Whistler: A Truly Peak Experience
If you just say "Whistler"—as in British Columbia—remember that you're getting Blackcomb Mountain, too.
Whistler, British Columbia, is home to one of the largest concentrations of top-flight skiers and snowboarders in North America. Flight is an operative word around its peaks, since so many are jumping off cliffs, carving down couloirs or flipping off jumps. They’re doing that in one of several terrain parks that push the limits of creative innovation in the hottest area of mountain sports today.
It is one thing to be handed extraordinary, God-given terrain; it is another to make something of it.
The Peaks of Whistler
Blue-sky days are Whistler’s happiest. From the peaks, 360-degree vistas embrace a panorama of jagged, glacier-encrusted alpine terrain and eternal snow. Seasoned travelers agree that this is as close to the awesome grandeur of the Alps as one can get at a North American ski area. Fir forests stop two-thirds of the way up the peaks, leaving vast, treeless terrain that invites skiers to explore where they will. Below the open bowls, well-sculpted trails bob and weave playfully down the mountain through dense fir and spruce forests. Typically, skiers discover areas that echo the skiing they dream of, and they return there again and again to spend the morning or afternoon.
In keeping with the pedal-to-the-metal personality of this ski area two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler has recently opened the Peak 2 Peak gondola. It’s pure Whistler: The longest unsupported span in the world dangles passengers 435 metres (1,427 feet) above the valley floor, linking the two peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
Après-Ski at Whistler
Whistler pairs its on-mountain excellence with one of the most exciting après-ski village experiences on the continent. Unlike other resorts, most of the largely young international workers at the resort live in town. This gives it an authentic vibrancy and dusk-to-dawn lifestyle that short-term visitors sense immediately. With lively bars and outdoor cafés full of ski-booted revellers, guests are often reminded of the European welcoming friendliness called “Gemütlichkeit.” (Yes, it’s a big word, but try it.) The village has so many restaurants—more than 100 in all, many of which are superb—that one barely scratches Whistler’s gastronomic surface during a week’s visit.
The many languages and accents from Asia, Europe, Australia and the Americas mixed with the friendly and tolerant environment of Canada create one of the resort’s most singular features, and perhaps the principal reason the resort feels so continental. Strolling through the village to the gondola to window-shop or to pick up groceries is like wandering through an Alpine town in Europe. Small streets that reveal mountain vistas wander past stores and bistros with the warm lights of apartments glowing above them.
The 2010 Winter Games
Never will those streets be as filled and festive as February 2010, when the Winter Games come to town. Vancouver will host skating, snowboarding and freestyle skiing events, as well as Canadian favorites ice hockey and curling. But just 121 kilometres (75 miles) up the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway in Whistler, events will include all alpine skiing—downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super combined—as well as cross country, ski jumping, Nordic combined, biathlon, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton.
The whoops and hollers currently being heard aboard the Peak 2 Peak gondolas are really an augury of what’s next, for this is a place entirely dedicated to mountain sports and the good life that surrounds them.