As well as some of the best ski runs in North America, Whistler offers good old-fashioned family fun.
As well as some of the best ski runs in North America, Whistler offers some good old-fashioned fun, as Laurie Cooper discovers.
Imagine a fairytale evening
A flickering headlight on the front of the sleigh illuminates sparkling snowflakes. The only sounds are the soft jingling of the horses’ sleigh bells, the muffled thump of their hooves and the occasional gentle whinny. Far below, the lights of the village twinkle in the chilly evening air. My family and I are travelling through time on the edge of Whistler, one of the most popular mountain destinations in North America.
Tucked under cosy wool blankets, our sleigh is being pulled through the snow by two beautiful Percheron horses. Whistler is many things: exciting, successful, vibrant, ever changing, but never before had I thought of it as tranquil. Not until my family and I set out to explore some of the old-fashioned family fun that Whistler has to offer.
Whistler has built its reputation around downhill skiing and snowboarding. With the largest lift-serviced ski area in North America and the longest lift-serviced vertical, there is no doubt that Whistler is king of the mountains. Its reputation has also resulted in a host of high-quality accomodations at very competitive rates. For a big resort, Whistler makes you feel right at home with its broad array of accommodation. Many families find it easiest to stay at a ski-in/ski-out property such as the Westin Whistler. Located in the heart of Whistler Village and only steps from the gondolas, the Westin Whistler is ideally positioned, especially if one of the family needs to return to the room for any reason while out on the slopes.
During peak times, ski-in/ski-out accommodation can be hard to find, but the Delta Whistler Village Suites are perfectly located right on the shuttle bus route. The suites are a prime example of why Whistler is so well known for having the most affordable luxury accommodation of any resort. And Whistler Kids, the children’s ski and snowboard school, is hugely popular, making Whistler a great family destination. But what if you want to take a day off from the slopes, slow down a little and maybe even step back in time?
Off the slopes
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, head over down to Whistler Olympic Plaza at the end of Whistler Village. You can lace up your skates (you can rent them, if you need to) and experience the thrill of outdoor skating. Warm up with a cup of rich Belgian hot chocolate at nearby Blendz Coffee.
Cross-country skiing is a sport for all ages – my children started when they were only a few weeks old. Tucked up with a hot water bottle in a cozy sled specially designed to be pulled along, they napped while Mum and Dad skied. You can rent skis for all ages at Cross Country Connections and sleds for the little ones at the ticket hut, both at the entrance to Lost Lake Park. The Lost Lake trail system has miles and miles of beautifully groomed trails for both classic and skate skiing.
Whistler has hundreds of shops, art galleries, restaurants and non-ski activities, many of which can be organised in advance from your hotel.
Some of Canada’s earliest explorers were dependent on their dogs for transport. You and your children can hear the “call of the wild” and try your hand at dog mushing with Blackcomb Dogsled, a 20 minute shuttle south of Whistler Village. Zeke, Apollo, Rosie and the rest of the team of Alaskan Racing Huskies will take you on a thrilling tour. You will learn how to harness the dogs and even take a turn driving the team and calling commands.
Another idyllic experience, which the children are sure to remember, is eagle watching in Squamish, just 45 minutes south of Whistler. Between November and February, thousands of bald eagles gather at the confluence of the Squamish and Cheakmus Rivers. Drawn here by the plentiful salmon and giant trees, these majestic raptors spend the winter in Squamish. You and your family can gently drift down the Cheakamus River in a raft, only a few yards away from hundreds of eagles.
To get some real perspective on old-fashioned fun, the Whistler Museum in Whistler Village is well worth a visit. While people from around the world have just discovered Whistler in the two decades or so, some visitors have been revelling in Whistler’s natural splendour since the 1920’s. The Museum is full of wonderful photographs, which show how people enjoyed themselves in days gone by. Check out the pictures of early pioneers skiing the mountains on eight-foot skis. Or marvel at the 60 cords of firewood they needed to keep warm through the winter.
Back on our own journey through time, the driver of the sleigh pulls on the reins and brings the horses to a stop outside a rustic wood hut at the edge of the forest. We are greeted by a blazing fire, and steaming cups of hot chocolate. A genuine cowboy singer entertains us with songs from a bygone era, then ushers us back into the crystalline evening air. As we snuggle up under our blankets, the horses whicker gently before starting off on the journey home. Back to the real world and forward in time.
Air Canada flies direct from Australia to Vancouver whilst Qantas and United Airlines fly via San Francisco and Los Angeles, Whistler is a very scenic 2.5-hour drive from Vancouver. The most popular option to get from Vancouver airport is by shuttle bus.