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Whistler: Betcha can't do it all

A modest guide to local diversions



What to do, what to do? You're in Whistler. You've got some time. Not a lot. But you're here so why not make the most of it? There's a really good chance you're here to ski or snowboard, probably party, definitely eat and drink. You might have come for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF). Good move on your part. But is that it? Really? You've barely scratched the surface. Even the spring-almost-shoulder-season surface.

That's OK. Don't be too hard on yourself. After all, Whistler does kind of market itself as a ski/board, eat/drink, party town. At least in winter, er, spring. But there's so much more.

Like I said, you've got some time. But probably not that much. So let's take a look at some of the quintessential Whistler things you might want to consider doing while you're here. No pressure. If you just want to chill, go for it. But you can do that at home, you know.

And since spring is the season of renewal, heck, it doesn't matter whether this is your first time here, whether you're a repeat offender or even if you're a long-in-the-tooth local. Get out and get going. Shake up your patterns and rituals. Embrace the possible.

That's the possible. Not everyone can do everything and if the endless waivers of liability you have to sign to do just about anything here haven't clued you in, there are countless ways to get in over your head, skill and danger wise. So I've stolen — make that borrowed — a rating mechanism you're all familiar with to sort out these activities: Green circles; blue squares and black diamonds. And, obviously, some activities span multiple categories; it all depends on how you choose to experience them.


Anybody can do it

Now, even though I've labelled these beginner activities, they don't deserve the association with basic runs on the mountain. They're green circles because virtually everyone can enjoy them. Some are so enjoyable you could even say they're profound.

The Valley Trail is a perfect example. If you can walk, you can enjoy the Valley Trail. Heck, if your wheelchair has snow tires you can negotiate it. Friedrich Nietzsche apparently said: "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking."

And for once, he was right. Walking can be a profound experience. Of course, it can also be a travelling gabfest if you go with talkative people. But if setting has anything to do with profundity, the Valley Trail dishes it up in spades. From one end to the other, it offers stunning views, as long as you remember to look up. Big trees, tranquil waters, wetlands alive with spring life, crisp mountain lakes.

From the Village, head south to Creekside, north to Meadow Park, or take a stroll around the golf course. Take a walk out to Rainbow Park on Alta Lake and contemplate Whistler and Blackcomb from the same perspective pioneers Myrtle and Alec Philip did from their fishing lodge, lo those many years ago.

The Valley Trail is the perfect antidote for anyone who believes the glitzy — read, expensive — side of Whistler is its only side. It's free, it's life-affirming, it's inspiring, it's therapeutic and, yes, it can be profound.

But suppose you don't really feel like a walk. Suppose the weather is challenging or you just need a double dose of beauty. No problem. Wander over to the Audain Art Museum, Whistler's newest and brightest cultural gem.

A gift to Whistler from builder and philanthropist Michael Audain, the museum houses a permanent collection of outstanding Northwest Coast First Nations masks, paintings by Emily Carr, E.J. Hughes, Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith and other artists. The state-of-the-art museum also hosts travelling exhibitions from other museums and is currently featuring drawings by Matisse and photos from notable Vancouver photographer, Fred Herzog.

It's open10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Tuesday, and it will take your breath away as surely as the:

Peak2Peak Gondola

The P2P is Whistler's 800 pound (354kg) gorilla. Everybody wants to ride it and most do. Spanning Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, the P2P is a marvel of engineering. On a sunny day, you'll be surrounded 360 degrees by snowy mountains. But on a day when the clouds fill up the valley, that's when the real magic happens. Start in the clear and then dip down into the soup and watch the gondola ahead of you fade, fade, fade... and finally disappear. It may be vertiginous but it'll all be over soon and you'll slowly reappear into a three-dimensional world. So cool.

To get there, you can choose to take the Whistler Gondola up; most do. But if you want the best aerial view of the village, take the Blackcomb chairlifts — Solar Coaster and Wizard — down. Dress for it. It's a cool ride in more ways than one.

Of course, if you're actually skiing or boarding on the mountains, you'll be riding chairs all over the place. You'll also need nourishment. For something a little different, stop by the Crystal Hut on Blackcomb, at the top of, you guessed it, the Crystal chair. Most of the restaurants on the mountains are pretty much what you'd expect. But Crystal Hut offers views none of the others can touch — from the patio, of course — and the best high up view of Whistler village.

