“I could stay out here all night,” the woman next to me said as we watched light installations dazzle our eyes in minus-10-degree temperatures. And I agreed.
Winter in Canada is a beast. We curse it, we flee it, we wish it away. Until we come across an experience that makes us realize winter helps define us — individually and collectively. It is why I felt both enthralled with and connected to Vallea Lumina. The arts installation in Whistler embraces winter and encourages us to see the cold as an opportunity to commune and be creative.
It features quintessential touches of Canadiana: tents and campfires, songs and s’mores, hot chocolate and conversation. And there are artistic flourishes that wow. A face resembling an ent, a tree creature from Lord of the Rings, is projected on the bark of an oak tree, which is reason enough to make a hiker pause, but then the figure speaks in a thick, ancient growl instructing trail-goers to march on, and you are instantly charmed. As you move forward, you enter a forest illuminated with multi-coloured lights that would seem common at a rave with walls or boundaries to contain your excitement. At Vallea Lumina, though, you’re in the outdoors, hearing the flow of a creek as you traipse over a bridge in the dark and inhale the herbal scents of the forest. The lights guide you to the next installation and the next.
During the multimedia show, participants follow the story of a pair of hikers — an older man and a young boy — as they journey through the woods. Their images are projected against the canvas of a tent and a backdrop amid the trees, where you experience the sight and sound of the pair singing folk songs around a fire that crackles and flings virtual embers into the night. At the end of the tune, a brilliant pine tree slowly reveals itself from the sky. Soon, the tree and the crooning duo disappear, leaving only the campfire for the onlookers to see and ponder.
The scenes of Vallea Lumina reminded me that despite the discomfort of the cold, song, joy, and affection emerge in Canada through activities that are soulful and resonant of a make-the-best-of-it mentality that we all adopt at some point during winter. We combat the cold and when we do it in ways that encourage our creativity the battle hardly feels like a battle at all.
The trail covers about one kilometre of Cougar Mountain, a landmark that’s a 10-minute drive from the heart of Whistler Village. The attraction’s entrance features campfires, where you can huddle around before and after the tour, along with a cafe serving hot chocolate, cider, and s’mores, among other satiating choices.
The experience was created by Montreal concept studio Moment Factory, and builds on the two years of warm-weather success enjoyed by Vallea Lumina, which has drawn global acclaim for its summer installations. The images in the winter experience, which launches on November 28, are largely the same as what guests would have seen in summer, but the setting with frost in the air and the dark of winter settling over the woods and the hills seems far more suited to the cold.
In a destination that celebrates winter unlike anywhere else in the country, Vallea Lumina’s artistic trail is a heart-warming après addition to a Whistler getaway.
Where to Dine in Whistler
If you want to embrace the winter ambiance in Canada’s favourite ski and snowboard playland, head to the venerable Bearfoot Bistro. Not only does the restaurant have some of the best food in the province, there’s no shortage of good times. Venture into the Ketel One Vodka Room to experience the minus-30 temperatures and sample flavours of the collection. Try your hand at Champagne sabring in the wine cellar that is home to a dizzying 16,000 bottles. The Bearfoot team will give you a tutorial on how to properly sabre a bottle of sparkling wine and then hand you the weapon needed to perform the task of slicing the cork off of the vessel. It is a tradition that dates to Napoleon’s war times and a long-standing tradition at the Bearfoot. For dessert, sample the liquid nitrogen ice cream, served table side with a display of fancifulness that underscores the Whistler ethic that cold is cool.
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The tradition of Champagne Sabering began when Napoleon told his troops that a successful slicing of the cork off of a bottle on the eve of battle portended victory. These days, it’s just another reason to visit the Bearfoot Bistro! (Glad to report, there won’t be any defeat based on my performance tonight.) 📷: @goodlifevan . . #whistler #onlyinwhistler #champagnesabering #bearfootbistro #whistlerdining #explorebc #winetraditions
The Bearfoot has been showcasing these amusements for years, and they never get old. Like winter’s most endearing experiences, it feels comforting to know you can find joviality in a familiar and welcoming place that helps shake off the chill.
More About Vallea Lumina
Dates: November 28, 2019-April 2020
Location: Cougar Mountain Basecamp, Whistler (see map below)
Cost and Hours: Tickets cost $29.99 (adults) and $24.99 (youth). They can be purchased online; you select the start time for your experience at the time of purchase. The self-guided tours begin at sunset (6 pm) and the final available time slot is 8:20 pm. Complimentary, round-trip shuttles bring guests from Whistler Village to the attraction. It takes about 30 minutes to complete the hike, although guests can linger longer or race through in less than 15 minutes if they choose.