Skiing holidays in Canada – Part 1
We have just returned from a skiing holiday in British Columbia, Canada, and as far as thermal shock goes, you can’t beat today: gone from -10deg C to +38deg C in 24 hours! Never mind the 1h bus ride, 45mn domestic flight, 3h transit in Vancouver airport and 14h nonstop flight to Sydney. The oppressive feeling on arrival and the overwhelming urge to strip off even before we reached the immigration check out far outweighed the weariness of long haul travel!!! Maybe because we are used to slow travel and far distances…
This is our third trip to Canada. The first time was 17 years ago, while cruising on our motorsailer from Australia. Back then it was very much a voyage of discovery, with a toddler in tow as well as Terry’s grown up children. We spent 3 1/2 months exploring the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Glacier Bay NP in Alaska and back, during the northern summer, an unforgettable experience that marked our lives for ever and had us falling in love with that part of the world ( the diary entries I wrote ate the time could fill up entire books!!!) The second visit happened 3 years ago, while living in Mexico and wanting to escape the tropics for a while. Flights from Cancun were cheap and being keen skiers we always dreamt of doing Whistler in winter. With Australian friends joining us, we had a fantastic 2 weeks, not only skiing but also discovering all Whistler had to offer.
This time around, we decided to go back to Whistler where other friends, Andrew and Monica ( first met in Mexico ) have now moved to, for one week, and explore another resort in the interior, Sunpeaks for another week. I guess it was a compromise between sticking to the familiar and venturing somewhere new. With another cruising family, Yogi and Steve, joining us for the fortnight, the emphasis was not so much on new discoveries but hanging out together and relaxing, the same way we used to when on the boat.
Most of our days were spent skiing, except for the couple of times when the weather was awful ( with visibility close to zero I found myself too old to “ski by feel”) or Terry’s knee gave in (prompting him to wonder if there were ever a time limit on the body’s ability to bounce off snow covered mountains…). Both instances were unexpected events in otherwise well organised weeks, and I want to share in this post, some of the choices that led to such a great holiday. Starting with week 1 in Whistler.
We chose to deal with Whistler Platinum, a vacation rental specialist we used previously. The online booking process is easy, with follow up emails and they also offer discounted lift passes, lessons, and gear rental (provided you book before November 15). By the time we arrived, tired from our 14h flight and 2h bus ride, all paperwork was done, we were handed our various passes, codes…and though our accomodation was not ready yet ( understandably since our Sydney flight arrived at 7.30am when standard check in is at 4pm!), they offered to store our luggage and take them in for us so that we could wander down the village while we waited. I initially planned the afternoon stocking up for groceries and drinks, until Ally at the front desk mentioned a home delivery service provided by Nesters Market. It only took 2 phone calls (one for the groceries, one for the liquor) and 20 minutes to organise for the goods to be delivered to the townhouse at 4pm. How easy was that?
That left us plenty of time to make our way down to the Village and check what had changed since our last visit. Not much, it appears. On this Sunday afternoon, The Longhorn Saloon, opposite the Whistler Gondola was pumping with young revellers enjoying their apres session with gusto to the sound of what I swear sounded like Australian Triple J radio (which would make sense, since Australians are reported to make up to 40% of the workforce here, and I am not even talking about every second visitor you run into who seems to hail from Perth or Brisbane!) Marc got really excited for a minute, until he was reminded by the local waitress that Canadian drinking age being 19, he’d only be allowed in the bar accompanied by an adult and served soft drinks only! The main street swarmed with people clomping around in clunky ski boots, walking in and out of shops and bars that provide parking spaces for skis and boards. I could not help feeling transported in a mountain version of Bondi, especially after hearing this place is nicknamed Whistralia.
Our accomodation at Painted Cliff was perfectly located close to Merlin’s run, on the Blackcomb side allowing us to ski in and out as we pleased without the hassle of waiting for a bus to shuttle us to the lifts and back. Accessibility is a major factor for us, having been spoilt in the past, with on-snow accomodation. What started as a necessity when the kids were small ( I wanted to be able to pick up then 2 year-old Anne from ski school for her lunch break and nap at home easily ) has become a major requirement when booking a place: while the kids are now big enough to go skiing all day without returning home, Terry and I find it really nice to sneak back for a bite and a cuppa, leaving our ski gear right outside the front door! Compared to European or Australian standards, Canadian rental properties are HUGE. The level of comfort is quite impressive and it feels more like a home than a rental (which should not be so surprising considering that most properties are individually owned ) With WIFI, cable TV, spacious bedrooms and a a fully equipped kitchen, none of us felt the need to go out at night. In fact, the only times we did was to meet Andrew and Monica for drinks or go to their house for dinner.
