A Day in Whistler, BC
Happy 50th birthday Whistler! Though it’s consistently rated one of the top ski resorts in North America, Whistler has a lot more to offer than expansive slopes. I visited in late fall, before ski season opened, and heading over during the off-season is a great way to take advantage of discounted hotel rates, special prix-fixe menus at the best restaurants and Cornucopia, an 11-day eating and drinking extravaganza. Yes, 11 days might sound intimidating for a food festival. But keep in mind you can go ziplining in between stuffing your face to get your heart pumping.
Ski season officially starts right after the US version of Thanksgiving, and you can ski and snowboard the same runs and race courses that Olympians competed on during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. And there’s many months of opportunity to head out there — Blackcomb Mountain stays open for spring skiing and snowboarding until mid-May. Or you can even try heli-skiing and heli-snowmobiling.
But it’s not all about the slopes. Between runs (or while your friends are on the slopes), here’s what else to do in Whistler.
Stay: There are countless lodging options in Whistler Village, but nothing beats the Four Seasons Resort Whistler. The service here is on point: after a snafu at another hotel left me without dinner plans, guest services reached out and offered to help me secure a last-minute reservation elsewhere. I wasn’t even hungry for dinner though, after chowing down on the generous welcome amenities of cheese, fruit, candied salmon (a British Columbia favorite!) and chocolate. Another much-appreciated perk at the Whistler property is the house car — a Mercedes-Benz GL 7 passenger SUV — available to take you to anywhere in town, a lifesaver when it’s snowing and you’re wearing stilettos.
Spa: Stay under the same roof and hit up the Four Seasons Spa. Signature treatments incorporate local products like Canadian maple syrup and indigenous clay, while the relaxing sea-to-sky massage is named after the highway you travel to get to Whistler and incorporates warm river stones and a purifying back exfoliation with SeaFlora‘s wild, organic seaweed scrub. In the village of Creekside, The Spa at Nita Lake Lodge is the only spa in British Columbia using Ila‘s organic skincare products, which focus on Ayurvedic philosophies natural healing. Ila’s founder, Denise Leicester, is not only a qualified nurse, aromatherapist, yoga teacher and yogic healer but also a singer. The Kundalini massage uses heated poultices placed on various chakras along the spine to channel the dormant energy at the base of the spine and release negativity. It might not be for everyone, but I found it very soothing.
Learn: Thousands of years before the ski resort became Whistler’s claim to fame, the Squamish and Lil’wat people were living in harmony with the region’s mountains, rivers and forests. In 2008, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre opened its doors, allowing these two nations to tell their stories and share their culture and history with visitors. There are majestic carved canoes and totem poles, along with woven blankets and baskets on display accompanied by quotes, descriptions and video to bring these artistic objects to life. Various exhibits do a great job comparing and contrasting both Squamish and Lil’wat cultures (for example, Squamish mountain goat and wool weavings versus Lil’wat cedar bark weavings) and explaining how the different territories they called home shaped their cultures. Make sure you check out the Lil’wat Istken earthen dwelling and Squamish Longhouse out back, then head downstairs to warm up with a bowl of Squamish salmon chowder at the Thunderbird cafe after your tour with a First Nations ambassador.
Eat + Drink: Just a few doors down from Whistler classic Araxi is TopTable Group‘s newest venture. Bar Oso is a brand new cozy Spanish wine and pintxos bar. With Madrid native Jorge Muñoz Santos helming the tiny open kitchen, the montaditos, pintxos and lamb albondigas are great après ski snacks, and even better when accompanied by Jason Redmond’s cocktail menu and an affordable selection of Spanish wines by the glass. The Phillips Stump G&T (pictured below) featuring local gin and an artisanal dry tonic, showcase foraged British Columbia coastal botanicals like cascade hops, grand fir and bay laurel for a rounded woodsy flavor unlike any G&T I’ve ever experienced. Another great new wine bar is Basalt with regional charcuterie and a nice selection of British Columbia wines from small producers that you won’t find elsewhere.
Bearfoot Bistro is an oldie but goodie, and during shoulder season in November, they both offer five-course prix fixe menus for less than $30 USD. Executive Chef Melissa Craig is one of the few female head chefs in town and can certainly hold her own with dishes like rockfish in a Thai coconut shellfish broth with a yam and black rice cake (pictured below). Pastry chef Dominic Fortin is serving the most creative plated desserts in town, with showy liquid nitrogen ice cream prepared tableside and a fig and olive parfait with black olive caramel and goat yogurt gelato on the current menu.
Before your meal, you can sabre your own bottle of Prosecco or Champagne in their expansive downstairs cellar to enjoy with your meal. Bearfoot is also home to the Ketel One Ice Room, the world’s coldest vodka tasting room at -32C (-25F). They’ll outfit you with Canada Goose arctic parkas before you go in, but my bare legs suffered. Certainly a cool experience – the extreme temperatures help bring out the vodka’s flavor and minimize alcohol burn – but at the end of the day, I’m still a gin girl.