Bears, BBQ and bubbly in Whistler
“Great Canadian Weekends” feature customized itineraries of the nation’s finest destinations prepared by Vacay.ca, the Concierge to Canada. Travellers looking to get the most out of their stay will want to follow these tips and ideas from our travel experts. The series continues with a trek to British Columbia’s favourite outdoor sports destination.
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — I’ve been to Whistler at least two dozen times and never once bombed down one of its mountains. Not on skis, or a snowboard, or a mountain bike. Am I missing out? I’ve never felt like it. That’s because this haven for intense outdoor sports activities is also fabulous for soft-core warm-weather enjoyment, too, including golfing, hiking, zip lining, and cycling. On top of all that, it’s simply immaculate. A beautiful part of the world that never bores. Whistler exhilarates, as it did on my most recent visit at the end of May.
During those four days, daring mountain bikers swarmed the village to take turns careening down one of nearly 50 trails, while skiers and snowboarders squeezed in their final runs of the season. A Great Canadian Weekend shouldn’t be about putting yourself in position to suffer bodily harm, I figured. So I chose pursuits that were less dangerous and, for my tastes, even more satisfying than a thrill run down a steep and challenging hill.
DAY 1 IN WHISTLER
FRIDAY, 5 PM, CHECK-IN, FAIRMONT CHATEAU WHISTLER
Address: 4599 Chateau Boulevard (at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain) — see map below
Driving distance from Vancouver: Whistler is an easy, breathtaking drive from downtown Vancouver. Take Highway 99 north, crossing over the Lions Gate Bridge in Stanley Park, and drive through the beautiful coastal route that runs along Howe Sound. It will take about 90 minutes to go the 125 kilometres between destinations.
What you should know: Chateau Whistler is the Fairmont property that most resembles the exquisite and revered Fairmont Lake Louise in Alberta. Its lobby is big, airy and tastefully decorated, with accents of the Pacific coast. It has a bar that is spread out like a convention room, allowing for intimacy between couples or congenial gatherings of large groups. From housekeepers to bellhops to the concierge desk, the service is outstanding. Pleasant hellos and hands eager to help are what greet you. The rooms are generously sized, comfortable and luxurious. This hotel is a jewel of a brand whose properties can sometimes disappoint. One thing I learned that I didn’t know before was that a free membership to the Fairmont President’s Club gets you complimentary Internet access at any of the chain’s hotels. Otherwise, you pay $14.95 for 24 hours of online access. I have been critical of Fairmont in the past for not having free Internet for its guests. Providing no-charge access to guests who sign up to its rewards program is a shrewd marketing tactic by the hotelier.
Cost: Rates start at $240 per night on most summer weekends. Visit the hotel’s website to search for accommodations and special packages.
Bonus Feature: Complimentary shuttle service to spots in the village and to the Chateau Whistler golf course.
FRIDAY, 8 PM, DINNER AT BEARFOOT BISTRO
Address: 4121 Village Green (at the Listel Hotel)
Distance from Chateau Whistler: An easy 12-minute walk
What you should know: A destination restaurant that lives up to its reputation, both for quality cuisine and fun times. The Champagne sabering in the magnificent wine cellar — the largest in British Columbia, with 20,000 bottles — is not to be passed up. You order a bottle or half-bottle of sparkling wine or Champagne and then you are escorted downstairs to chop off the neck of the bottle with a blade, just the way Napoleon and his army used to do. Chances are, you’ll be surprised how well you accomplish the feat.
Cost: The five-course summer menu costs $64 — a culinary deal. It features choices such as milk-fed veal carpaccio, salmon in béarnaise sauce, and oysters.
Reservations: Telephone 1-604-932-3433 or book online via OpenTable.
DAY 2 IN WHISTLER
SATURDAY, 9 AM, TEE TIME AT CHATEAU WHISTLER GOLF CLUB
Address: 4612 Blackcomb Way
Distance from hotel: 1.2 kilometres. You can use the hotel’s shuttle service for drop-off and pick-up after your round.