I must say that one look thru the dining guide had me write down a list of places I wanted to try, mostly fine dining, a relative concept in Whistler and I am using this term to describe the opposite of casual dining. The odds were not in our favour however, as we found that one place ( Bar Oso, a Spanish inspired tapas eatery that offers a lengthy gin-and-tonic menu) didn’t take reservations but would happily add our name to the 1h waiting list and text us when the table would be ready, and another ( Christine’s, the upscale restaurant perched on top of Blackcomb mountain with endless views over the mountains) is so popular that reservations need to be made weeks in advance. So much for winging it, I thought, and kicked myself for not doing my research before leaving Australia…Terry teased me no end about my lack of foresight, considering the obsessive foodie that I am, especially while travelling ( “what were you thinking, V?”)
This is not to say we didn’t enjoy Whistler dining scene, and we certainly found some gems. Milestones at the bottom of Blackcomb base was perfect for a lunch of juicy burgers and a hearty mushroom soup the first day.
In fact, the kids enjoyed them so much, we came back for dinner one night, after sharing drinks at the Fairmont’s Mallards Lounge with Andrew and Monica. This time, I joined in the carb-frenzy and ordered Portobello Mushroom chicken which came with a massive serve of noodles on the side. Just what I needed after a few wines, and before starting the snowy climb home up the hill!
Terry likes pubs, and when Andrew suggested we meet at the Dubh Linn Gate, in Whistler Village, he didn’t hesitate. 2 hours later and copious amount of drinks on the patio, we moved inside where the crowd was such that we had to stalk anyone who looked like they MIGHT vacate their table. Somewhat Andrew manage to secure one so that we could order food: Monica and I ordered salads (hers was beetroot and goat cheese, mine was coronation chicken and kale) while the boys went for chicken wings and fish and chips! Food was ok, though I have no photos to show for it (blame it on the wine!) The next day, we continued on the theme of fried food for him, salads for her at the Blacks Pub: foggy weather and a shaky knee forced us off the slopes and had us looking for comfort food instead, which we found in the shape of Chili Salt squid for Terry and brussel sprouts and cranberries salad for me. While lunch was good, I liked the position better: elevated enough to be away from the crowd (yes, Whistler can get crowded!) and great view of the slopes!
Ever since they had heard of the Crystal Hut and its famous waffles, 3 years go, the kids begged me to take them there. So one morning, we set off early, hopped on 3 separate chairlifts to reach the small log cabin on the mountain, queued for 20 minutes for a table and finally sat in front of these gorgeous waffles topped with berries, chocolate sprinkles, bacon slices, and balls of whipped cream the size of my fist!
One would have thought it would be enough to power you thru the day, but that was counting out Marc who could not resist the call of a bowl of poutine at the Rendez Vous Lodge at the top of Solar Express chair 3 hours later. Anne and I left him there to continue skiing ( the sun was finally shining, so I wanted to make the most of the day!) and when we caught up with him on the way home, he made us feel envious somehow proclaiming he was served the best poutine ever! For the uninitiated, poutine is a traditional canadian dish made with french fries, cheese curds and topped with a brown gravy. Personally I can’t see the appeal, but my kids love the idea of it and have sworn to discover the best version while on holidays. So, with Marc having a head start, Anne vowed not to leave Whistler until she tried her own poutine. That’s how we found ourselves having our last lunch at the Wizard Bar and Grill, at the bottom of Blackcomb, the only crowdless place on a saturday, when Vancouverites come up and invade the mountain. Anne loved her poutine, Marc thoroughly enjoyed his nth burger while I was pleasantly surprised with my choice: californian fish tacos served with roasted vegetable salad, which tasted vibrant and fresh, quite a change from the carb-loaded fare I’d tasted so far.
Finally, I have to mention the best night out was at our friends, Andrew and Monica’s place, where we introduced them to Yogi and Steve only to find out that though these 2 families had never met, they knew of each other thru a mutual friend in the Caribbeans where they all lived or visited at some point. All the children shared stories of mutual friends, memories from their lives in Mexico and the South Pacific, where they had first met. If it is not a sign that this world is small I don’t know what is.
Dinner was pot luck-style, with olives and chips brought by me, cream puffs courtesy of Yogi, cheeseboard and salad by Monica and the best pizzas provided by Andrew. Actually, he ordered them from Creekbread, reportedly the best pizza place in Whistler. And, boy they were good, which says a lot from someone who is a known reluctant pizza eater: between the 4-cheese one, the sausage one, the pepperoni and mushroom or the vegan one, it is very hard to pick a favourite. I hear that they make their own sauces, sausages and pepperoni by hand…maybe that’s this extra love you can taste.
On our last day, we all went to watch 12 year-old Kai play ice hockey for Whistler, which was a lot of fun ( the home team won )and nearly were roped into joining Andrew for one last round of drinks. We declined as we had a resort shuttle picking us up at 6.30am the next day to take us to our next destination, Sunpeaks. As tempting as the prospect of a late night in a Whistler bar was, I knew we’d come to regret it when packing bags at 5am. So we bid farewell to Andrew, Monica, Allie, Sofia, Kai and Lily, thankful for the opportunity to catch up and promising to get together again one day…