Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Whistler: Majestic opulence
My dearest and I arrived in Whistler, British Columbia, in October before the much-awaited snows of ski season. We discovered that the village is over the top. It’s an area of grand alpine scenery with dramatic snow-capped peaks, raging rivers and thick forests. It offers mad, mad outdoor sports: down-hill skiing, mountain climbing, white-water rafting, hiking, horse-back riding and now the latest craze, plunging down steep slopes aboard a shock-absorbered two-wheeler while encased in more armour than a hockey player. And it is opulent! The village is full of million-dollar homes, the streets packed with Mercedes, BMWs and big SUVs and visitors aren’t shy about opening their wallets wide. Now the 2010 Olympic Winter Games are raising the Gucci standard to an even higher level.
Both close-to-the-earth, cheapskate types, we were pleasantly surprised to find that British Columbia’s top tourist draw, although expensive, is getting many things right. Whistler has had good urban planning from the get-go. The “downtown” is attractive, centred on a meandering pedestrian walkway with cafes and outdoor tables. The “suburbs” are built in pods with good bus connections. There are no ugly box stores or neon strips. Furthermore, their vision for the future includes a cap on future expansion. And Whistlerians are passionate about recycling.
One morning we clambered aboard the Village Gondola and rose and rose for over 25 minutes until we had gained 1200m/3900ft elevation and reached near the top of Whistler Mountain. We then had a stunning ride to Blackcomb Mountain aboard the new Peak 2 Peak gondola, which holds records for the longest span (4.4 km), height above ground (436m/1427ft) and speed. We hiked trails on the upper edge of the tree line past boulders splattered with green and black lichen. Glaciers beckoned, a marmot whistled at us and far, far below lay Whistler.
Every day we took a hike. Our favourite was to Cheakamus Lake passing through sombre old-growth forest. At Nairn Falls, the reds and oranges of fall were interspersed with the dark greens of hemlocks and firs. Fresh with rainwater, the Brandywine Falls cascaded dramatically over a cliff.
Our highlight was the ZipTrek Ecotour. The first step off the very high platform deep in the forest was scary indeed. Then the excitement built and built as we took a series of frenetic, heart-pulsing zip runs along thin wires that hung high, high above Fitzsimmons Creek. The longest line stretched 1100 feet. Between flights we walked high in the canopy between observation platforms and learned about forest life and the ways in which we should be helping preserve nature. Returning to base, we stopped at the new Olympic sliding track and watched only a few metres away as a skeleton sled hurtled past at over a 100 km/hr.
All too soon, the week was over and we set off along the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway.
If You Go