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Whistler Is So Much More Than A Ski Resort

No skiing? No worries.

You generally think of one thing when you think of Whistler. The popular resort town north of Vancouver offers some of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding, as evidenced by the millions of tourists that make the winding drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway each year.

Whistler hosted a number of events at the 2010 Winter Olympics and even had a Canadian TV drama named after it. The short-lived show looked into the lives of a group of locals after the mysterious death of a local snowboard star.

So, yes, you could be forgiven for thinking that Whistler is nothing more than a spot for wintertime mountain activities.

But Whistler, with a population of around 10,000, is a year-round town, often surprising visitors with its vast array of activities and opportunities for fun. At its heart, Whistler is a spot for pleasure-seekers. Don’t visit with hopes of getting a little shut-eye or tucking into that new book you’ve been dying to start. It’s a party town with something for everyone, including this writer: I’ve visited Whistler many times, not once having hit the slopes.

It’s A Foodie’s Paradise

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Image: Araxi / Facebook

Given the clientele that flock to Whistler, it’s no surprise that some of the best chefs from both Canada and abroad have opened fine-dining restaurants in town. Start at Araxi for a taste of some of the best seafood Canada’s west coast has to offer. Executive Chef James Walt takes a farm-to-table approach honed over years of cooking in Vancouver and Italy. He’s been voted best chef in Whistler multiple times – one taste of a freshly caught oyster or locally sourced pan-roasted duck breast will show you why.

Of course, a trip to Araxi can stretch the budget, so if you’re into cheap eats that’ll have you set for the night, carb-load at Avalanche Pizza. Avalanche serves up piping hot pizza made with organic dough that locals swear by. I suggest tucking into the Italian sausage pizza at the end of the menu.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, try one of Canada’s junk-food mainstays, Beavertails Pastry. It’s a deep-fried dough that’s flattened, tossed in cinnamon sugar and topped with everything from Nutella and bananas to chocolate and Reese’s Pieces.

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If it’s good enough for Obama, it’s good enough for you.


It’s A Top Spot For A Tipple

The bar scene in Whistler is enough of a reason to visit the town on its own. Given its reputation as a party town, quiet nights are few and far between. It’s best to start at the Amsterdam Pub, which is conveniently located in the centre of Whistler Village. You may not find a lot of locals here, but you will find travellers from far and wide. Come solo and strike up a conversation – where you’ll end up next is anyone’s guess.

If you haven’t found a dancing partner yet, don’t worry; The Longhorn Saloon is a beer-drinker’s paradise. The rollicking good times continue late into the night – if you want to experience some Canadian hospitality and a bit of honky-tonk while you’re at it, this is the place.

But if you really want to make the most of your one night in Whistler, the Whistler Bar Hop is exactly what you’re after. For socialising over some of the more unique beers and cocktails you’ve ever tasted, sign up for a Bar Hop tour ($50), which will see you through five different bars (where you even get to skip the line), including five drink tickets and snacks at the Longhorn Saloon.

Just remember to follow through on those plans you made to get up early and hit the hill, OK?


Lions And Tigers And Bears, Oh My! (OK, Just Bears)

One of the first times I ever tried to convince an Australian to visit my native Canada, he responded, “Only if I get to see a bear catch a salmon in the wilderness.” Now, most Canadians haven’t even had the pleasure of seeing that, but you have the best odds in Whistler.

Take a trip on either the Whistler Village Gondola, which delivers you to the peak of Whistler Mountain, or the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, which carries you 50km between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, and keep your eyes peeled – it’s not uncommon to spot bears wandering undisturbed around the forest.

Gondola ride in Whistler, Canada

Image: David Watkis

Or, to better your chances, opt to travel in a comfortable 4WD with an experienced team on a bear-viewing tour (from $198 per person). It’s like a Canadian safari, giving you the chance to spot wildlife that most Canadians east of Whistler wouldn’t dream of seeing up close.


Next-Level Mountain Biking

Mountain-biking in Whistler, Canada

Image: Erik Ringsmuth

For adventurers, visiting Whistler during the Canadian summer doesn’t discount the possibility of coasting down some of those world-class hills.

Mountain biking and downhill biking in Whistler is just as exciting as skiing and snowboarding, with over 1500m of gravity-assisted biking tracks spread out over 60 different trails. In summer, you’ll be able to thrill-seek alongside riders of every skill level, experiencing the mountains in a way very few do.

Lift and lodging packages are reduced in the off-season, beginning at just $75. It’s a whole new way to experience the mountains.


Photo Ops Abound

Whistler, Canada

Image: Joseph Barrientos

Don’t even think about trying to Instagram Whistler. You can’t capture the raw beauty of the place, no matter which filter you choose on your iPhone.

But if you’re a shutterbug at heart and you don’t mind putting in work to find that perfect backdrop, Whistler offers breathtaking views and panoramic shots that will wow you with each scroll of your camera.

Whistler provides photography tours with local photographer David McColm ($189), who will help you brush up on your photography know-how, ensuring you leave with amazing shots, regardless of your skill level.

OK, sure, you can upload the photos to your Instagram to make all of your friends jealous after.

(Lead image: Paul Morrison / Whistler Blackcomb)