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Whistler

Snowboarding in the Crystal Zone

Whistler, right up there with Aspen and the best ski resorts in Europe, sets a standard that many other ski resorts have to match. The main concern for many is the flight — eleven hours; but you don
t lose skiing time as its overnight and youre chasing the sun outbound. Passing through Vancouver airport is quick and the transfer to Whistler is less than two hours, the roads are good and it’s worth keeping awake for the stunning scenery...


THE QUIET END OF WHISTLER is Creekside where we stayed at the Nita Lake Lodge a rustic style but modern boutique hotel with fabulous views. We were privileged to be given the best suite only to find out they were all of an identical high standard... The hotel has a shuttle to the lift and shops but as it was so close we always walked. The dining experience was excellent both with the food and the wine whilst the breakfasts certainly set us up well for an energetic day.

With the skiing right across two linked adjacent mountains, there are enough runs to use every ounce of energy for a long time. Whistler, which is above Creekside (the 'historic' resort from 1966!), and Backcomb, which is above Whistler town, is about four miles up the valley.

There’s actually much
more to Whistler than
just skiing
and snowboarding.
Summer is their busier
season when non-skiers
can indulge in many
activities, from energetic
to totally relaxing.
Families, in particular,
have lots of possibilities
with many varied
facilities for children;
I rather fancied a go on
the 1,000-feet-long
tubing park under lights
— it looked fun!”
The two mountains have a well planned series of interconnecting lifts and I was proved wrong to be sceptical about the Creek-to-Peak cable car — it works well and offers much more flexibility and speed when moving around the mountains. If it looks a bit overcast on one peak, the odds are that it's sunny on the other so you can quickly transfer.

A big plus is that there is skiing to suit just about everyone whether it is on- or off-piste, from seemingly endless 'motorway cruising' through the tree-lined trails, and wide and deep open bowls of variously demanding inclines, to tight steep blacks through the trees.

It's actually impossible not to have a grin on your face on most of these runs. One feature much enjoyed was 'Fresh tracks' — up before dawn to queue (as reportedly it is often over-subscribed) to take the lift for breakfast on top of the mountain whilst waiting for the bell to sound. A quick mass exodus and everyone is off on the fresh snow; we had so much of it that there was no better way to start the day.

Whistler is near the water and sea so does not normally get severely cold temperatures. However, there is not the same dry atmosphere to create the champagne powder of the Rockies — but what fun it was apart from trying to get up after a fall.

The scale of the ski area is extraordinary and one can believe their claim to have both the biggest ski area in North America and the longest runs: thirty-seven lifts and 200 runs support those contentions. And my last run of a very full day was on their longest run — Peak-to-Creek. It was totally shattering for I skied it non-stop but my speed was glacial on some stretches as my legs were so tired. We did encounter short queues at peak times for some lifts despite an uphill capacity of 67,000-per-hour but they moved and merged quickly in an orderly fashion which took the tension out of any delays.

For the last few days we moved to the centre of Whistler; to the Fairmont Chateau. This is a resort in its own right as it is so large; everything you could imagine was under one roof but it could have been anywhere apart from its prime location — right on the slopes with great views. We particularly enjoyed the Chalet restaurant for its intimacy. Nevertheless, the main dining room also served us well although the breakfast self-service cafe was pretty grim being more like a motorway service station.

20cm of powder on Whistler Mountain

If cost is not an issue, the Four Seasons Resort is beautifully presented in a very modern style. Located just off centre, and despite being very near the slopes, it's quieter. When it comes to international five-star hotels, the level of service and comfort tends to take away the local character; on the other hand you know in advance the standards you can expect — no surprise then that the Four Seasons was supremely comfortable and the food very accomplished.

The mountain restaurants were very much identified as being in North America; large, with soaring roofs and little atmosphere — they should visit Courmayeur and Zermatt where one of the best lunches we enjoyed was on the slopes and incorporated a wine tasting and was clearly not in the paranoid US of A.