What you should know: For many visitors, the golf is secondary to the unusual residents on the course. About a half-dozen black bears, including a female named Alice and her two cubs, roam the grounds. The Today Show from Australia was recently in Whistler filming the black bears on the course. Phil Chambers, group coordinator at the Chateau Whistler course, told me that one bear, who has passed away, would even have fun swatting balls from the greens. Encounters can be entertaining and a bit nerve-wracking, although there haven’t been any reported incidents with the bears. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1993, the par-72, 6,635-yard track rises 400 feet, a layout that gives players outstanding views of the mountains and the natural surroundings of the British Columbia coast.
Cost: $175 for greens fees from June 1 to September 30; $125 for twilight rates. A great golf deal is the Date Night offer on Thursdays in the summer that includes a round of golf and BBQ dinner for just $145 per couple. Visit the course’s website for full details.
SATURDAY, 2 PM, HIKING WHISTLER MOUNTAIN
Location: Village Square at the base of the mountain
Distance from hotel: 1 kilometre (eight-minute walk)
What you should know: The thrilling gondola ride to the top of the mountain takes 22 minutes and climbs more than 1,800 metres (6,000 feet). Along with views of the mountains, you’ll see mountain bikers going down hill, a few more black bears amid the woods, and possibly an eagle or two. Once you’re out of the gondola, you will be able to hike around on a choice of trails, with a total of 50 kilometres (30 miles) available for walking. You can also take the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that links you to the top of Blackcomb Mountain. The crossing opened prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics and is a marvel of engineering. It holds world records for longest unsupported span crossing (three kilometres, or 1.8 miles) and deepest vertical drop from a lift at 436 metres (1,430 feet). From Whistler Mountain, you can also access a chairlift, dubbed the 7th Heaven Lift, that drags you up a few hundred more feet to the very top of the mountain for additional hiking options and stunning views overlooking Fitzsimmons Valley.
Cost: Round-trip gondola tickets cost $48.95 for adult fares ($41.95 for students and seniors fares; $24.95 for children’s fares). Order tickets online two days or more before you arrive and save $2.
SATURDAY, 6 PM, MOUNTAIN-TOP BBQ
What you should know: I have for many years considered this activity one of the travel highlights in British Columbia — and it comes at a tremendous bargain, only an additional $16 for the meal when you purchase an adult gondola ticket ($64.95 total). That $16 price is actually $3.95 less than it was when I first enjoyed this experience 10 years ago (although the gondola ride is $9 more). The price is for a barbecue meal you won’t soon forget. The mountain-top BBQ takes place Friday-Sunday nights during the summer until September 7, 2013. Saturday evenings (5-8 pm) feature prime rib on the grill, along with salads, side dishes, desserts, and coffee or tea. You can purchase wine, beer, and spirits at the chalet (or bring your own), and sit on the patio overlooking the mountains and valley. A better setting for a meal is hard to find on this planet.
SATURDAY, 9 PM, VILLAGE WALK
What you should know: Once you’re down from the high of Whistler Mountain, stop in for drinks at any of the lively places in town. You can try the Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill right at the base of the mountain, or the Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub, which is always a lively spot for a pint, or Merlin’s Bar, known for its nachos and nightlife. For a neighbourhood feel, visit Sushi Village for sake-infused fruit drinks and some laughs.
DAY 3 IN WHISTLER
SUNDAY, 10:30 AM, FIRST NATIONS MUSEUM
Location: 4584 Blackcomb Way (at corner of Lorimer Road)
Distance from hotel: A two-minute walk
What you should know: The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre offers an education in coastal aboriginal history and heritage. The Squamish and Lil’wat nations have co-existed for generations amid the mountains and valleys of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. This facility, opened in 2008, includes a captivating 15-minute film that introduces you to the two nations and their cultures. Artifacts include weapons, totem poles, historic canoes, and a replica of a longhouse. The beautiful museum is an airy building lined with the beams of Douglas fir trees.
Cost: Admission is $18 for adults ($13.50, students and seniors, $8, children).