An Off-the-slopes Guide to
The Canadian mountain resort of Whistler needs very little introduction, particularly among skiers and snowboarders. Each year, the lure of fresh powder and 8,171 acres of pristine slopes prove irresistible to winter worshippers from around the world.
Whether you’re artsy, active or a combination of the two, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better winter destination. But while the Whistler slopes need little introduction, our insider’s guide takes an off-the-beaten-slopes look at what else is on offer in this charming region of Canada.
Stop for a selfie on the Sea to Sky Highway
British Columbia Highway Route 99 or the Sea to Sky Highway as it’s known, is the major north-south road that connects the US border with Cache Creek. The Sea to Sky section of the highway connects Vancouver with Pemberton (just north of Whistler) and offers a plethora of Christmas card scenery along the way.
Unsurprisingly, nature is a big deal here, music to the ears of those seeking an eco-friendly winter getaway. Whistler Blackcomb has won an impressive 18 awards for its sustainability programs.
While the route from Vancouver to Whistler takes around two hours, it’s also a gateway to some of the area’s most captivating sites of natural beauty.
The first of our three winter selfie spots is Porteau Cove, located on the shores of the Howe Sound - the most southerly fjord in North America. The park is around 50 hectares in size and has two artificial reefs and two sunken vessels. This makes it a popular hotspot for local scuba divers during the summer. Expect frosted fir trees and a spectacular mountainous backdrop.
Brandywine Falls is another must-see. The 70 meter high falls are located in Brandywine Provincial Park which is at the center of at least four basaltic lava flows. The lava flows are around 34,000 years old and are responsible for creating the vertical walls surrounding the falls. This creates an icy vapor and something of a natural marvel.
Finally, stop at the Sea to Sky Highway viewing platform. The Sea to Sky Gondola takes visitors from the Squamish valley floor, high up in the alpine. While a ride on the gondola is essential, the viewing platform offers up an equally breathtaking perspective. Two viewing platforms alongside several snowshoe trails provide nearly 360˚ views of the Howe Sound, coast mountains and an impressive suspension bridge.
Explore a new neighbourhood: Function Junction
While it can be tempting to spend your entire ski trip in Whistler Village and on the slopes, the surrounding neighborhoods have lots to offer.
Function Junction, or “Function” as it’s known by the locals, is a former industrial hub turned trendy hangout. It is the first junction and neighborhood you pass on the left when arriving in Whistler.
The area was initially a place for functional businesses or service providers that visitors and tourists don’t need to see or access. However, the lower operating costs of minimalistic commercial space appealed to local business owners who flocked to Function. While you won’t find quaint cobblestones, you’ll find plenty going on. Expect vintage fashion, yarn-bombed patios, art galleries, and a non-conformist charm.
For something quintessentially Canadian, head to Forged Axe Throwing on Alpha Lake Road. Axe throwing is a much-loved pastime in these parts and was a former entertainment source for British Columbia’s woodland lumberjacks. Today, this risque alternative to darts is enjoyed by bachelors, bachelorettes, corporate parties and families, keen to test their aim and let off some steam.
Two of Whistler’s three breweries can be found in Function. Whistler Brewing Co. and Coast Mountain Brewing are just a block away from each other, offering up locally inspired beers and special tasting tours. If those hunger pangs can’t be kept at bay, indulge your taco cravings at La Cantina. Here, you’ll find some of the most authentically Mexican tacos to be found anywhere in Canada. Vegetarians are well catered for too and this restaurant is a popular hangout with the locals.
Before you leave, head to Purebread Bakery and Cafe for the best hot chocolate in all of Whistler. This cute bakery is one of five across Whistler and Vancouver, a family business that started life at the Christmas market in Whistler some years ago. The smell of fresh bread, lemon and blueberry basil scones and sour cream and chive scones are sure to get the taste buds watering.
For those that can’t get enough of the outdoors, hike to the Train Wreck. This bright, colorful wreck of carriage cars in the woods has become something of an evolving art exhibition.
Apres with a twist
Whistler’s nightlife is legendary and while we can’t fault you for wanting to cozy up next to a patio firepit, there are plenty of other ways to apres.
Located at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, a sleigh ride in Whistler is a serene and romantic way to wind down. Alternatively, opt for one of the most exhilarating and extreme forms of sightseeing on the Superfly zipline. You’ll climb boardwalks and trails before plummeting down Cougar Mountain, high above the frosted pines and valley floor.
The Vallea Lumina night trail is one of Whistler’s newest attractions. This sensory adventure follows the trail of two bold travelers who, according to local legend, uncovered the secret wonders of the woods. You’ll follow cryptic radio transmissions to direct you to the site of the hidden valley, taking in stunning illuminations along the way.
If culture is more your thing, travel back in time and explore the colorful history of British Columbia. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is the ideal place to learn about the indigenous First Nations. Thoughtfully curated carvings, weavings, and sculptures can be found in abundance here, and you can even try the indigenous fare at the cafe. For the history of Whistler itself, head to Whistler Museum where natural, man-made, serious and humorous artifacts can be examined. The museum is home to one of the original gondola cabins - sure to raise the eyebrows of any health and safety expert.
Whistler is, without a doubt, one of North America’s leading ski resorts. But as highlighted in this article, there are many sides to this charming mountain resort waiting to be explored. Go with an open mind, a sense of adventure and a fully charged camera.
Whistler is, without a doubt, one of North America’s leading ski resorts. But as highlighted in this article, there are many sides to this charming mountain resort waiting to be explored. Go with an open mind, a sense of adventure and a fully charged camera. ■