Known for waffles, what you get isn't as important as getting enough. Yes, the mountain air does sharpen your appetite, but that's not why you need more than you may think. Whatever you have to eat, you'll be mugged by Whisky Jacks — Grey Jays — who will seem to materialize out of nowhere, first one, then a flock, demanding a handout. Hold still and they'll steal whatever you have out of your hand. And, yes, the little thieves are Canada's official bird.

If you are skiing or boarding, take a lesson. No matter how good you are, you can get better, faster, with a little instruction. Even if you're already good, I'll bet the best instructors know places you've never been and can find something about your technique to nitpick.

Already a perfect rider? But a little overwhelmed with the terrain? Both mountains offer free guided tours daily. They meet at 11:30 a.m. — ask anyone; they'll tell you where — and they'll take you to terrain suited to your skill level, and cut the mountain layout learning curve way down to size.

If you like the idea of zipping down mountains but prefer to remain above it all, there are a couple of zipline tours in the valley that will boggle your mind. Long, high, fast, thrilling, you can dial up as much adventure as you can handle if you drop by the Whistler Visitor Centre. While you're there, you might look into a snowmobile tour. One of these days, your legs will appreciate the break.

And now, let us pause to reflect on what may be the most widely observed, nearly religious experience in town. At the end of your ski day, whenever that may be, it's time for après. Whistler didn't invent après, but we've gone a long way toward raising it to an art form. More than the fabled meal Homer Simpson longs for between lunch and dinner, après is a full-immersion cultural experience. Part food, part party, part people watching and, if you play your cards right, part live music. Après boosts your spirits and gives you renewed energy to carry on into the evening.

Where are the best après spots? Wherever you are. Follow the vibe. Sometimes it doesn't take you past the base of the mountains. Sometimes it takes you deep into the village. Sometimes it takes you to a quiet table in a swishy hotel or a lively hot tub. Whatever you do, don't skip it. It's an intrinsic part of the Whistler Experience.

But if you want to mix your après with more physical activity than bending your elbow, you're in luck. This week, all week, every day, around 1 p.m.-ish on, you can listen to live music at the WSSF Mainstage. Not sure where that is? Follow your ears to the base of Whistler mountain.

As long as you're enjoying the music, check out the other amazing events WSSF dishes up from April 7 to 16. You can find them all online at wssf.com/2016-Event-Schedule

You can also find them and all the other live music in town in Pique, every week, any week.

If you need a break though, and believe culture isn't just something found in yogurt, you might want to head out on a Gallery Hop. Whistler has lots of amazing art galleries and, let's face it, souvenir T-shirts fade away; art is forever if you're looking to take something home to remember your trip.

Whistler also has a fascinating museum over by the equally fascinating library, and you can also learn a lot about what Whistler was like, long before it was Whistler, at the Squamish Lil'Wat Cultural Centre.

Maybe the best idea is just to drop by Arts Whistler, in the Maury Young Arts Centre and pick up a Find Your Path culture map. It'll guide you around town and you'll discover so much art and culture you'll wonder whether Whistler is still a ski resort!


Skill level several steps above walking and chewing gum at the same time

You're good. You know you're good. You're experienced and you're ready for a bit more excitement. OK, we can handle that. We've got just the thing, er, things for you.

Climb the hundred steps to the right off the top of Showcase T-bar on Blackcomb and drop into Blackcomb Glacier. You've probably never seen anything like it. On a clear day, Blackcomb Glacier looks like what I imagine a crater on the moon looks like, except covered in snow and with plenty of oxygen to breathe. Take a lunch, or at least a beverage; and if it's still there, check out the ice cave. There is a blue run through the middle of the glacier and a road out. Take your time.

Everybody's favourite run on Whistler mountain is Peak to Creek. Head up Peak Chair and follow the signs for the longest run you've probably ever skied. On a day it's been groomed, it's a Mittyesque World Cup experience. On a powder day? Heaven.

