For the past nine years, GranFondo Whistler organizer Neil McKinnon has been striving to deliver "a Tour-de-France experience" to cyclists who pedal their way from Vancouver to Whistler. This May long weekend, McKinnon wants to give them a taste of another beloved European destination through another event he produces, Bici Gusti, three days of adventure cycling, gourmet meals, and cooking classes.
"Three years ago, I was travelling with my wife and I said, 'You know what we need to do? We need to create something that is a real lifestyle opportunity, because cyclists not only share a passion for cycling, they share a passion for travel, food, wine—they're really lifestyle-oriented people," McKinnon explained. "That's how I came up with the concept for Bici Gusti."
Now in its third year, Bici Gusti partners with Four Seasons Whistler, which houses guests over the course of the weekend and provides the lion's share of culinary offerings. Coinciding with the annual Giro D'Italia, one of cycling's prestigious Grand Tours, organizers went with an Italian theme for this year's event. (The other international Bici Gusti event is also held in Italy each spring.)
"So we'll be cooking Italian food and featuring Italian dishes, made with local ingredients from our oceans and Pemberton fields and some other farms from the Lower Mainland," said Four Seasons GM Joerg Rodig. "It also ends with a tiramisu competition."
The weekend will hew to what McKinnon called the "70-70-70 formula:" a maximum of 70 guests will enjoy food (mostly) sourced within a 70-kilometre radius of Whistler, before capping off their experience with a 70-kilometre ride through the Whistler and Callaghan valleys. (No worries if you're not in tip-top cycling shape: the self-paced ride will include a stop halfway through to enjoy a full spread of charcuterie and other Italian favourites, followed by an epic barbecue feast back at the hotel.)
Along with the hotel's own Executive Chef Eren Guryel, the Four Seasons is bringing in chefs Edward Higgins and Justin Purpura from two of its Hawaii properties, who will team up with sustainable seafood champion and TV chef Ned Bell.
"We're inviting these chefs here not to cook our food, or for us to cook their food. They're going to be staying true to themselves, cooking the food they love," said Guryel.
Education is a key component of the weekend, with guests taking part in a series of hands-on cooking classes on the outdoor patio of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre on Saturday. Attendees will also have the chance to rub shoulders with Olympian Kelsey Serwa, the ski-cross gold medalist at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. Serwa will be taking part in the events, mingling alongside guests.
"We've had (champion downhill skier) Steve Podborski be our celebrity guest, we've had (Olympic triathlete) Simon Whitfield, we've had (Olympic race walker) Evan Dunfee," McKinnon noted. "These people represent us, they're incredible athletes, but we don't really know them that well. And this really gives that intimate opportunity for us to showcase them, celebrate them and elevate them."
It's that intimate feel which represents the true appeal of Bici Gusti, McKinnon believes.
"I think people are looking for intimate, genuine experiences, experiences that are pretty precious," he said.
"If we're going to ask people to invest their time, we want to create an experience that is memorable."
Bici Gusti runs from May 18 to 20. Tickets, which include three nights accommodation, all food, drinks, instructional classes, a weekend-capping "pink-themed" dinner, and specially made gear, are $2,500. Learn more at bicigusti.com.