Just Back from Whistler: A Winter Wonderland

080219_whistler_ski.jpgWhy Whistler?
I’m the editor of the first edition of Fodor’s Vancouver & Victoria: With Whistler, so I wanted to experience Whistler for myself in all its glory. Also, Whistler will host the 2010 Winter Olympics, so that was added incentive to make the trip.

How was the skiing?
The skiing was awesome, even for a novice like me. And you don’t have to be an expert skiier either — there are lots of opportunities for beginners and intermediates. Whistler is one resort, but it stretches over two mountains — Whistler and Blackcomb — and there are 100-plus trails on each mountain. Note that lift tickets are good for both mountains. Adult, one-day lift tickets are currently $83 (CAN), but the Web site frequently has discount rates.

Can visitors have fun in Whistler if they don’t ski?
Absolutely! There are tons of winter activities besides skiing — think snowboarding and snowshoeing, sleigh rides, winter fishing, dog sledding, skating, and phenomenal ziplining, not to mention shopping, hot-tubbing, and spa-ing. And of course, après-ski is for everyone. The resort attracts a fairly young crowd but there are lots of families, too.

Where did you stay?
The Adara Hotel is a small, funky boutique hotel with 41 rooms and suites. It’s in Whistler Village, a nice, intimate option amid the multitude of massive ski lodges. The rooms are an eclectic mix of bright colors, sheepskin throws, plush pillows, and hi-tech gadgets. The Adara doesn’t have an onsite restaurant or spa, but all rooms have gas fireplaces, there’s a cozy lobby with morning coffee (which you can also make in your room with a French Press), and the views of the mountains from the outside hot tub are stunning, especially when it’s snowing, so remember to pack your bathing suit. Rates range from $139 for a superior room in low season; they start at $359 midweek in winter and go up to and include $709 for the two-bedroom suite.

What’s the après-ski scene like?
My favorite place — and everyone else’s, if you judge by the crowds after the lifts closed — was the comfortably airy Garibaldi Lift Company, at the base of the Whistler Village gondola. The beer selection is terrific — I recommend the Kokanee on tap — and the food is just what you’re looking for after a day on the slopes: nachos piled high with good things like fresh guacamole, and upscale takes on burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Giant windows look out to the slopes, and massive TVs play thrilling ski footage.

For real relaxation, Whistler spas can work out the knots in your muscles. The large hotels have onsite spas but there’s also Solarice Spa & Wellness Centre, which offers a mix of Eastern and Western spa treatments as well as acupuncture, Tui Na massage, and Naturopathic therapies. The spa rates are generally cheaper at Solarice — $205 for a 90-minute hot-stone massage versus $220 for 80 minutes at one of the hotel spas.

080219_whistler_caroline.jpgWhat surprised you?
Ziplining! How much fun it was to sail off the side of a mountain attached to a cable! The skiing was fabulous, but ziplining was so much fun! There are two zipline companies in Whistler: Ziptrek Ecotours and Cougar Mountain Adventures.

Both companies have different levels of tours, including options for children. I went with the knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides at Ziptrek, who made sure everyone’s harnesses were securely fastened at each of the five platforms we soared from. The zipline runs range from 200 to 2,000 feet in length — the longest is about 40 seconds of sheer exhilaration. Even the people on my trip who said they were afraid of heights had a great time.

Ziptrek has a minimum age requirement of 6; the minimum weight is 70 pounds, maximum weight is 275 pounds. Cougar mountain has no minimum age but minimum weight is 70 pounds and maximum weight is 250 pounds. With either company, plan to set aside at least three hours for the whole experience, and wear clothes appropriate to whatever season it is — if it’s winter, wear what you’d wear skiing. For an adult, ziplining prices are $98 (CAN) before taxes.

What was indispensable during your trip?
Hand and feet warmers, those little packages that you open and put in your pockets or your boots — I can’t recommend these enough for hours of extra warmth. Remember to dress in layers. It gets cold on the slopes, but it’s warm by the fireplace.

Essential information
The nearest airport is in Vancouver, British Columbia, 120 km (74 miles) south of Whistler. From Vancouver, Whistler is approximately two hours by car on the Sea to Sky highway, which is currently being expanded for the Olympics, so expect delays. There are bus, limo, and scenic-train travel options as well.

Whistler temperatures are moderate for a ski resort. Average alpine lows from December to February are about 11 degrees F; average high is about 23 degrees F. March through May average lows are about 19, with highs averaging about 42 degrees.

Caroline Trefler

Photo credit: (1) Photo by Tim Gillin; (2) Photo courtesy of Caroline Trefler.