A picturesque alpine ski resort in the heart of British Columbia's backcountry wilderness, Whistler lies a mere 73 mi/118 km from Vancouver, making it a popular weekend retreat for busy urbanites. The absence of cars and abundance of cozy cafes, boutiques and upscale restaurants give Whistler the look and feel of an idyllic European mountain village.
But the town's charms go far beyond its aesthetic appeal and walkability. Whistler is one of the leading areas in the world for winter leisure activities and is one of the top ski-resort towns in North America. Visitors continue to flock to the area for what locals describe as the two greatest vertical-rise mountains in North America: Blackcomb Mountain's vertical drop is a whopping 5,280 ft/1,609 m, and Whistler Mountain's is close behind at 5,020 ft/1,530 m.
The town was founded on these natural skiing attributes, but visitors can choose from an ever-growing selection of additional snow-related activities, including snowboarding, dogsledding, snowshoeing, sleigh riding and snowmobiling. There's no doubt that Whistler helped Vancouver win the bid to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. All the alpine and Nordic skiing and sliding events were held at Whistler, the host mountain resort. Vancouver was the host city, and nearby Richmond was also a venue city.
With easy access to British Columbia's endless resource of natural treasures, the region also serves as a playground for outdoor summer activities, such as mountain biking, hiking, climbing and other ecoadventures. It is also a golfer's paradise, with four of Canada's top 100 golf courses. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Robert Cupp have each designed championship masterpieces in this magnificent setting, earning Whistler a spot among the top golf destinations in the world.
Divided into four small, interlinked sections, Whistler was planned as a pedestrian-friendly paradise from its inception. Central Whistler Village, nestled at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, features what locals refer to as the Village Stroll—a bustling, cobblestoned promenade lined with popular Canadian clothing chains, souvenir shops, sports-gear outlets, arts-and-crafts boutiques, coffee shops, and a number of unique restaurants and pubs.
A few minutes away, at the base of Blackcomb, Upper Village is more oriented to the hard-core ski crowd. Ski lifts, upscale hotels, restaurants, bars and shops appeal to those in town for winter sports. The nearby Village North area houses similar pedestrian-friendly attractions. Whistler Creekside, the latest area to be developed at the resort, offers a selection of condominiums, hotels and a more family-oriented retail promenade.
Home to pioneers and early adventurers in the late 1800s, Alta Lake was the original name of the region's main settlement. Trappers and fur traders unofficially named the area Whistler after the shrill sound made by the groundhog-sized western hoary marmots that live among the rocks in the area.
In 1914, the Great Pacific Eastern Railway expedited what had been a three-day journey by steamer ship and horse. This linked the valley to the outside world, turning the region into a viable logging and mining center. Soon after, the area became a fashionable holiday destination for wealthy, sophisticated Vancouverites. By the 1950s, Alta Lake was a popular summer retreat for the middle class, packed with backcountry lodges and fishing-charter operations.
Whistler took off in the early 1960s, when a failed bid for the Winter Olympics turned into a serious attempt to kick-start an alpine ski resort. By 1965, Whistler Mountain was equipped with a four-person gondola, a double chairlift and a day lodge. When the town officially opened for skiing in 1966, its population totaled a mere 25 people.
Through the 1960s and '70s, the area grew and eventually became the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975. Three years later, the government of British Columbia granted Whistler 53 acres/21 hectares for expansion. This resulted in the development of Whistler Village. Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, merging with Whistler Mountain to form the largest combined ski area on the continent, officially becoming Whistler Blackcomb in 1998.
Most visitors go to Whistler for the sports and outdoor activities, but there are additional sightseeing highlights beyond snow and woods. The picturesque Village itself is a major draw for many, combining beautiful photo backdrops with leisurely shopping spots.
Summer brings out a variety of buskers and colorful street entertainers strut their stuff in the town square, creating even more reasons to relax and enjoy the alpine ambience.
After a muscle-wrenching day of outdoor activity, most visitors in Whistler prefer to soak in their hotel's hot tub and turn in early. But those with greater stamina can find plenty to keep busy after the sun goes down.
As you might expect from a resort town, Whistler is full of pricey, high-quality restaurants that increasingly serve local ingredients. Depending on your budget, sampling at least one luxury meal at one of the town's specialty West Coast-style restaurants is recommended. There's a wide variety of additional dining options—and prices. No matter which type of restaurant you choose, try to find one that offers panoramic views of the snowy wilderness in winter or a casual patio table in summer.
Whistler Village is best for those who prefer to stroll between restaurants and menu-shop before selecting a dining spot—you have a choice of dozens of spots in the town center.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than Can$20; $$ = Can$20-$40; $$$ = Can$41-$60; $$$$ = more than Can$60.
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