Whistler: On the inside looking out

We’ve all heard it before. Spoken in commercials, printed in brochures and even told to us by friends when describing a place: “There’s something for everyone.” Sure, many places live up to that incredibly broad statement. Certainly diverse cities like New York, Barcelona and Tokyo truly do have something for every type of person and traveler. However, some places fill very specific niches. They specialize and their offerings to tourists reflect that. What happens, however, when you end up in a place that wasn’t really intended for someone like you? That’s what I experienced when I was a square peg in Whistler’s round hole.

%Gallery-131623%Whistler, British Columbia is undoubtedly an adventure playland. Its natural wonders are spectacularly and certainly make it a worthwhile destination for action sports enthusiasts. It’s famous for its ski and snowboard trails and is one of the most popular locations in the world for mountain bikers. For casual travelers, however, Whistler doesn’t really seem to offer much.

Almost everything about Whistler looks new. This is not surprising, considering that most of the buildings are, in fact, new, relatively speaking. Most of Whistler’s development has occurred in the last 30 years or so. While that has created an excellent example of urban planning with an pedestrian friendly, no-cars-allowed village, it has also left it lacks personality. The true beauty and spirit of Whistler can be found on the mountains and on the trails meandering through the foothills. That’s where Whistler shines and where it defines itself.

My attention was constantly drawn back to the mountains. There’s brilliance all around Whistler and activity surrounds the village on all sides as people attack challenging bike trails, hop onto the gondolas and share tales of epic snowboard runs during the winter. In the heart of the village, however, I felt a void, as if all the energy had flowed into the landscape around it.

Meandering around the village, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was in a Disney replica of ski resort town with a series is strip malls featuring souvenir shops and rather generic-looking restaurants.

Ironically, what I wanted to find in Whistler I found instead just outside of the village, where I came across a skatepark riddled with graffiti and a beautiful mural painted under a bridge. It was here that the town of Whistler felt lived-in. Otherwise, the real action is on the mountains.

That’s not to say that nothing for tourists exists in the town. History seekers will enjoy a few hours at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, which hosts a collection artifacts from local First Nations Peoples and does an admirable job of telling the story of British Columbia before colonial settlement. There are also plenty of places to spend your money and fill your belly. The village is not lacking for retail.

After a single day, however, I was left shrugging my shoulders and looking wistfully at the mountains, wondering what my impressions of this place would be if I was the kind of person who enjoyed hurtling down hills at breakneck speeds. Instead, my feet remained planted firmly on level ground.

The people are friendly in Whistler and the food and beer taste pure. But what defines Whistler is its geography, topography and the infrastructure that has been built to serve people who have come to enjoy the landscape. If you’re not going to venture into those mountain trails and just happen to be passing through British Columbia on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, Whistler might flummox you as it did me.

This trip was sponsored by Tourism British Columbia and Tourism Whistler. However, my opinions are my own and sometimes I’m just a square peg.

Enjoy mountain biking and skiing at Whistler this weekend!

Outdoor enthusiasts are in for quite a treat this weekend as the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, opens its mountain bike park for the summer season. As of Saturday, May 15th, sixteen trails and two skills centers will be open for riders, who can transition from their bikes to their skis, all in one very active afternoon.

With one of the longest ski seasons in North America, Whistler is a great destination for spring skiing. A number of the higher altitude ski runs remain open even as we approach mid-May. But at the lower elevations, the trail crews have been hard at work preparing the mountain bike trails for the first riders of the year. Reportedly, the trails are in excellent shape for the opening this weekend.

Some of the signature trails from the resort that will be available for riders include A-Line, Crank It Up, B-Line, Karate Monkey, Ninja Cougar, and Heart of Darkness, amongst others. Each of these trails is rated for the intermediate rider and higher, so beginners will have to wait a few more weeks for other trails to open. Riders can also hit the Air Dome for a little indoor action as well. The 8400 square foot training facility features foam pits and wooden ramps for a completely different kind of ride.

So, if you’re looking for a little outdoor adventure this weekend, take advantage of a rare opportunity to both mountain bike and ski on the same weekend. How about spending Saturday on the trail, then hitting the slopes on Sunday? Better hurry though, as that snow won’t last forever, and summer is closing in quickly.

A ski expert’s secret tips to Whistler and Vancouver

All eyes will be on British Columbia during the Olympics. Who better to share some secrets than a local?

