“Well worth traveling 6,000 miles to fly in a Beaver!”, quipped my across-the-aisle seat mate from NYC as our floatplane plane skidded along the placid surface of Green Lake. Mike Quinn, owner and pilot of Whistler Air Services, agreed as he took us upward into the intensely sapphire painted heavens and announced we were going to get a beautiful view of God’s masterpieces!
Whistler, a two hour airporter ride from Vancouver, is one of my favorite outdoor destinations for both winter and summer activities.
To get acquainted with the mountainous surroundings—Whistler sits in a large verdant valley crowned by snow-capped peaks in British Columbia—I decided to get aerial and see the big panoramic picture.
We flew over alpine terrain of ice and rock, glacier remnants of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago. The shadow of our plane followed us, silhouetted on the glaring snow below as we climbed toward the razor sharp shoulders of Mount Garabaldi. Along a ridge top were fresh tracks of a mountain goat. We peered into glass blue fathomless glacial crevasses as we swooped down low over the face of Warren Glacier. This trip is not for the queasy-stomach people. Our pilot soared and swooped like Sky King.
On land again, it was time for exercise.
The Mountain Bike Park, right outside the Pan Pacific Lodge, has a world cup downhill course. I hired a guide because there are a plethora of trails to choose from and I didn’t want to find myself on the equivalent of a black diamond run. Scott suited me up in protective gear (think Michelin Tire Man) and gave me a lesson on weight transference and other handy tips to make sure I didn’t fly over the handlebars.
There are 25 trails for all different skill levels with a total 200 kilometers of single track. Scott said there are, “lots of trails for high end riders and free riders who like the big jumps.” I emphatically told him, “I am not a free rider. No big jumps for me.” I was much more interested in seeing a bear on my downhill run than a bump or a stump to jump.
Some 50 bears make their home on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Michael Allen, black bear researcher and guide for Bear Viewing and Mountain Ecology Tours, filled me on the details of bear life. He and his compatriots have even planted huckleberry bushes up on the mountain so the bears don’t come down to the village and stroll around looking for snacks. I didn’t go on the tour, just bumped into him on my early morning coffee search.
David Tait another bike & ski instructor heard us talking and chimed in, “If you are ready to compete (I don’t think so!), join in the Twoonie Race (a twooney is a Canadian two dollar bill and the fee for the race) held every Thursday evening May – October. There is also a free ride with the locals on Monday night 5:30 PM at Wild Willie’s.” Tait also added, “everyone goes early for free beer and nachos.”
Whistler is designed like a small village and the architecture is so perfect and uniform in a Tyrolean way I expected Snow White to rollerblade past followed by Goofy on a mountain bike. The first paved road to Whistler came in 1975 and cars are not allowed in the village. Before that it was just a fishing camp!
Dusty and slightly achy from my mountain bike foray, I craved a massage and a sauna. I limped over to the Westin Resort & Spa, sweated myself silly and then had a divine Chinese Tui Na massage.
I don’t deny my hedonism on vacation. Tait, the source of many a good local tip, had suggested Bearfoot Bistro for dinner where “ the food is wicked and the wine awesome.”
I also believe in learning vacations and I learned something new at the Bearfoot Bistro. Did you know that Napoleon would only go into battle if his attempt at opening a bottle of champagne with a saber succeeded without shattering it? News to me.
André, the owner and sommelier, told us this. We raptly watched as he demonstrated in his wine cellar. My friends and I followed him down a spiral staircase on the promise of a glass of bubbly. It was dank and dim with dusty bottles from floor to ceiling. André lit a taper and chose a 1929 Clos de Vougeot. He explained Napoleon’s method. He simple said, “It’s all in the wrist”. He ran the saber blade up and down the bottle seam three times and then whack! He thumped the bottle’s neck at an angle with the blade and the top fell off cleanly. Not even a pop. It tasted divine.
This spectacle was followed by an exquisite five-course tasting menu featuring ingredients “from our local farms, wilds and waters.” The bar is also unique and has willowy champagne flutes arranged all around the bar on banks of ice lit from below. Truly classy! André has an artist’s eye that extends from the ice bar to the handsome décor in the dining room. Make your reservations way ahead of time for this delightful dining experience and make sure to ask for a tour of the cellar.
The next morning, fresh air was in order. After finding a village café open at sunrise, I walked the paths through ancient cedar groves up to Lost Lake. A beaver waddled across the path and then, snuffly bear noises emanated from the huckleberry shrubs. I started power walking. Marmots popped up like jack-in-the-boxes from the granite boulders edging the lake. Fish broke the water’s calm. A bald eagle wheeled overhead. Once again, I felt like I was in a Disney movie with all the creatures greeting me.
Details, details . . .
Where to stay: My favorite hotel is the Pan Pacific. It is posh but not pricey and located right at the base of the mountain bike and ski runs.
Air & ground transportation: Air Canada flies direct from many U.S. cities to Vancouver daily.
This can be a no-car vacation. Everything is within walking distance in Whistler and if it isn’t, they will pick you up. Busses leave for Whistler from the airport and downtown Vancouver regularly. It is a 75-mile, two-hour drive on the scenic Sea to Sky Highway.