There's actually much more to Whistler than just skiing and snowboarding. Summer is their busier season when non-skiers can indulge in many activities, from energetic to totally relaxing. Families, in particular, have lots of possibilities with many varied facilities for children; I rather fancied a go on the 1,000-feet-long tubing park under lights — it looked fun!

Not having a head for heights, the Ziplining was a challenge but the crew were very professional and included an interesting dialogue on the eco-systems and natural habitat.

Frustrated supercar
drivers can get a heady
adrenaline fix with
a snowmobile tour:
120bhp powering
a 500-pound vehicle
says it all.
My four fellow riders
were well-behaved
behind our guide as we
climbed and wended our
way through the tracks
and paths
in the backcountry.
I made sure that I was
tail-end Charlie and
lagged back
in order to exploit the
speed potential.
The possibilities were
staggering and,
rather irresponsibly,
I more than doubled
the top speed
of my companions.
Great fun!”
Frustrated supercar drivers can get a heady adrenaline fix with a snowmobile tour: 120bhp powering a 500-pound vehicle says it all. My four fellow riders were well-behaved behind our guide as we climbed and wended our way through the tracks and paths in the backcountry.

I made sure that I was tail-end Charlie and lagged back in order to exploit the speed potential. The possibilities were staggering and, rather irresponsibly, I managed to more than double the top speed of my companions. Great fun!

An experience I will not repeat was the Skeleton ride on the bottom section of the Olympic bobsleigh run. The 'Death Talk' and operations on the Cresta Run were comprehensive and professionally very slick, and set the necessary standard. A few lessons need to be learnt by the American crew before I would repeat the experience at Whistler.

Time to relax in the Scandinave Spa complex in a delightful wooded setting where traditional Finnish hot and cold experiences were offered along with massages. There was an almost religious silence ethos but that was broken when the shock of hitting the cold water in the outdoor pool prompted an involuntary, very loud, but happily mild expletive.

There are many other options but outstanding for me are the wining and dining experiences in Whistler — I had not expected such high standards and the local wines were a revelation.

The heart of Whistler is the smallest place in which I have ever been constantly lost as the buildings are so bland and characterless. However, the hidden gem in one of those buildings is the Araxi restaurant which was simply brilliant. Quite how they achieve their standards in a relatively large restaurant is extraordinary. The service was excellent; the sommelier made time to explain any point and he matched our courses with nectar; the waiters were attentive but not intrusive; and the food was very accomplished. I gather ski buff Heston Blumenthal had also dined there just a few days earlier…

So if you favour snowy winter holidays then Whistler can come up trumps for virtually every individual requirement. I spoke to lots of people working in the resort and their paraphrased reaction sums up the appeal: "I came here for a season three years ago and have just stayed on."

After the energetic stay in Whistler, we stopped over in Vancouver for a couple of days to confirm its reputation of being one of the most highly-rated cities in which to live and work.

We stayed in a centrally-located boutique hotel, the St. Regis. It had plenty of character and its unique Gotham restaurant was bizarrely appealing even before we ate our meals. The director is understood to have various hotel interests and I imagine that this was his 'trophy' hotel, the one where he wanted to present a gem of an hotel rather than trying to optimise the profits. Everything was immaculate — which was expected — but when you choose to have fragile wall coverings that would show any scuff there is obviously an ulterior motive. I gather they're constantly redecorating the rooms...

There is masses of interest around the city and we could have been absorbed for several days, but one feature was of particular fun — the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. On my next visit, I will find time to take a flying boat tour as the setting is quite stunning.

I always welcome new challenges in skiing but I would set Whistler apart and say I am much looking forward to returning. — Tim Stevens

You'll find more information at the following websites:

whistler.com | nitalakelodge.com | whistlerblackcomb.com | crystalski.co.uk |
tourismvancouver.com | stregishotel.com | momentumski.com | oxfordski.com


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