Have you ever wanted to be one of those people who go ‘up the mountains’ for a holiday?
Perhaps you already are. But for me it’s a first. As a non skier, I just thought Whistler was going to be a pretty hilly Canadian town which happened to be hosting it’s annual film festival when I visited. For me, snow based relaxation breaks seem a tad obscure- and being a sun baby, rather than a snow baby, I have never slipped my perma tanned hoof into a snow boot!
However, this opinion has changed since my recent pre-Christmas visit to our Canadian cousins. For a start, nearly all of my friends were suspicious as to what such a beach bum would get out of a trip up to the mountains (this was also coupled with more than a smidgen of green eyed envy!)
But after hearing them rage about the fabulous conditions and nightlife, my expectations of a sleepy village were somewhat distorted…. Without much time to waste, I begged, borrowed and stole (to be retuned, honest) as many winter woolies and waterproofs I could lay my hands on. I hate being cold, and had to accept the fact that even if I wasn’t sliding down the slopes on a toboggan, there was going to be snow.
My first foray in the snow was remarkably uneventful! I had a couple of days to get my bearings before the film Whistler Film Festival marathon began. Wrapped up in so many layers that Mr F Bite was never going to get anywhere near my delicate bits, I headed out. I thought I actually blended in quite well as I headed up in the ski lift with the actual snow lovers. The only thing I was missing was a snowboard.
Recognized internationally as one of the world’s top outdoor sports destinations, and the host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Whistler has an epic reputation. But even if you’re not a skier or boarder, the snow drenched landscape is insane; I did the touristy trip of the Peak to Peak – a glass bottomed gondola which spans the Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain range from above. The incredible panoramic views over the country’s volcanic peaks, rainforests, and glaciers are breathtaking. Get over any vertigo and enjoy the 4.4-kilometre, 11 minute journey with a birds eye view of the ski-bunnies on the slopes, who seem like teeny tiny pin men from your vantage point.
Stopping for a hot chocolate and a photo opportunity in one of the numerous restaurants on the slopes, there is nothing I wished more at that moment than being a boarder! Everyone looked so excitable and enthusiastic. Even the groups of beginners who were taking lessons, seemed to be having a giggle!
However I couldn’t ponder for too long. My next mission was to try an open air spa. I was dubious- why on earth would I want to parade around in a bikini, in the snow?? But the locals love it, so I thought I would give it a whirl. Just a ten minute drive from the slopes, The Scandinave Spa is the place to go to experience the traditional practice of hydrotherapy.
Getting hot, then ice cold, then relaxing for 15 minutes might not be first on your list of priorities in the minus temperatures, but the philosophy of hydrotherapy is surprisingly relaxing. Popular with athletes and our Northern European cousins, the combination of heat and cold help relax muscles and flush toxins, which in turn improves blood circulation and energises the rest of the body.
Whether it was the scenery or the shock of the the ice bath, I most certainly left there (after two and a half hours) feeling revived and perky. I could almost feel my endorphins doing a lively jig!
As Whistler was only developed as a ski resort fifty years ago, I was keen to delve into the history. Originally the area was inhabited by the Squamish community, and a large, interactive museum has been built to preserve the country’s impressive history. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre holds an impressive range of original artefacts of the province’s First Peoples and you can learn about the myths and legends of these indigenous tribes; With workshops, films and tours it is an experience whatever your age.
Whistler also has an impressive emerging arts scene, although I didn’t see any of the spray painted trainwrecks or knitted graffiti that has already been written about- that must be a summer thing. But modern art is celebrated in the Audain Art Museum, which is just a short walk from the Village. Founded by Vancouver builder Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa, the curated selection of works is from their personal portfolio.
The impressive building stands proud amongst the mountain scenery, and the site which was formerly a car pound, is respectful of its natural surroundings and blends in with the neighbouring forest. With a timber-lined entrance foyer, walkways that still smell of fresh-cut wood, and massive floor-to-ceiling windows, the gallery is as relaxing as it is inspiring, and a perfect place to chill out after the slopes. You can also see for yourself, ‘The Crazy Stair’, by Emily Carr which recently sold at auction for a record breaking $3.3 million. This price was the highest ever paid for an Emily Carr at auction.
The 17th Annual Whistler Film Festival consumed me for the next few days. Morning to night films, parties and live music- I almost forgot it was snowing! But films and mulled wine and roaring fires are a winning combination in my book.
Proving that there is much more to do than slide down a snowy slope, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Whistler. Sampling my fist ever fondue, and some damn tasty cocktails at ‘Basalt’, to checking out the one price for everything ‘El Furniture Warehouse’ which was the hidden secret of the locals! I was spoilt for choice for food. ‘Creekbread’ served up the most divine cheese, spinach and olive topped pizza and I managed one healthy meal at the ‘Naked Sprout’, vegan cafe.
My visit to Whistler proved that you don’t have to be a snowbaby to get sucked in to the local culture. There’s hiking and mountain biking in the summer, I’m sure I would be pretty good at that!
The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler. www.westinwhistler.com
Deluxe studio suites from $399 per room, per night
Whistler Film Festival takes place annually in Nov/Dec. More information here: www.whistlerfilmfestival.com
PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola www.whistlerblackcomb.com Adult $55 CAD + tax, Senior $48 CAD + tax, Child $27 CAD + tax
Scandinave Spa Whistler www.scandinave.com/en/whistler / Bath access $70
Audain Art Museum / www.audainartmuseum.com Admission $18
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre www.slcc.ca Adult day pass $18 (16 and under are free)
Basalt Wine + Salumeria www.basaltwhistler.com
Airport transfers with Whistler Connection www.whistlerconnectiontravel.com From $69 CAD + tax each way