While there's a lot of terrain on Whistler and Blackcomb, it's a drop in the bucket compared to what's on the other side of the ropes. If you're reasonably fit and can ski off-piste, try way off-piste and earn your turns backcountry skiing. There are several guided options — take a guide — all of which will outfit you with the requisite safety gear and, more importantly, guide you safely through an experience you will never forget and one that'll change the whole way you think about resort skiing.

While we still have skiing on our minds, let's try something different. Skinny skis. If you're already hooked, you're in for a treat. If you've wanted to give it a try, you get a treat too. Whistler Olympic Park is where the 2010 Olympians skinny skied. It's about 45 minutes south of town but if you're into self-powered skiing, you'll find a way to get there and you won't be disappointed.

When you've had enough sliding on snow and you'd like to take a more challenging walk than the Valley Trail, you're in luck. Whistler is spiderwebbed with hiking trails. At the end of almost every street there's a trail that leads to another and another and another (and yes, there's an app for that). But there's one almost everyone can manage. Riverside Loop down at Cheakamus, just south of town and east of Function Junction, is the place to go. You can get there by transit or otherwise.

Well-worn trails meander up both sides of the Cheakamus River for about 3.5 km, through stands of Douglas Fir and cedar, eventually leading to the Don MacLaurin suspension bridge. If you suffer vertigo, close your eyes. Otherwise, enjoy the view of the raging river below your feet. The trail on the other side takes you back to where you started, more or less. That's why we call it a loop. Some take snowshoes but they're only really needed after a big snowfall.

Suppose you're a hard-core Type A. You need a challenge. We've got one. Think of it as a personal decathlon, or sportfest. It's as easy as trying to cram as many sports and/or events into a single day as you can. The summer record is something like 23; shorter days cut that number down in winter. Perhaps you can set a record for spring. Perhaps not. Enjoy trying.

After all that, you need to relax. But there's still that challenge thing, isn't there? Well, if you're up for it, you can add one more late-night activity to the mix and go clubbing. No specific recommendations; just follow the beat. As DJ Foxy Moron once said: Dancin's the best way to shake out the kinks after a day's skiing.


Proceed with caution: You've been warned

No challenge too big; no slope too steep? Alright tough guy, here's your list. Hint: they get harder as we go along

Peak to Creek redux. Still the best run on either mountain but you found it a tad easy? Try it non-stop. Still too easy? Go switch with your eyes closed — on one ski.

Earn your turns by climbing up Flute on Whistler. It's inbounds but there are some tricky lines down. And the walk up has humbled many a macho man.

Still too easy? If you can find it — ask — head off Glacier Chair and up the Chimney to ski the Gray Zone on Blackcomb. There's a good reason more people head up Spanky's; you'll figure out what it is about halfway up.

If you'd rather hike less and ski more, try any double black diamond on either mountain. For a warm-up, you might give West Cirque on Whistler a go. From the high entrance, of course. Too tame? The Couloir in Glacier Bowl has a nice drop-off-the-cornice entrance these days, good long run-out underneath. Exhilaration and Excitation on the other side of the bowl look inviting — and most of the rocks are covered now.

The Couloir Extreme, Diamond Bowl and the high entrance to Ruby Bowl over on Blackcomb will test both your resolve and the spring in your legs. All have pucker power, and I'm not talking about your lips.

Really though, if you want to challenge yourself inbounds, pick up a copy of Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder's Ski & Snowboard Guide to Whistler Blackcomb: Expert Edition. They'll not just give you a rundown on the bragging-rights terrain on both mountains, they'll tell you how to get there, which isn't always intuitive and rarely made easier by looking at the official mountain map.

Sometimes to really experience a place, you have to leave it, if only slightly. If you want to stay within earshot of the resort but challenge yourself with a real mountain adventure, head a few minutes north and climb that wedge-shaped mountain, ironically called Wedge. It is the tallest mountain in Garibaldi Park and it dominates the northern horizon. And if it won't spoil the adventure for you, hire a guide; you'll be happy you did. If nothing else, you'll avoid the misery-fest that is the west ridge.

Is that all there is? Well, no. But it's all I'm going to tell you about. After all, we have to maintain a little mystery.

If you're looking for an exhaustive list of things to do, you could do worse than pick up a copy of FAQ: The Insider's Guide to Whistler. Look around. You'll find it all over town. Tucked in around all the official ads for things to do there's 99 ideas of how you might spend your time.