Call me Goldilocks. When it comes to vacation destinations, I”m as particular as that fairy tale gal. So, after successive summer trips to ski resorts in Colorado (too high) and Virginia (too humid), I was overjoyed to find the perfect spot for my active three-generation family: Whistler, British Columbia.
The two-hour drive north from Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway gives a taste of what’s to come. It’s a spectacular route through evergreen-covered mountains dotted with waterfalls, lakes, and fjords. Whistler, named for the sound made by local marmots, began its modern development in the early 1960s when a group of Vancouver businessmen built ski lifts and made a bid for the 1968 Olympics. That attempt failed, but the area thrived.
In 1975, Whistler became the first Resort Municipality in Canada. Blackcomb Mountain opened in 1980, expanding the ski complex; the two corporations merged in 1997. The eyes of the world will be on Whistler in 2010 when it at last gets to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
All of this infrastructure makes Whistler as much fun in summer as in winter. At the heart of the resort is a pedestrian-friendly village which, at elevation 2,190 feet, is unlikely to cause the foggy brain and uncertain stomach that higher altitudes can trigger. The village is large enough to keep one’s interest for weeks, yet small enough to walk from one end to the other and back during the course of a day. The cobblestoned Village Stroll, lined with more than 200 shops and galleries, connects plazas and squares as it winds through a town colorful with hanging flower baskets and café umbrellas.
You could sit outdoors and admire Whistler’s magnificent mountain scenery for weeks and not get bored, but the six of us were looking for something a little more energetic. Dad gave high marks to the Arnold Palmer-designed course at the Whistler Golf Club (though he claims that his putting was adversely affected by the distraction of the snow-capped peaks and majestic fir trees). My husband and our two sons, then 14 and almost 12, took a Ziptrek® tour. After donning harnesses and helmets and getting a thorough safety briefing, they and their fellow “zippers” followed a guide on an interpretive adventure through the treetops between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. My guys learned a lot about the vegetation and ecology of the area, but their favorite part was plunging more than 20 stories down a zipline to return to Whistler Village.
Part of Whistler’s appeal is the variety of trails for walking, hiking, and biking. The paved, mostly flat Valley Trail covers 12 lush miles on the valley floor. We were pleased with the bikes, gear, and instruction from Cross Country Connection. For a more adventurous ride, the Whistler Mountain Bike Park offers trails and paths, jumps, and skill centers. Take your bike on the ski lift up, then let gravity help you down.
Hikers and late-season skiers (depending on snow conditions) can take a gondola and chairlift to the peak of Whistler Mountain. Summer skiing and snowboarding on Blackcomb Glacier opens at the beginning of June. Down below, the Adventure Zone at Blackcomb has mini-golf, summer luge, rock wall, trapeze, and a bungee trampoline. If you have time, you can rock-climb, go horseback riding, heli-ski, play tennis, take an ATV tour … or get a massage, which you may need after all that activity.
One of our vacation highlights was the white-water rafting trip we took with Whistler River Adventures. My parents, 80 and 71, had never been rafting. Dad was game, but Mom was reluctant; when pressed, she confessed that she was concerned about freezing in the glacier-fed waters. I called the outfitter and spoke with a very helpful guide who assured me that we would not be shivering.
The next morning we arrived for our adventure. We changed into wetsuits and grabbed life jackets, helmets, and paddles before taking the short van drive to the put-in point. Our guide gave us thorough instructions on how and when to paddle, and what to do if someone fell out of the raft. (I could see Mom’s eyes getting bigger and bigger.) He pointed out the additional staff members who would serve as safety guides in kayaks.
We worked up a sweat paddling across a still lake for about fifteen minutes—freezing was definitely not a problem—and had our strokes well-synchronized when we hit the Green River. Time to rock and roll! Class II and III rapids gave us a really fun ride. All of us got splashed, some of us got soaked, but nobody froze or went overboard and Mom had a blast.
For indoor recreation, the Meadow Park Sports Centre just a few miles north of the village has fabulous indoor pools: one 25-meter lap pool, and one for kids with a vortex and spouts. There’s also a state-of-the-art fitness studio, squash courts, and an ice skating rink at the same facility.
Hungry? Choose from the more than 90 restaurants in and around Whistler. Some of our favorites were Sachi Sushi; the lobster special at The Keg Steakhouse & Bar; Wild Wood Bistro at the tennis club; Whistler Brewhouse; Crêpe Montagne; and Cows ice cream parlor.
Whistler offers every type of accommodation from budget lodgings and B&Bs to large luxury hotels. List your needs and preferences to help you narrow down the choices. We booked two townhouses just a few units apart in the Glacier’s Reach neighborhood. It felt great to lay our heads down on comfy pillows after a wonderful day together at Whistler. This vacation was just right.
NUTS AND BOLTS