Story by Michelle Hopkins
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The engine roars to life and I’m already hanging onto my partner’s waist as if my life depends on it. It’s around 7:30 pm and the sun is slowly making its descent in the clear blue sky. We are ready to take off on our Canadian Wilderness Adventures journey from the base of Blackcomb Mountain. The giant snowflakes are making the scene feel even more like a fairy-tale adventure.
After a few last-minute instructions from our guide, my partner hits the throttle and we are off, winding up 6,000 feet at roughly 30 to 40 kilometres (or about 25 miles) per hour to Crystal Hut, where we will embark on a different journey — a culinary one with wine, fondue and live music.
Being a passenger on a snowmobile gives you the chance to really appreciate and observe the mountain ranges, which are bordered by old-growth trees and massive glaciers. As we blaze along trails of pine trees draped in snow, I marvel at how the terrain seems to glow; crystal beams glisten off the branches, making me revel in the sheer adrenaline rush of it all.
First-time snowmobilers, Spaniards Roberto Lopez and friend Ernesto Garcia, say this was the perfect opportunity to experience something authentically Canadian — you know, like hockey and maple syrup.
Lopez admits it was a little daunting at first and the challenge for him was “to concentrate on driving, when all I wanted to do was take in the beauty of the terrain.”
In broken English, Garcia says he was a little apprehensive at first but as soon as the snowmobile charged to life and he took in the pristine backcountry: “I was hooked.”
He even has plans for how he can improve on his experience. “Trekking through moonlight was a blast,” he says, “next time, I’m going to be a passenger on the snowmobile and try it during the daytime.”
With the full moon guiding us, we head down the mountain. After an exhilarating, albeit a little cold 4 ½ hours of adventure, we hop on the bus, tired but smiling, heading for a good night sleep.
(I highly recommend you pack hand warmers for your gloves as my partner’s left hand was frozen because the heater on the left handlebar wasn’t working).
Joys of Chateau Whistler
Every time I visit this alpine wonderland, it’s a thrill to stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Nestled in the Whistler Valley at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, this 550-room landmark lodge embodies British Columbia’s version of a European stately manor.
The Chateau’s history dates to 1989, yet it possesses grace that reminds me of a distinguished old dame. The exterior was built in the style of earlier Canadian chateaus, yet it’s encapsulated in a modern edifice. The timeless classic interior was designed by international renowned interior designer Frank Nicholson (famed for the decor of the New York’s Regency Hotel and some of the Ritz-Carlton hotels).
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As soon as you enter the lobby — with its high ceilings, clusters of comfortable weather-worn chairs and sofas, and a river-rock fireplace — you know you’re in for a treat. What’s noteworthy is that there is nothing stuffy about either the staff or the service … after all, this is Whistler. Don’t be surprised to find a four-legged friend on the elevator with you because dogs are welcome here too.
The next morning, I’m up nice and early heading for yet another winter exploit — snowshoeing.
I meet fellow Maritimer Krissy Gates at the Carleton Lodge where the Adventure Group has its office. It’s just the two of us and we are off for a 90-minute snowshoe expedition, dubbed the natural mystic tour. We ride up the gondola and beginner chairlift up Whistler Mountain, then strap on our snowshoes and off we go into untouched snow.
We are off-the-beaten track and a few times I sink into knee-deep snow. Don’t let those skiers tell you snowshoeing isn’t a workout. My legs were feeling it as I walked back to the Chateau.
Culinary Adventures in Whistler
Whistler Blackcomb is home to nearly 200 eateries — everything from fine dining to casual fare and take-out. Here are a couple of new restaurants that we tried out that are getting a lot of favourable buzz.
The Mexican Corner is located in the bustling village. The venue originally opened near the IGA a few years back. The Mexican Corner kicked off 2014 with a new location and it’s getting attention for its authentic cuisine and décor.
The reason? Executive chef Edgar Navarro, a native of Mexico City. After working in the US and Europe, Navarro returned to his Mexican roots and came to Whistler to bring the best from his home country. The menu offers a variety of standout dishes, including the guacamole, chipotle shrimp tostada (sinfully delicious), and its signature seafood cazuela (chockful of fish, shrimps cooked in butter, Ajillo sauce and citrus juice, then flamed with tequila).
The atmosphere in the restaurant reminded me of my trip to Cozumel … lively, filled with chatter, both from the guests and servers. You’ll often find Navarro conversing with the guests, sharing a laugh or two.
As great as the food is, the focus here is also on the drinks. May I suggest a pitcher of mango margaritas?
Location: 4274 Mountain Square, Whistler
Reservations: It’s first-come, first-serve (604-962-4450)
The Red Door Bistro is located in Whistler Creekside beside Roland’s Pub. Owner Karen Roland recruited well-known local executive chef R.D. Stewart and gave him carte blanche to create a menu that could compete with more pricey local fine-dining eateries but at better prices.
Stewart took up the challenge and within just a few months of opening the Red Door Bistro has garnered a huge following and great reviews. I was introduced to the eatery by my sister and her husband, who kept raving about it.
Stewart came from La Rua, another Whistler restaurant, and brought along three of his fellow foodie compadres to create an atmosphere that reflects what he is trying to achieve here — laid-back, inviting and friendly. His locally sourced, West Coast-inspired cuisine is worthy of a fine-dining label. Already, the British Columbia crab cakes, duck confit, braised chuck flats and cassoulet are popular items.
P.S. With only room for roughly 40, the lucky ones call and make a reservation.
Location: 2129 Lake Placid Road, Creekside Whistler
Reservations: 604-962-6262 (opened for dinner from 5 to 10 pm)
More About Canadian Wilderness Adventures
Location: Snowmobilers meet at the Carleton Lodge beside the Longhorn Saloon
Contact: 1-877-938-1616 (toll-free telephone)
Dates: For the 2013-14 season, the Camp runs until April 18.
Rates: $225 Single; $189 per person sharing, includes: 4-hour tour, fondue dinner and one glass of wine.
The Adventure Group: Snowshoeing
Location: Unit No. 218 – 4293 Mountain Square
Rates: $89 for adults/$59 for children (5 to 12)
Where to stay: Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Location: 4599 Chateau Blvd., Whistler
Website: www.fairmont.com/ whistler
Room rates: The average rate is $370 per night in high season. Rates vary depending on season and time of stay.
Vacay.ca Tip: The Chateau offers special rates throughout the year. Book your escape to Whistler by visiting www.EnjoyWhistler.com.