal), and first crack at the upper runs. Just refrain from skiing all the way back down, as you won’t be readmitted to the top without another Fresh Tracks ticket. The resort combines two mountains — Whistler and Blackcomb are connected by the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola. Large red gondola carriages offer a scenic respite from skiing as you traverse from one mountain to another, peering down at snow-frosted tree tops, with valleys and mountains all around.
After a couple of days of skiing, when the quads are too sore to handle another steep descent or your shins just can’t take another second of the pure evil known as ski boots, try a more relaxing snow excursion with a Superfly Zipline tour operated through The Adventure Group. A van takes guests from the main village to its base camp a few minutes away, where snowmobile-style ATVs handle the ascent to the first zipline platform on Cougar Mountain. The one and a half to two-hour excursion includes multiple side-by-side zip lines allowing two guests to soar through the air simultaneously. The dense snow makes the mountain so quiet, broken only by the occasional whine of the zipline and the cold mountain air whipping past your face with exhilarating speed. Dress warmly — it’s chilly walking from platform to platform.
Hot Meets Cold
It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the coolest ways to spend a winter, Whistler afternoon is at the Scandinave Spa. Trade in the parka and snow pants for your swimsuit and a robe, then cycle through the hot, cold, and rest stations. Why would any sane person plunge under a 55-degree waterfall in the middle of winter (or ever), you might ask? Yes, it is shocking and so cold, but the transition from hot water or room to cold closes all those pores that were opened during the heat and also stimulates the immune system. The feeling is quite euphoric.
Leave the outdoors behind with a visit to Forged Axe Throwing (yep, FAT) in Function Junction. Choose your axe or hatchet, and let off a little steam as you hurl the blade into mounted wooden targets. A FAT representative will guide you through the various techniques with demonstrations, corrections, and fun games. It’s hard not to get hooked on the satisfaction that floods your bloodstream when that axe sticks. After all that adrenaline, enjoy a celebratory pint at Whistler Brewing Company around the corner, and don’t forget to load up on amazing pastries, breads, pies, cookies, or whatever else you need for breakfast or the trip home at Purebread. Say yes to a Pudgy Pie, a savory pastry filled with potatoes, caramelized onions, and goat cheese.
Nosh and Sip
There is no shortage of tasty meals and drinks to be had in Whistler. Make one of those meals a trip to Alta Bistro — a chef-owned restaurant highlighting the seasonal bounty of British Columbia with fresh seafood and proteins, local produce preserved to give winter dishes vibrant pops of color and flavor. For tapas and late-night cocktails, Bar Oso is the place to be — sit at the counter, and watch the chefs deftly wield fire and knives to create Spanish-influenced dishes, like Shishito peppers in Romesco sauce or octopus with confit potatoes, garlic, and paprika. Wash it down with a Trophy Wife — pink peppercorn-infused vodka, apricot, egg white citrus, and pink peppercorn dust. Bearfoot Bistro is Whistler’s premier fine-dining restaurant and boasts a prodigious wine list with more than 20,000 bottles. In partnership with vodka producer Ketel One, Bearfoot Bistro created the Ketel One Ice Room Experience, featuring permanent sub-zero temperatures (-25 degrees F) and more than 50 vodkas.
CAN-SKI (Creekside location if staying at Nita Lake Lodge) offers more than 12,000 skis and snowboards at 15 different locations throughout Whistler, including the mountaintop, so if a rental is bothering you or something goes wrong, they can adjust or swap it out without having to come back to the base. Guests of Nita Lake Lodge can check out snowshoes and fat-tire bikes free of charge.