Sheepdogs-in-Whistler

Whistler rocks with hot new festival

Sheepdogs-in-Whistler

Saskatoon’s Sheepdogs rock the Victoria Day three-day weekend during GoFest Whistler celebrations with a free concert. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Columnist 

mountain biking whistler

Whistler’s mountain bike trails were packed on the opening weekend of the 2014 season. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — A year ago, I visited Whistler in late May and it was quiet, an in-between time for the famous resort village where the ski conditions weren’t fantastic and the mountain biking and sightseeing opportunities were far from their best.

Neither visitors or residents seemed to know quite what to do with themselves. Araxi, one of Whistler’s best restaurants, was closed for renovations and the nightclubs weren’t at their notorious wildness.

This year? A completely different scene.

Bars are packed, music reverberates through the village square, the area’s competitive spirit is on display thanks to unique competitions and the fabulous energy of Whistler has barely ebbed.

The bulk of the credit can be given to British Columbia‘s newest festival. With GO Fest Whistler, the village attempts an amalgamation of everything it offers in one activity-filled weekend. There’s the last runs of skiing and snowboarding for the season, the first runs of mountain biking in 2014, road racing, kayaking and canoeing, an early-season golf tournament, a group yoga session, and cultural events (an extreme sports film festival and free concerts) that tie it all together.

Throw in low hotel rates for the May long weekend and the aim of boosting visitation during the spring shoulder season has clearly worked. Years ago, Whistler succeeded in turning its fall shoulder season into a winner thanks to Cornucopia, one of the finest food-and-wine events in Canada.

Celebrating the Great Outdoors in Whistler

The inaugural Go Fest Whistler may inspire the same kind of attendance in Mays to come, though with a different flavour. GO Fest, whose name is short for “Great Outdoors,” is about revving up the athletic soul of Whistler, ensuring there’s no drop in enthusiasm or rise in waist lines between winter and summer sports seasons. The Great Snow Earth Water race challenges relay teams to ski, mountain bike, run and canoe their way to victory and a cash prize. The AlpenGlow Fun Run rewards participants who venture into the forested areas of the village with a delightful light show that features illuminated trees. Paddle-boarding events push you into summer even if the water temperature is stubbornly wintery.

And if you didn’t want to get up and go, you could still enjoy the festival thanks to The Sheepdogs, the Saskatoon band that likely trails only Arcade Fire as Canada’s current finest live rock act. They opened the festival with a flawless 90-minute, open-air set that included hits “I Don’t Know” and “The Way It Is,” as well as a riveting version of Neil Young’s “Down By the River” that closed the Friday night show.

Not all of Whistler is up and running for Go Fest. The gondola to the top of Whistler Mountain is down for maintenance until later in the month and so is the Peak 2 Peak gondola that spans the hills of Blackcomb and Whistler.

Still, Whistler is clearly eager to blossom in May and this budding festival is a smart way to energize the village. If nothing else, Go Fest melds everything Whistler offers into one weekend and given that this has become a four-season destination that accomplishment is a feat in itself.

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alpenglow fun run whistler

Participants have lots of laughs while warming up in the Village Square for the 6.7-km AlpenGlow Fun Run during GoFest in Whistler. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Where to Stay: On this visit, I stayed at the Pan Pacific Mountainside Hotel. It’s right across from the gondola and chairlifts that take you to the top of Whistler and Blackcomb. The small but comfortable studio units feature full kitchens. Studio suites for May weekend nights start at $152 for British Columbia and Washington state residents and are $169 for other guests.

Where to Dine: Anyone who visits Whistler should dine at both Araxi and the Bearfoot Bistro. Both are outstanding and unique. Araxi, led by executive chef James Walt, serves French and Italian cuisine using local ingredients while the Bearfoot Bistro is focused on Pacific Northwest cuisine in a room that’s always lively.

Read more Vacay.ca coverage of Araxi and Bearfoot Bistro.

GO Fest Whistler Information: Visit the festival’s website for details and ideas for your next visit.

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.