Whistler: Western Canada’s best-kept Secret?
Mountain biking, hiking and pampering make summer fun
By Mike Jeffreys
The 2010 Winter Olympics put the Canadian resort town of Whistler firmly on the map. The unfortunate thing is that it took so long for this part of western Canada to finally receive the widespread recognition it deserves.
Often overlooked in favor of Banff, Jasper and Vancouver, Whistler is a hive of activity for extreme sports enthusiasts like myself. It may be renowned as a world-class ski resort (it has over 200 trails) but that wasn’t what lured me here. A long weekend of hiking and a spot of mountain biking in late summer was what I opted for, and some of the walking trails proved to be the most rewarding and challenging I’ve encountered yet.
I’ll hold my hands up now and admit I’m a bit of a novice hiker, so the statement about Whistler providing my most challenging walks may not seem quite so emphatic now.
Although, if nothing else, the fact that I am a novice only serves to highlight the fact that Whistler can easily accommodate people of all abilities all year round across a wide range of activities, including canoeing, fishing, golfing and windsurfing.
Easing into It
Because my girlfriend and I wanted to ease ourselves into it, we set off at a leisurely pace away from the bustling streets and well-stocked curiosity shops of Whistler Village to the nearby Lost Lake. The route was no longer than five km in total, but after a five-hour drive from Seattle the night before, it gave us the perfect chance to stretch our legs without requiring too much exertion.
Resisting the urge to take a dip in the water itself – there were plenty of people doing precisely that, and it proved tempting as the temperature rose – we instead soaked up the dramatic landscape and scenery. The feeling of tranquility was incredible, and it was great to see so many families also enjoying the great outdoors. Had we stayed for longer, I would definitely have rented a bike and explored here on two wheels like so many were doing.
The next morning, feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, we decided to check out one of the trails on Whistler Mountain. There are certainly plenty to pick from and, for some reason, the High Note trail stood out, mainly because it gave us an excuse to ride the gondola from the village to the peak of the mountain.
That in itself is an experience to be cherished – the backdrop is simply breathtaking. It took us roughly four hours to do the eight km route but we were by no means walking fast. Why would you when the panoramic views and glacial peaks are so incredible? With the crystal-clear waters of Cheakamus Lake below us, we gradually plodded along, stopping at regular intervals whenever anything caught our eye, without a care in the world.
To the Brewhouse
After a quick shower and change at our hotel, which I’ll come on to later, it was back to Whistler Village to see if the Whistler nightlife lived up to its billing. We weren’t disappointed – you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to watering holes. We sought out Whistler Brewhouse for some much-needed refreshments, and the Lifty Lager served here provided us with an instant pick-me-up.
The locally-brewed tipple was crisp, light and most definitely quaffable. In fact, it was probably too quaffable, and my thirst was well and truly quenched a few rounds later. The Brewhouse had a lively atmosphere and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular for both skiers and hikers.
Our clubbing days have been and gone so we steered clear of one of the many nightclubs that lined the route as we departed the Brewhouse in search of our next port of call, although I was informed by the barman as we left that The Savage Beagle was worth a visit if I had my ‘dancing shoes’ on.
The good people of Whistler – or anywhere for that matter – will be glad to hear that my dancing shoes will never see the light of day again. It was cocktails we had a taste for and it was pure luck that we headed into Attic Bar. The smart décor and comfortable sofas were to our immediate liking, especially the latter after spending the day on the go.
Intimate is probably the best word to describe Attic Bar and we were so impressed that we decided to grab a bite to eat after scouring the menu. The service was quick and friendly, and the food was reasonably priced from what I can recall. I had salmon that was cooked to perfection and melted in my mouth, and I think it cost just over $20.
If it seems that my recollections of how much the bill came to are a little hazy then that’s because it is. The best way to put it is that I was well lubricated and my bed was beckoning me. This is where our choice of hotel really paid off.
Treating ourselves to the Fairmont
As a treat, we stopped at the luxurious Fairmont, which is situated at the bottom of Blackcomb Mountain, the other main mountain in the area. With over 500 rooms, it’s a huge hotel, yet, it still has plenty of character and you definitely get what you pay for. Our room was grand, spacious and had the added bonus of coming complete with views overlooking a vast woodland area as well as the mountains and hills in the background. All this made for a great observation point both first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
The Fairmont would have allowed perfect access to the nearby slopes had it been ski season. Instead, I was more than happy to find out that Whistler Mountain Bike Park was only a short journey away so I woke up early on my penultimate day in Whistler with the main aim to work up a bit of a sweat after the food and drink consumption of the day before.
My girlfriend, meanwhile, fancied being pampered and spent a few hours in the Fairmont spa. Afterwards, she waxed lyrical about the benefits of the hot stone message she experienced among other treatments. How I could have used a message like that following an adrenaline-fuelled day on two wheels. In truth, I was fortunate to stay on two wheels at various points in the day, although that is probably more down to the gusto with which I approached some of the downhill trails.
Book in Advance!
If Whistler Mountain Bike Park is something that will appeal to you and your family then I advise you book in advance online to get savings. I think I paid under $200 for a lift ticket for the day, which will give you access to all the trails, and also covered the rental cost for the bike, gloves and a helmet.
Once I got kitted up it was time to roam around to my heart’s content. To get used to the bike and the terrain I started in the low-lying trails in the Fitzsimmons Zone. It was all pleasant enough and very much suited to beginners, and allowed me to gain some confidence before testing myself in the Garbanzo Zone.
That confidence came in handy as the trails I braved were fast and furious, with steep slopes and sharp corners. It was everything I thought it was going to be and a heck of a lot of more. I ended the day both physically and mentally drained, but content that I’d survived intact with just a few scratches and bruises. I witnessed a couple of guys coming off their bikes throughout the day so be warned that it’s well worth buying or renting the relevant safety equipment just to be sure.
The exploits of the previous 48 hours eventually caught up with us and ensured that our last day in Whistler was much more subdued.
After a brief spot of retail therapy we fancied a hearty lunch. With so many restaurants to pick from, we were going to need some help. Luckily, I’d heard about the Whistler Tasting Tours, during which you spend an afternoon going from one restaurant to the next sampling a load of culinary delights.
It’s a whistle-stop tour of Whistler’s eateries, if you will! For $49.99 each – which I admit is a lot, but hey, it was worth it – we joined the lunch tour that took in seven stops. Our first port of call was the Brewhouse for more local ales and from then on it was an all-out assault on my taste buds. I loved every second, as did my girlfriend.
Our four-day stay in Whistler gave us a real taste, quite literally, of what this region has to offer, and it’s safe to say that we’ll be back again as soon as possible.
Mike Jeffreys is an outdoor enthusiast and freelance writer from Seattle.