Long Weekends: Whistler While You Play

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1996

Long Weekends: Whistler While You Play
By Bob Howells

When you're sipping your first morning latte at Moguls and you hear one Whistler local tell another, "Saw a bear on the Valley Trail this morning," your ears perk up. The trail, after all, is the artery for all that is nonmotorized in this resort town, and that's a lot. You biked it this morning pre-java, you'll walk it later today to fish one of the five lakes along its course, probably in-line it tomorrow. The local has already skated off across the plaza before you glean what part of the 18-mile trail harbored the ursus. What, worry? Nah, there's too much to do.

When the snow melts in the southern British Columbia Coastal Range resort (a 90-minute drive north of Vancouver via British Columbia 99), you're left with twin ski mountains; an alpine village with sidewalk caf‹s; one fast-flowing river, Fitzsimmons Creek, foaming through town; and another, the River of Golden Dreams, making big serpentines along the valley floor.

At the base of 7,494-foot Blackcomb Mountain, someone's learning a circus hand-grab on a high trapeze, while snowboarders are queuing up nearby for the gondola ride to the groomed half-pipes of Horstman Glacier. Then there's Blackcomb Skate Park, with 17,000 square feet of concrete and a ten-foot vert ramp, and at the base of 7,160-foot Whistler Mountain you can hitch your mountain bike to the gondola for a 25-minute ascent and a blazing, 4,000-foot descent to base. All this might have anyone inclined toward celerity champing at the bit, but there's time to grab that second cup of coffee, because the summer days are double-long and everything's bike-ride or walking-distance close anyway.

Accommodations range from modest condo setups to B&Bs to luxury hotels, and with the ski mobs gone, securing them is no problem--call Whistler's reservations line at 800-944-7853. The Edgewater, a 12-room lodge that fronts Green Lake (doubles, $105 U.S.; 604-932-0688) is only a ten-minute bike ride north of Whistler Village, but it feels much more remote. From your room or breakfast terrace you can watch mergansers diving, floatplanes taking off, and paddlers returning from the two-hour trip from Alta Lake via the River of Golden Dreams. Whistler Outdoor Experience (604-932-3389) rents canoes and kayaks for $8-$10 per hour and will drive you to Alta Lake for the easy paddle home (shuttle service costs $29 for canoes, $22 for kayaks). If you'd rather be in the thick of things, the grand Chateau Whistler is a worthy splurge (doubles, $260; 604-958-8000), and Chalet Luise B&B is a worthy bargain ($66-$88; 604-932-4187), conveniently on the cusp of about 30 miles of beginner to intermediate mountain bike trails at Lost Lake.

The proximity of everything to everything else leaves little reason to drive once you get to Whistler. Rent a bike instead from Whistler Backroads ($22 per day; 604-932-3111) which also guides Whistler Mountain descents ($41 for lift, bike, and guide). If you want to go it alone, the shop sells the Whistler Off Road Cycling Guide ($6), which describes dozens of great rides around the valley. In-line skates are the other major mode of transport--rent from Blackcomb Ski & Sport for $7.50 per hour or $24.50 per day (604-938-7788).

Gondolas on both ski mountains run all summer (lift tickets, $14), so hikers can skip the approach grunt to the high country and start out hiking amid towering western hemlocks and Indian paintbrush, lupines, and tiger lilies. Short trails on Blackcomb are known for their wildflowers, views, and wildlife sightings--deer, marmots, ruffed grouse--and can be easily linked together. From Rendezvous Restaurant, take the one-mile Fitzsimmons Meadow Walk to the 1.5-mile Upper and Lower Lakeside Trails, and then push on another mile to the lookout above Overlord Glacier. The more adventurous (with a full pack) can continue into the wilderness backcountry of Garibaldi Provincial Park, join Singing Pass Trail, hook up with Whistler Mountain's trail network, and return the next day via the Whistler gondola.

All the lakes in the valley are respectable rainbow-trout repositories, but you need to venture out with your fly rod for trophy-type catches (and releases). Try the Showh Lakes (on Cougar Mountain Road, about a half-hour's bumpy ride northwest of Whistler) or the Birkenhead River (25 miles north of town on British Columbia 99). Or hire a guide. Whistler Backcountry Adventures (604-938-1410) will four-wheel you to local secrets for $130, including lunch, guide, and gear. It's also the local shop for rental equipment.
Whitewater rafting is close by on the Class III Birkenhead. Whistler River Adventures (604-932-3532) runs it for $44 for the half-day trip. Away from the river, Off the Beaten Track (604-938-9282), starring Paul Clutton as the Crocodile Dundee-like guide, runs a Land Rover day trip ($74) and an overnight hot-springs tour ($147). Clutton will let you take the wheel if you're so inclined, and the trip itself is so much fun that the stunning B.C. backcountry becomes something of a bonus.

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