Whistler, a place ranked by most the #1 ski resort in the world. I have spent many winter days there carving up deep powder in Whistler’s famous bowls and on the run’s over at Blackcomb’s legendary “7th Heaven” area. But this is Fall, and the hills are still all green save for some high mountain snow that didn’t melt from last year and glaciers. What would a die-hard skier like myself do in Whistler when there was no skiing to be had. It would be tough- and maybe a bit boring to be in Whistler in the off season…or so I thought.
The week-end I chose for our visit was Oct.6th-8th which coincided with the Canadian Long Thanksgiving week-end. Being Fall, the Coast Mountains typically get the type of weather you get out near the Pacific Coast, cool, damp and possibly rainy. So before my departure, I went on the Environment Canada website to check the forecast and see how much wet weather gear I may need to bring. But as luck would have it, a rain coat or umbrella would not be needed this week-end. Whistler was in the midst of a two week period of nothing but sunshine and above average temperatures. And that great weather was forecasted to stay right through my visit. Instead of rain jackets, umbrellas and fleeces, I was packing light pants, shorts, t-shirts and sunscreen.
By noon on Saturday, October 6th we were on our way out of Vancouver International airport in the little Mazada 2 that we rented from Budget. I was excited to get through Vancouver, cross the majestic Lions Gate bridge and head North on Hwy 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) for the 1.5 hour trip up to Whistler. The Sea to Sky is truly one of the most magnificent and jaw dropping drives anywhere in the world. And while I have done it many times on dreary winter days, I knew that today’s drive would be spectacular with the blue Pacific Ocean sparkling blue on one side- and giant mountains with steep granite cliffs glimmering on the other. And the drive didn’t disappoint! So spectacular was the drive up, that I was actually disappointed when I had to turn my Mazda off the highway to pull in to the resort to check in at Horstman Lodge, my home for the week-end. Located in the ‘Benchlands’ area of Blackcomb, Horstman was an ideal location for a condo in Whistler. With ski in access during the winter- and a quick 5 min free shuttle ride in to the Village shops and restaurants- it offers a scenic quiet setting with quick easy access to the hustle and bustle of Whistler’s famous shops, restaurants and nightlife. And in addition to the great location, the condos were updated, nicely appointed and had everything you need for a comfy stay including a full kitchen and spacious balcony. Our 1 bedroom suite had a large bathroom, generous sized bedroom and enough room in the living room area to relax- and pull out the queen sofa sleeper at night.
While I expected it to be quiet in Whistler for what most refer to as the “shoulder” season, everywhere we went in Whistler was busy and happening. It seems that the Canadian Thanksgiving week-end combined with the great weather brought out lots of weekenders from Vancouver, tourists from around the Globe- and of course, lots of locals eager to get in their biking and hiking before the sun and warm temps faded away. The resort was also holding its annual “Turkey Tent Sale”. This is an annual event where the resort organizes a giant ski/snowboard clothing and equipment sale and houses it under a giant tent at the base of Blackcomb mountain. In addition, all the ski shops in and around the resort offer huge 50-80% savings on last year’s clothing and gear. I took advantage by visiting the tent sale on my first afternoon and buying a needed pair of black Descente ski pants at 60% off. After a first day of exploring the village in a relaxed manner, I woke up stoked the next morning knowing it was time to leave the village behind and get out to the ruggedness of Whistler’s high alpine terrain with all the great hiking opportunities it afforded. We started out the morning by accessing the nature path just a minute down the road from Horstman House. That took us to one of Whistler’s nicest areas, for nature, Lost Lake. There we took advantage of the extensive nature trail system that offers great walking, running and biking in the Summer- and x-country and snowshoeing in the Winter. After about 45 minutes of walking in and around the lake an through some idyllic wooded trails, we felt all warmed up and ready to move on to bigger and better challenges.
Returning by mid-day to the Village, we headed straight for the Whistler gondola, where we picked up a hiking trail map- before boarding the gondola for the 20 min. ride up to near the top of Whistler. Upon reaching the top gondola station we exited the station and walked out in to a world of high alpine bliss. Green grass, blue lakes, silver peaks, white glaciers…it was nothing short of spectacular. Taking advantage of the bluebirds skies, we decided to do the longest (and toughest) alpine hike listed in our handy trail guide. To get to the tsail head though, we would have to hop on Whistler-Blackcomb’s famous ‘PEAK2PEAK’ gondola to ride from the top of Whistler mountain to the top of Blackcomb. Like the drive up to the resort on the ‘Sea to Sky’ the ride across in our massive 50 passenger gondola cabin was nothing short of spectacular with breathtaking views of both ski resorts and surrounding mountain peaks. What was I thinking that it may be boring or hard to cope with being there with no skiing. It was nothing but amazing. Our 4 hour hike was tough and challenging, but worth every bit of effort as each section of the trail brought us to one spectacular vista after another. That night after our strenuous hike, it was time for a relaxing evening and an early dinner at Whistler’s long standing ‘Sushi Village’ restaurant. Usually during the winter ski season, it is a min. 30 main wait to get in to this well known Japanese restaurant known for their ultra fresh fish. But another advantage of being there during Fall, is that you get to enjoy all of Whistler’s great dining scene, without the hoards of skiers all vying for a reservation. A little sushi, a little saki- and then it was time to drag my tired legs to bed.
On Monday morning, we awoke to another glorious sunny day. Since we had an overnight flight from Vancouver booked with a 10:30 pm local time departure, we had a full last day to explore the area surrounding the resort. As Whistler is located in Garibaldi Provincial Park, the entire region is full of opportunities to explore some the earth’s most spectacular nature. The area has an abundance of waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, mountains and raging rivers. So we spent the day visiting 3 of the region’s most stunning waterfalls- Nairn Falls, Brandywine Falls and Wedgewood Lake Falls. By the time we hopped back n the car for the night time drive back to Vancouver, we were totally exhausted by all our hiking and exploring. But it did not matter. We knew we had a couple hours on the road, followed by 5 hours on the plane to rest our tired calves and quads. The entire drive back I could not help but smile thinking of all we did and saw in the past almost 72 hours. Die hard skier or not, I will be back in the Summer and Fall to take advantage of Whistler’s scenery and all the activities available. My travel partner was too scared to even consider making a visit to “Whistler Bungee” this trip. But I will come back to do it. As well, I will have to come back to experience the world class downhill and trail mountain biking and all the great fishing. 72 hours is just not enough to experience everything available there….maybe 72 days is what I need?