Canada's Whistler

It’s hard to miss the new “Explore Canada” TV spots.

Shaky video recordings of calving glaciers, a wild moose or curious black bear walking through a campsite—it seems these glimpses of unspoiled nature are designed to taunt even the most devoted couch potatoes down here in the lower 48.

“Considering how often people talk about moving to this northern frontier, it’s not usually (at) the top of (one’s) mind when it comes to vacation,” says Breton Murphy, with Tourism Whistler. Hence the enticing ad campaigns.

One exception he notes (especially for Californians) has been Whistler Mountain, just north of Vancouver. And despite its world-class reputation as a ski resort, the summer season actually draws a larger crowd. Built in 1975 as Canada’s first resort municipality, it is designated as the Host Mountain Resort for the 2010 Winter Games (Olympic Winter Games February 12–28, Paralympics March 12–21). While this picturesque village already receives 11 percent of British Columbia’s tourist dollars, Murphy and his cohorts are now hoping to nudge up those percentage points after the worldwide media blitz.In atypical Host City fashion, Whistler is all ready for the games. “We have completed preparations of all three of the competition venues two years prior to the games,” says Murphy. “And we will be finishing up Athletes’ Village in Cheakamus Valley at the south entrance to Whistler by fall.” Designed for gold LEED certification, this 56-acre development is a mixture of apartments, townhomes and hostel accommodations that will provide much-needed affordable resident housing for locals after the games are over.

Pregame summer tourists can take self-guided sightseeing tours along the Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park venue for cross-country skiing, biathlon and ski jumping (a photo taken here could make for a unique Olympic party invitation). Or check out the Whistler Sliding Centre on Blackcomb Mountain, which is open to the public Thursdays through Monday for a tour.

You’ll have to wait till the games are over to try out the track for yourself. For the noncompetition attractions, the new Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Blackcomb and Whistler mountains. The nearly three-mile trip features the longest (1.87 miles) and highest (1,430 feet) unsupported span of its kind, along with 360-degree views.

Where to Stay?

At the foot of the mountains, Whistler Village has been transformed over the past quarter century from a tiny wilderness community known as Alta Lake to the uber-resort it is today. Featuring a quiet enclave of shops, restaurants and meandering streets, it’s designed for foot traffic only. Here the summer atmosphere is easygoing, with outdoor cafes, live music and friendly locals.

Centrally located in the Village is the area’s first luxury boutique hotel, Adara. Amenities include a rooftop pool with sweeping views; floating fireplaces, walk-in rain showers and private terraces are available in each of the 41 rooms. Adara is a sister to the eclectic Opus hotels in Vancouver and Montreal, with a chic but relaxed vibe.

What to Do?

Besides the pregame venues to explore, a big draw is Mountain Bike Park: 120 miles of winding trails, from gentle routes through forest to steep rock drop-offs for the armor-clad crowd. Trail names seem created to intimidate: Freight Train, Crank It Up and No Joke. The park attracts serious bikers from all over the world but also caters to novices and younger kids.

A close second on the thrill list is the Ziptrek Ecotour, which carries riders 150 feet above Fitzsimmons Creek. Against a wild backdrop of ancient forests, five lines soar progressively higher, longer and faster, the longest being more than 1,100 feet, with clips racing along as fast as 45 miles per hour.

Another stunning half-day excursion is a canoe trip along the River of Golden Dreams to the glistening expanse of Green Lake, surrounded by glacier-capped peaks. The three-hour trip offers easy paddling alongside waterfowl, beavers and maybe a bear or two.

How to Get There?

Direct flights leave daily from SFO or Oakland to Vancouver. Shuttles are available as are rental cars, but since the town has been designed for pedestrians, you won’t need a car. Either way the Sea to Sky Highway will be a two-hour scenic experience to rival our own Highway 1 to Stinson. For the trip home, consider hoping aboard the Whistler Rocky Mountaineer, a glass-domed passenger train. The southbound train departs in the afternoon and arrives in Vancouver in time for dinner.