After the 2010 Winter Olympics, the world knows about Whistler’s phenomenal skiing and the laid-back wintery atmosphere of this resort village just two hours from Vancouver.
But did you know that Whistler is equally — maybe more — fun in the summer?
I went up to visit in mid-June, near to the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. This meant the sun rose early for exploring the 50 km of hiking trails and that the evenings were almost endless, meant for enjoying fine food and drink on the multitude of outdoor patios in the village. And despite the 16 hours of daylight (plus several more beautiful “blue hours”), there wasn’t enough time for me to sample everything Whistler has to offer.
Whistler has a reputation as a mountain biker’s paradise. From the village, bikers have access to over 65 chair lift-serviced trails at 1500 m (5000 feet) from the Peak in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. The trails range from green to double black diamond, classified like ski runs. Those of us a little less addicted to adrenaline can watch the bikers leaping over jumps as they come down the mountain, ready to catch the next ride up.
Whistler has hundreds of kilometers of trails throughout the area, paved (40 km) in the valley suitable for families and cruising, as well as doubletrack (20 km) and single track (160 km) trails through old growth forests. Many of these are more than suitable for exploring on foot as well.
You can also catch beautiful views on the longest zipline in Canada — Superfly Ziplines has four double zips to enjoy. Because the ziplines are so long (two are over 1 km) you have plenty of time to really look around and see how beautiful Whistler is (well … perhaps “plenty of time” is an exaggeration, as the highest recorded speed at Superfly is 108 km/h!).
If you’d like to see the mountains from high above, hikers can also take a lift up either Whistler or Blackcomb mountains. Once there, be sure to take a ride on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola which spans the two mountains. The gondola holds several world records such as the highest lift of its kind (436 m above the valley floor) and the longest unsupported span in the world (3.024 km). The ride across takes just 11 minutes to travel 4.4 km, and the views are spectacular. I took advantage of the warm June afternoon to also hike Pika’s Traverse on Whistler Mountain. While the trail itself had been cleared of snow, the sides of it showed just how much snow Whistler gets in the winter!
After a fairly vertical hike (my accelerated heart rate was only due to the altitude and the scenery, right?), I was set for an afternoon of relaxing. I headed to the Scandinave Spa, just above the village. The atmosphere was serene. Set into the mountain are gardens, hot and cold pools, waterfalls, firepits surrounded by Adriondack chairs, and a handful of wooden buildings housing a eucalyptus steam bath, wood-burning Finnish sauna, and solariums for relaxing. I confess to falling asleep in a hammock, but not before I had sampled each of the hydrotherapy stations at least once.
The next day, ready for a little culture, I visited the Squamish Lil-wat Cultural Centre. The Squamish and Lil-wat — two of Canada’s many First Nations — occupied this territory long before it was an alpine ski village and resort. They used the area as common hunting and trading grounds. The Cultural Centre is housed in a beautiful building resembling a Squamish Longhouse, and you can visit a traditional Lil-wat Istken (an earthen dwelling), learn about these two Nations’ culture and history, see beautiful traditional and modern indigenous art, and sample fusion dishes made with local ingredients in the Centre’s cafe.
Winter or summer, Whistler’s chefs will delight you. There is an abundance of good eating here. My top recommendation is Araxi, right in the heart of the village square. Chef James Walt specializes in farm-to-table cuisine and creates phenomenal dishes. I was especially impressed with his Haida Gwaii halibut and his divine lemon tart (and I am a connoisseur of lemon tarts!). Be sure to opt for the wine pairings with your meal. (And on your way back through Vancouver, leave time for another meal in the TopTable family of restaurants … I love Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in Yaletown and West on South Granville, which is on the way to the airport).
Aura Restaurant, in Nita Lake Lodge, is another top Whistler foodie destination. On some Wednesday mornings in the warmer months, Chef Paul Moran leads a foraging class. This is an experience not to be missed. You’ll spend a morning with the chef walking through the forest — the exact location depends on what is ready for eating – and at a few spots near the hotel. My class of four walked around Lost Lake and Chef Moran showed us how to find and identify plants that can help you survive in an emergency and, more importantly from my perspective, plants that are also delicious! Wild Whistler delicacies available in June include elderflower, cattail (bullrush), devil’s club, grand fir shoots, wild ginger, wood sorrel, broad-leaf plantain and johnny jump up pansies — who knew! That evening, Chef Moran prepared a seven-course meal featuring all the treasures we had found both in the wild and in the hotel’s roof top garden. The most surprisingly delicious was the cattail, my favourite was probably the spring salmon tartar, but it was a difficult decision!
And if you are in Whistler in the winter, there’s plenty to do beyond skiing and snowboarding. Have you ever wanted to try snowmobiling? I went back in the winter to try it for the first time with The Adventure Group and with Canadian Wilderness Adventures. Way more fun than I expected! Read about it here: Assumptions Challenged: A Newbie’s First Sledding Experience.
Whether you’re in Whistler to ski, snowboard, snowmobile, bike, raft, biplane, golf, bear watch or just enjoy village life, our top recommended Whistler hotels are:
— Fairmont Chateau Whistler: for the always excellent Fairmont service, located right at the base of beautiful Blackcomb Mountain (opt for the Gold Floor!)
— Nita Lake Lodge: for quiet creekside stays, indulging in Chef Moran’s talented kitchen, and then enjoying kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and other activities on calm Nita Lake.
…. If you didn’t plan ahead and don’t have enough time for a stay in Whistler, you can book a day trip from Vancouver. Contact Landsea Tours and Adventures. They’ll arrange everything so you can see Whistler, winter or summer, and get you back to your Vancouver hotel. Plus with Landsea Tours and Adventures you can keep your eyes on the Sea to Sky Highway views, rather than on the road!
By our Contributing Editor, Johanna Read, who was happy to be back in her home country of Canada. Johanna wishes to thank Tourism Whistler which organized and facilitated her stay. All photos by Johanna, except for the spa photo courtesy of Scandinave Spa.