Ahh, wintertime in the PNW. It's the time of year when we're simultaneously supposed to be invigorated and motivated for the new year (which we've still barely started, by the way), but Seasonal Affect Disorder and the months of gray ahead are becoming more and more of a sinking reality...
If a week in Mexico or Hawaii isn't in your budget, may we offer up an alternative trip to the north? It may not be the 'sun and fun' option you're looking for, but British Columbia is full of wonders that us PNW-ers don't often take advantage of.
I was recently on a trip that double-dipped in both Vancouver and Whistler, and the mixture of food, activities and experiences is one I'd highly, highly suggest. So - that's what I'm doing! Here are the activities I experienced, the places I ate and the tips I learned while on this wonderful B.C. trip. Bookmark this page now and plan your next trip north!
While the drive to Vancouver isn't too bad (roughly three hours depending on traffic), the border is always hit or miss - so I opted to fly instead. Alaska Airlines has flights under $100 (I found some as low as $78 on their low fare calendar), and the trip is literally 45 minutes. They didn't even offer drink service on my flight up, since by the time we reached cruising altitude we were already getting ready to descend! If you don't have many PTO hours and you want to maximize your time away, flying north versus driving might be one of the easier ways to do so.
Shuttled from the airport to Parq Vancouver, an entertainment slash casino slash restaurant hub slash hotelier center in the middle of the city. Parq is where the cool kids come (it isn't out of the realm of possibility to see "Riverdale" stars hanging out there), and the two hotels that border the center casino are as alike (and as different) as brother and sister. The Douglas Hotel, where I stayed, is described as the 'Johnny Depp' sibling to it's 'Meryl Streep' sister, the JW Marriott. Where the Douglas is sexy, dark and mysterious, the JW is classic, clean and traditional.
I could not have been happier with my choice of the Douglas, an Autograph Collection Hotel. The entirely of the hotel and its 188 rooms and suites lean into their theme: the Douglas Fir. The lobby desk is a reconstruction of the majestic tree, with the ends chiseled to mimic the way logger used to cut them back in the day. From the stickers on the toilet paper in the room, to the interior design and local art throughout the premises, I never forgot the forest/tree theme. And I loved it - like the most fancy, high-end log cabin I've ever stayed at.
Dinner was at the Victor Vancouver, also in the Parq complex - and I've never had so much fantastic meat in my life. Seriously, the table was filled with steak, scallops, chicken, lamb, ribs, shrimp - and it all was incredibly delectable. Pacific Northwest seafood is the specialty, with a sushi and raw bar that will knock your socks off. For dessert, order the creme brûlée donuts - which come with a gold-flecked maple cotton candy.
Then back inside to the Douglas, where - on their lobby floor level - is the D/6 Bar & Lounge. The 'rough luxe' space even has a hidden room in the bookshelf wall where folks can have private parties, events and even proposals! I curled up with a glass of their signature gin (infused with Douglas Fir) by the custom steam fireplace.
Check in with the Douglas for specific deals going on at the time of your stay, but there are multiple shuttle bus options to get from Vancouver to Whistler, which was my next destination. The shuttle I took, operated by The Adventure Group, was a quick hour and 45 minutes and dropped us at our specific hotels. In my case, the beautiful Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
This trip was before the New Year, so don't mind the Christmas trees in the photos! I had had the privilege of staying at Whistler's Fairmont location before, and there is nothing truly as Winter Wonderland inspiring as this hotel. Whistler was experiencing very low snow levels when I was up there (and skiers/boarders were freaking out a bit), but stepping inside the hotel you would have no idea that we weren't deep in the heard of a normal Whistler winter, with snow-capped trees peaking through the windows and the mountain just behind them.
After checking in, first stop was lunch at Bar Oso, one of Whistler's premiere dining establishments. The Spanish tapas bar is all about elegant small plates, and after the meat extravaganza at the Victor the night before, a couple of their smaller vegetable-based dishes was exactly what I wanted. Try the shishito peppers and ensalada rusa alongside your bocadillos, the Spanish sandwich on house baked bread that they're known for.
Feeling full and happy, I walked back to the Fairmont to further unpack and unwind before the next adventure: zip-lining! While I've been lucky enough to zip-line before, those experiences had never been A) In the winter, and B) at night. I was signed up with Superfly Ziplines for a tour starting at 3 p.m. and would go three hours, well into when it would be dark out. I was equal parts scared (doing anything in the dark is inherently creepy, right?) and excited (flying over snowcapped trees, le sigh)!
