WHISTLER WONDERLAND

Fall in love with winter at the world-class mountain playground in our own backyard.

Whistler Wonderland - YAM Magazine Holiday Issue 2023
Hate winter? Whistler will change your mind with activities like cross-country skiing and biathlon. Photo By: Justa Jeskova.

By Joanne Sasvari

There was that holiday party when our host’s hyperactive terrier dug a massive hole through a door in their condo just so he could join the fun. (I can’t blame him, really.) Then there was the time we sabered Champagne in the wine cellar at Bearfoot Bistro, and the other time we danced in a silent disco at Cornucopia, the one where we attempted biathlon in the Callaghan Valley and the one where we had dinner in the Peak 2 Peak gondola some 400 metres above the forest floor. 

There have also been action-packed ski weekends, relaxing spa getaways, wine-soaked long-table dinners, afternoons hiking amid the alpine flowers and even quick day trips to catch the latest exhibit at the Audain Art Museum (and, of course, to pick up an Outrageous Brownie at Purebread for the drive home). 

Let’s just say that Whistler is always a good time.

It’s not only about the parties in the village or the adventure on the slopes. Spending time amid the breathtaking beauty of the snow-clad mountains is a reset for the soul, a reminder that there is good in the world, an epic world-class vacation in our own backyard. So this winter, instead of heading south to escape winter’s short, dark, chilly days, why not embrace them right here in B.C.’s mountain paradise?

Be Adventurous

My heart is pounding as I drop to the snow-covered ground, skinny skis spread-eagled behind me. Trying to slow my breath, I sight down the barrel of the rifle toward a black dot very, very far away and gently press the trigger. Pop! A dot appears on the target and just like that I have fallen in love with biathlon.

Whistler Wonderland - YAM Magazine Holiday Issue 2023
Photo By: Destination Canada.

Biathlon is among the most challenging of sports, combining the high-heart-rate rush of cross-country skiing with the intense focus of target shooting. And Callaghan Valley, site of the Nordic events during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, is one of the few places where you can try your hand at it. 

What’s now known as Whistler Olympic Park also features 55 kilometres of groomed cross-country trails for classic or skate skiing. And it’s not the only legacy of the Olympics up here. There’s also the Olympic Sliding Centre on Blackcomb Mountain where you can plunge down the hill in a bobsleigh, luge or skeleton. Meanwhile, in Whistler Village, the Olympic Plaza with its five rings is still a popular place for the ’gram.

All of that is on top of the epic winter adventures that were already here, the two mountains of skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, heli-skiing, tubing, ice-skating, ziplining and snowmobiling, as well as sightseeing from the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that swings between Whistler and Blackcomb and the magical Vallea Lumina, a multimedia walk through the snowy Cougar Mountain forest.

With so many exciting adventures available, the tough part is deciding what to do — or at least, what to do first.

Be Relaxed

Then again, you don’t have to. In fact, you could avoid all the mountain activities entirely and plan your trip around art and relaxation. 

Step inside the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and you’ve entered a different world, one that belongs to the traditional peoples of this place. Traditional baskets, blankets, canoes, carvings, drums, tools and regalia tell the living story of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations as clearly as the haunting welcome song that begins each hourly guided tour. Definitely swing by the gift shop to pick up a unique memento or two.

Whistler Wonderland - YAM Magazine Holiday Issue 2023
Experience beautiful worlds at the Lil’wat Cutural Centre and Audain Art Museum. Photo By: Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane
Whistler Wonderland - YAM Magazine Holiday Issue 2023
Photo By: Tourism Whistler/Justa Jeskova / Audain Art Museum. Works by Bill Reid and Rebecca Belmore.

You can find even more artful gifts over at the Audain Art Museum — as well as a breathtaking gallery of Indigenous masks and works by notable B.C. artists including Gordon Smith, E.J. Hughes, Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and the largest permanent collection of paintings by Emily Carr. 

It’s all very soothing for the soul, but if your body needs some pampering, too, you can slip into a steamy pool at the Scandinave Spa then jolt your senses awake with an immune-boosting plunge in the frigid cold pool. The outdoor pools at this Nordic-style thermal spa are surrounded by old-growth trees. The stress simply melts away in the beautiful setting, even before the skilled massage therapists pummel the tension out of your shoulders.

Whistler Wonderland - YAM Magazine Holiday Issue 2023
Soak your stress away at Scandinave Spa. Photo By: Scandinave Spa/Joern Rohde.

For an even more luxurious spa experience, with all the fancy treatments and fluffy towels your weary body could crave, check out the serene Vida Spa at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, recently renovated Spa at the Four Seasons Resort & Residences and award-winning Spa at Nita Lake Lodge — we especially love the mountain-view hot tubs on the roof.

Be Merry

Whether you spent your day schussing down a gnarly slope or soaking in a hot tub amid the gently falling snow, you will certainly be hungry — and thirsty — by now. You are in luck because Whistler these days serves up a veritable buffet of fantastic places to dine.

Chef James Walt at Araxi Restaurant & Oyster Bar was among the first to truly celebrate the bounty of the region, especially the produce from nearby Pemberton Valley, and Araxi is still among the finest places to dine in the village, with a stellar wine list to match. Its sister restaurant, Bar Oso, offers exceptional Spanish tapas in a bigger, newly renovated space, and its other sibling, Il Caminetto, is the place to go for elevated Italian cuisine.

For the kind of experiences you will definitely be telling your friends about later, swing by Bearfoot Bistro for a flight of sub-zero vodka in the Ketel One Ice Room, then take a break from dinner to pop into the wine cellar for a round of Champagne sabering, which is easier than you might think (especially after all that vodka).

We love the charming, French-ish Alta Bistro — those lamb-fat fries! —  and can’t wait to check out their new Alpha Café, which is sure to become one of the most popular places in the village for casual morning pastries and lunchtime sandwiches.

And we couldn’t be more excited about Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar, a high-end seafood-forward eatery from some of the most skilled veterans in B.C.’s hospitality industry. Among them: Jack Evrensel, founder of the Toptable Group; Alex Chen, winner of Iron Chef and more awards than you can shake a whisk at; and award-winning restaurant director Neil Henderson. Only open for a year, Wild Blue has already been recognized by Canada’s 100 Best, Condé Nast Traveler and Vancouver magazine, which called it “the most important Whistler restaurant opening in a decade.”

Whistler Wonderland - YAM Magazine Holiday Issue 2023
Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar has been an exciting new addition to the Whistler scene. Photo By: Leila Kwok.

One good way to sample what Whistler is all about is to attend Cornucopia, the annual festival of food, wine and good times, which will be held November 9 to 19 this year. It offers a bounty of seminars, tastings, dinners, parties and more.

But mostly what it offers — like every other experience here in B.C.’s winter playground — is a lifetime of memories you can’t wait to share.

If You Go

Getting There:

From Vancouver, the drive along winding, scenic Highway 99 will take about an hour and 40 minutes — but beware that this route is susceptible to sudden, extreme weather. 

Staying There:

Whistler offers every type of accommodation from humble hostels to high-end luxury hotels to condo rentals. 

One place we love is the peaceful boutique property Nita Lake Lodge in Creekside. nitalakelodge.com

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is always a good time with an enviable location near the chairlifts.
fairmont.com/whistler

If you’d rather be closer to the shops, restaurants and party action, check out the PanPacific Whistler Village. panpacific.com

New to the scene is the ultra-luxe Wedge Mountain Lodge & Spa, a private retreat ideal for weddings and corporate getaways, north of Green Lake. wedgemountainlodge.com

For more info:

To plan your stay, visit whistler.com.