The million-dollar view from the deck of Raven's Nest restaurant atop Creekside Gondola can exhilarate on even the greyest of winter days. On a sunny morning in June, however, it's positively mesmerizing. Beginning with the neck-straining gaze south toward Whistler Mountain, a 180-degree vista gathers in serrated peaks, expansive glaciers, lush valleys, forever forests, and a spotting of lakes—the very best of British Columbia.
Below the deck, cyclists disembarking the gondola ply a dirt road that delivers them to expert trails such as Crossroads, BC's and Dusty's Downhill. There's chatter and palpable stoke. Last year's trail-building and new access from Creekside have made this a special sliver of Whistler Blackcomb's ever-expanding Bike Park. But something else is making it a must-visit sector — Raven's itself, open in summer for the first time ever, and as a vegan/vegetarian establishment to boot.
With "vegan" topping many a magazine's food-trend forecast, this clearly puts WB ahead of the game. And lest anyone forget, the Raven's makeover as a plant-forward restaurant for winter 2014-2015 was the ballsiest move any ski area has ever made with on-mountain food offerings — and the popularity of that change is the main reason for extending the idea to summer, according to Wolfgang Sterr, WB Executive Chef.
"We saw we'd been able to establish Raven's as a really strong brand in only two years," Sterr said of a food and beverage outlier previously known for... well, not much. "We have a large following of people with various dietary needs enjoying the cuisine in winter, so the question was: If we open in summer, would it just be another place serving pulled-pork and burgers? Well, no. So we decided to see what we could do with what was already working."
The tinkering started with some business sense — the winter menu streamlined for lower traffic but in a way that would appeal to a broad section of Bike Park folks.
"I'm definitely happy about this next step we've taken, and I think we did the right thing by sticking with our original idea," said Kristine Leise, who was instrumental in the 2014 Raven's re-launch and has managed it since. "We saw it work in winter so why not try it with a different set of athletes — maybe break the myth that mountain bikers are only carnivores?"
The popular meatball and Korean beef & kimchi sandwiches return, with a bocconcini and vine-ripened tomato with balsamic sandwich added. Breakfast offerings include a vegetarian burrito stuffed with pinto beans, peppers, onion and egg, topped with a non-dairy cheese and Dusty's salsa (the vegan version comes without egg) and served with a choice of quinoa, black bean, potato, or date-walnut-pear salad. And, as the cognoscenti know, Raven's is the only place in town with decent vegan nachos — fully loaded and slathered in non-dairy cheese, Dusty's salsa and veganaise. They go well with the five-dollar Coronas on offer all summer. As always, however, it's an evolving situation that hinges on testing the waters of this demographic.
"Bikers seem more adventurous than the ski crowd," notes Leise. "Everyone who comes in is psyched with what we're doing — their resistance to try the things we're serving is much less than with the winter crowd."
WB sees Raven's not only as a restaurant but a service-and-fuel-stop for the bike crowd — where you can chill out, buy tire tubes, use a hosing station, and pick up small merchandise at gas-station pricing (Clif bars, for instance, at $1.99). Or even a launch point — Creekside parking is free and an underground lot means your car won't get hot. Rather than brave a half-hour line at the Village Gondola on a Saturday, you can be up at Raven's downing organic vegan cappuccinos and vegan brownies before your friends have even made it onto the mountain. And if this side of Whistler is truly going to be further developed, demand must come from users — what is it they'd like to see over here? The biggest issue at the moment, however, appears to be letting people know it's even open.
Well, they are. And featuring free yoga every Sunday. The Clif Top Yoga Sessions (sponsored by Clif Bar and YogaCara) are open to anyone, but with a maximum capacity of 20, you'll still need a voucher from Guest Relations before heading up. (One catch: if you're already a summer passholder, no problem; if not, you'll need to purchase a single gondola ride — $20 lift only, or $30 including lunch). Mats are provided and class runs 10:30 – 11:15 a.m. Given its spectacular view, the hope is that most sessions will take place on the deck rather than indoors. And despite our so-far dismal summer, salutation-worthy sunshine was the case for the first session held on July 10th.
I could have used a little yoga the day I visited, if only to help stretch my digestive tract to tackle the monster burrito I downed while the sun stirred breezes over the deck. This much I knew when I'd finished: I'd be back for one of those brownies.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.