My small group geared up at Superfly's Base Camp, where we were given a short safety demo and then loaded onto 4x4 vehicles for the off-road climb up to the first of four ziplines in total. But before we hopped onto the first line, the guide had us turn around to look out at the most gorgeous view on the tour. And after I saw it, dare I say it was the most gorgeous view of the trip?
Dusk was just starting to set in as we zipped down Line 1, which was 1.2km (the second longest of the tour). My heart kind of dropped into my butt as the guide let go of me, but that's pretty normal. Spoiler alert, I made it to the other side and had an unreal view of Whistler's wilderness along the way.
Line 2 was the longest ride, at 1.3km, and as I zipped by a forest to my left, the trees cleared and the moon popped seemingly out of nowhere. By the time we got ready for Line 3, it was almost completely dark. This, combined with two other things, made Line 3 the spookiest and most heart-pounding of the whole trip. 1) Line 3 is short, at only 400m, but it is the steepest and fastest. You essentially zip straight down into the trees, which bring me to 2) Vallea Lumina, Winter Night Walk (more on this later) is happening at the exact base of Line 3. This all means:
- You're zipping almost straight down
- You're zipping really really fast
- You're zipping in almost complete darkness
- The only light you see at the base of the line is an eery purple haze from Vallea Lumina
I barely remember the fourth and final line, as my heart was still pounding from the experience of the third - but the moon was my guide as I soared over the night completely dusk woods of Whistler. Sights and sounds of Vallea Lumina added to the experience and got me excited to actually experience the walk on the ground the next night, as planned.
The entire experience was fantastic, heart-pumping, beautiful and exhilarating all at once. It's funny, these night rides are actually discounted ($109 vs. $129.99) for tours booked 3 p.m. and later, but because of everything I listed above, I actually prefer the night experience! The folks at Superfly were, well - super fly (and professional, funny, and very safe). Technically you only really need one of those when zip-lining, but it's sure nice to have all three if you can.
Headed back to the Fairmont to warm up (note, it gets COLD at night - layer, layer, layer when out on the ziplines). You'll never freaking guess what awaited me back at the room.
Personalized. Mini. Toiletries! Look, my name is right there printed on each bottle. I positively squealed with this little touch! Did I pack them all and bring them home to Seattle, despite a heated battle at customs THAT I WON? Yes, yes I did.
By this time my Bar Oso meal was a distant recipe, so I was truly ready for our dinner, at a Whistler staple establishment: Barefoot Bistro. Last time we were in Whistler we also visited Barefoot, and we'll do it again and again each time we come. Why? For so many reason. While it looks like "just" a high-end restaurant with great food, it's not. Well - I mean it is, but it's also so much more. It's also home to the Ketel One Vodka Ice Room, the coldest vodka tasting room in the world.
But that's not all! Bearfoot invites guests who buy a bottle of champagne (minimum $75) down to the cellar to saber it in their underground wine cellar, where they also keep over 20,000 of the world's best vintages, (and one $60,000 bottle of cognac, no joke). The Napoleonic tradition of sabering is actually quite easy as Barefoot's Luc Trottier explained the history of it, and showed a colleague how to do it. I will attest that sine my last visit in 2016, it's a party trick I regularly pull out - and it kills every time. Note: Please don't try this inebriated, or when you haven't practiced in a safe space and read up on it.
Back at the table, we were treated to another "ooh-ahh" factor Barefoot is known for: liquid nitrogen. In this case, Liquid Nitrogen Vesper Martinis. "You will not find a colder martini anywhere", our server boasted. I can't say I've tasted all the martinis in the world (I can actually count them one one finger, I don't like martinis) but this was indeed very cold.
The Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream was however, much more up my alley. And so cute with it's little tray of goodies! They make it table-side, and boy is it a production.
That's a wrap on a busy Day 2! I fell into my robe, slippers and comfy bed back at the Fairmont, and dreamed of ziplining, ice cream and Napoleon.
I woke to light dusting of show on the grounds, which was not as much as skiers and boarders might like - but was just enough to make everything that untouched beautiful that I love about snow. Headed down to to Wildflower, the resort's restaurant located right off the lobby. They had just back in a private room with actually the most picturesque view out on a courtyard that I've ever seen. I'm not exaggerating when I saw this photo, taken out the window, was my phone background for months after that trip.
