Sure it's almost winter, but sometimes you just can't shake a good summer memory...
The impressive logistics started during check-in, with a cabin assignment and directions to one of several clusters milling at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. There, in the warm glow of a June evening, chattering fashionistas sported high-class rags ranging from tuxedo-and-gown formal to "Mountain Chic" — a motif interpreted by seasoned dirtbags like myself as a Casino Royale linen jacket over a film-festival-black t-shirt, and by others as an ironed Hawaiian shirt and unfaded jeans. Discouraged via email from wearing heels, it was soon apparent how many women ignored that advice as we tottered toward the Wizard chairlift.
Ski lifts are built for snow, which long made them a summer conundrum for most hills. Perhaps that's why Whistler Blackcomb, with summer skiing to keep its bullwheels turning, has long led the way in creative off-season use of lift infrastructure — now embodied in the cruise-ship-worthy sightseeing traffic on the Peak 2 Peak gondola. That day, however, they were going one better, partnering with the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and the Bearfoot Bistro in a fundraising experience without peer: Sky High — a dinner with altitude on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
The food began with a canapé offered as we strolled off Wizard toward Solar Coaster chair. Ascending Solar, the bears below, used to scavenging nothing better than granola wrappers, sniffed the wind with suspicion. At the top we piled into Christine's, where a crowd of community-minded folk, media, diplomats and interloping celebrities noshed on Sawmill Bay oysters, squid-ink falafel, scallop ceviche, and charred 48-hr short-rib. Just what you plucked from the circulating platters mattered little, as long as you washed it down with abundant Moët et Chadon — champers being the signature mouthwash of André Saint-Jacques, Bearfoot impresario and founder. "At the Bearfoot anything is possible. Your pleasure is our pleasure. Be yourself. Be whoever you want to be," goes its credo. André was famously doing just that on the deck, garishly garbed in bright-blue silk, perfect counterpoint to the RCMP officers clad in traditional red surge.
With the champagne drained we lined up for the Peak 2 Peak extravaganza. There would be only one break at about the one-hour mark of this six-course dinner, so the bathroom lineup became a popular place to mull things over. And such was my thought there: with no table in sight, I'd already experienced the kind of gastronomie one could only dream of. It got better.
Inside the gondola, the central seatblock had been swapped for a beautifully set table and dangling chandelier. Travelling the gap between Whistler and Blackcomb during the first course of lightly cured Hamachi tuna was surreal as late-evening light washed the peaks and glaciers to the east. Eyes widened and talk abated. Words like "special" and "magic fell flat, even for those of us used to such conveyances. But most at our table neither rode lifts nor indulged in winter sports, meaning for them this was true adventure: as such, they devoured not only smoked black cod, Quebec foie gras and pork-jowl terrine, but the stats etched along the window frames: world's longest continuous lift system, with two Guinness World Records for its class — longest unsupported span at 3.024 kilometres, and highest at 436 metres. This may have been news to them but the gondola's history had preceded. "Is this where McConkey BASE jumped?" asked someone from LA as we passed the high point, her neck craning to gauge the drop. "Yup," said another, raising their glass, and cheers to that."
At the end of each traverse, our attention is galvanized by crack squadrons of Ninja servers that stream into each cabin as soon as the doors crack, clearing and placing plates for vegans, gluten-freegans and dietarily unencumbered gluttons (i.e., the rest of us) with precision and speed. They only had seconds to pull it off; rarely were they almost caught. (In order to practice timing on this, they used a Peak 2 Peak cabin parked outside the Bearfoot)
"Believe me," said WB head chef Wolfgang Ster, lodged to my left. "It's a major undertaking to enjoy a six-course high-end meal with wine pairings in these circumstances." Indeed. Over the past few days, food had been moved up the mountains and kitchens erected: a cold one on the Blackcomb side —from which issued appetizers, salads, desserts — a hot one on Whistler. Wine poured in from both ends. Things were really hopping at the Whistler stop; that's because hot food is more complicated, and the event's real boss — Bearfoot executive chef Melissa Craig — was directing operations from there.
"Hats off to the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and André Saint-Jacques for the best ski-area fundraiser of all time!" I toast, with the last of a chardonnay so buttery I'd like to spread it on same. Perhaps Whistler Blackcomb deserves another Guinness World Record for most audacious use of a ski lift ever. I'd drink to that, too.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.