I first met Jeremy Neill a few years ago when he was a product manager for Fresh Tracks, a Vancouver-based tour operator that specializes in Canada and Alaska. Born in Bath, England, Neill has lived in Vancouver for the past three years. Though he’s the first to say he’s not a native, Neill does have the inside scoop on the local ski scene–armed with 15 years of snowboarding experience, Neill is the author of The Mad Dog Ski guide to Whistler (maddogski.com).

Q: What are some après-ski spots in Whistler where you might see someone famous?
A: The Brewhouse at Whistler is the one of the closest to the Medals Plaza so that might have the best chance of seeing an athlete. The liveliest places are the Longhorn Saloon & Grill in Skiers Plaza, which has the best views of the Whistler runs, and Merlins at Blackcomb, which is known for its huge nachos and as a place to party.

Q: And for Vancouver?
A: That’s tough as there are so many options in downtown Vancouver. A lot of people are hoping to access the “houses” where sponsors and partners are hosting parties and events. Widely anticipated is the Holland Heineken House at the Richmond Ozone. Downtown Vancouver has two Live Sites: LiveCity Downtown and LiveCity Yaletown. These outdoor celebration sites are free to enter. You can see live coverage and short films on giant screens, view exhibits from Canadian artists, and enjoy some local food and drinks.Q: Any shortcuts to equipment rentals or lift passes?
A: Definitely book rentals in advance. Some rental shops are open in the evening, so you can go and get your kit in advance. Lift tickets can be bought online, and discount day tickets are available in local 7-Elevens.

Q: What’s the local beverage of choice after a long day on the slopes?
A: The drink I go for often depends on the time of year. In January I like the Amsterdam Cafe as they have warm alcoholic toddies with a view of people on the village stroll. After a day of spring riding, an ice-cold beer is always refreshing. This is not hard to come by in Whistler. Any of the bars at the base of Blackcomb or Whistler are a great spot.

Q: Is there a beautiful ski run that even beginners can handle and shouldn’t miss?
A: Ego Bowl on Whistler is a favorite with beginners. It’s an easy pitch and has brilliant views on a clear day. The Emerald Express Chair lift slows nicely at the top with a flat run out, so it’s easy to get off. It can get busy though, especially if the chairs at higher elevation are not running.

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Four Seasons auctioning off front-row rooms for Olympics

The Four Seasons Whistler has 6 exclusive rooms and suites at their lovely, Vancouver-adjacent mountain resort up for auction on charitybuzz.com to raise funds for The Birds Nest Foundation.

The Birds Nest Foundation is “a charitable corporation and visual media production company dedicated to supporting philanthropic efforts. Birds Nest provides multimedia services for fund raising and to increase awareness and understanding of non-profit organizations.”

If supporting philanthropic efforts isn’t enough of a reason for you to bid, how about a complimentary Sea-to-Sky highway permit for getting to the games? The Four Seasons Whistler also happens to be the Official Host Mountain Resort for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, so you’re certain to be surrounded by excitement and celebration — as well as athletes and officials. All alpine, Nordic and sliding events will be held at the resort. It’s going to be that awesome.

Need we mention FS Whistler’s gas-burning fireplaces, private bars, guest powder rooms, and deep-soaking tubs? There’s also a first-rate spa and the Fifty-Two 80 Bistro, which will be hosting Olympic Buffet Dinners from February 12 through 28 for guests to dine together and watch the day’s events on large flat-screen televisions.

Bidding for these once-in-a-lifetime mutli-day to week-long experiences starts at $1,000, and the packages are valued at up to $21,600. Some don’t even have an opening bid placed, so hurry to charitybuzz and bid!

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Need a room for the Olympics? No need to worry

If you’re planning to make a run up to British Columbia for the Olympics next month, you still have a shot at getting a great room. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler tells me that there is still some space available from February 11 to February 28, including coveted space slope side rooms. There’s only a minimum stay of three nights, and you won’t have to conform to an arrival or departure pattern — come and go from Whistler as you please. Rooms start at C$899 a night and require prepayment within three days of booking. It’s all non-refundable, but c’mon, this is the Olympics! You can’t do it on the cheap.

If you really want to “do it big,” mix it in with private jet travel, and you’ll have an unbeatable experience. This is a rare opportunity, so you really don’t want to look back on any part of it and wonder if it could have been better, right?

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[Photo by Tim in Sydney via Flickr]