Properly fueled up, it was on to another adventure with, who else, The Adventure Group! TAG pretty much runs Whistler when it comes to activities, and this particular one was a Snowshoe Tour on top of Whistler. We loaded up gear (all provided by TAG), and hopped the gondola to the top of Whistler. Due to lack of snow, the tour wasn't exactly what is usually is - but if you ask me, it was still pretty perfect. We went off to the side of the lift, clear out of the way of traffic, and snowshoed around the edge of Whistler's old growth forest. Snowshoeing was great, but the view was better.
Our guide gave us a bunch of fun facts and history about Whistler, which I really appreciate. Like, did you know that when Whistler opened in 1966 - they'd already put in a bid for the 1968 Olympics? They didn't get it in '68, but did decades later in 2010. Blackcomb opened in 1989, and the Peak 2 Peak gondola (more on that later), connected the mountains in 2008.
For those of you who've snowshoes before, you know what I mean when I say it's more of a workout than it looks! So there was truly only one thing to do after such a strenuous and beautiful workout. Head back to the lodge on the mountain for:
Not even going to apologize about that. Was I the only one on my team to get this massive beverage? Yes. Did I get looks from everyone sitting around me, especially as I positioned it in from of the window, trying to balancing the precarious marshmallows? Yes. And you'll never guess how many you-know-whats I gave. I only wish I could have nursed this gallon of sugar a little longer, as I was holding up the group I was with a bit from our next adventure: the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola.
PEAK 2 PEAK is a world record-setting ride between the mountains, spanning a scenic 2.73 miles from - yup, you guessed it - the peak of Whistler to the peak of Blackcomb.
It's much easier to see the lack of snow in the above shot. Imagine all that green, usually dusted with much more white. Nevertheless, it was a really fun and cool experience. Closed spaces and heights usually don't agree with me, but weirdly - the glass bottomed gondola we were in helped (regular gondolas are usually red, look for alternate colors - those have the glass bottoms!)
11 minutes later, we were on top of Blackcomb ready to eat at Christine's, the restaurant on top of the mountain. Serving contemporary Canadian cuisine (go for the fancy tater tots) surrounded by panoramic views, Christine's serves lunch in both summer and winter.
After a delicious lunch and a quick nap (if I'm being honest), it was time to check out Whistler's newest acitivty: Vallea Lumina. I wrote up a whole separate article on this experience, as it would be hard to condense into a couple sentences in this post. If you'd like more info, I highly suggest you read the post - but to sum it up: it's a multimedia walk through the forest, compete with music, lights and projections - and it's incredible.
The whole experience takes about an hour an a half with travel (you're shuttled in and out of the village), so it was a little on the later side when I arrived back at the Fairmont for a delicious dinner at another of their restaurants, The Grill Room. I ordered - stay with me here - something called Carrot "Marrow", which is a rooftop honey roasted carrot, stuffed with cashew and ginger butter. It was thick like a steak, and delicious! The best part had to be that I truly felt healthy for eating essentially, a carrot for dinner. A true win all around. Stuffed, and already getting the "Sunday Scaries" of going back home the next morning, I once again climbed in my robe and fell asleep.
The next morning I grabbed a quick bagel breakfast sandwich to go at yet another eatery in the Fairmont, Portobello (a much more casual, grab-and-go situation than other sit down places). That and a coffee was all I needed for the drive back to Vancouver, and then the quick (again, 40 minutes) home to Seattle. Despite a little hiccup at customs where they tried to take my personalized lotions away from me, it was the easiest travel day I've had in a while.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk about traveling to B.C.! Hopefully I dispelled a couple myths for you here, primarily that A) you don't need to look south or east when you're planning a trip, you can and should look north, and B) Whistler is a super fun time even if you don't ski or snowboard, or even if they're not having a great snow season.
If you want more info on Vallea Lumina, again that article can be found here, as can a more in-depth article on Barefoot Bistro. In fact, we've covered a ton of different aspects of Whistler, so take a gander if any of the below articles pique your interest.
- The Best Fine Dining in Whistler
- Here's the right way to Après Ski in Whistler
- Five Fabulous Things To Do In Whistler Besides Skiing
- We found the most beautiful place in Whistler
- Skiing, mountains - and a Nordic Day Spa? The Whistler spot you may not have heard of
- There's a train wreck in the middle of this hike
Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak in the greater Seattle area, we want to gently remind our readers that while we’ll still be posting stories as usual about places to visit and things to do in the area, please follow King County Public Health guidelines to stay home and self-quarantine if you are feeling ill. If you want more information about coronavirus, please visit KOMO’s resource page.