A Guide To Whistler Beyond The Mountains

North America’s biggest alpine resort offers four seasons of fun, from thrilling outdoor pursuits and a sizzling food scene to world-class art museums worth skipping the slopes for

Originally known as Alta Lake, Whistler was renamed in 1965, allegedly for the whistling marmots that roam the region's alpine forests. Today, the area encompasses both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, which played host to the Winter Olympics in 2010 and offer more than 3,000 hectares of prime ski and snowboard country.

But the biggest drawcard of all in our book? Unlike most other ski areas, this big-hitting resort offers more than just high-octane thrills and après revelry (although it caters to both supremely well). Look beyond the mountain powder and you'll find all-seasons outdoor activities to suit all ages and abilities, a world-class line-up of acclaimed restaurants and an art scene worthy of a visit in its own right.

Wander along Whistler's car-free pedestrian high street, whose rustic stone walkways and gabled roofs anchor the village firmly into its fairy-tale alpine setting, and you'll pass plucky independent cafés, microbreweries, family-run bakeries and a First Nations-run cultural centre preserving the vital heritage of the area's Indigenous Squamish and Lil'wat Nations.

This might be one of the best snowsports destinations in the world, but come here just for the snow and you'll be missing a trick.

Adara Hotel, Whistler
Adara Hotel, Whistler

Where to stay

Whistler is one of the largest ski resorts in the world, so it's fitting that the town's hotel scene is just as expansive. At the top end you'll find grande dames like Fairmont Chateau Whistler - one of North America's largest ski-in/ski-out hotels - where elegant bedrooms and two alpine-inspired restaurants are all backdropped by 360-degree mountain views. In need of a post-ski stretch? Just sign up for one of the hotel's in-resort yoga sessions, which all come free with your stay.

At the more boutique end of the spectrum, The Adara Hotel gets our vote for its central-as-it-comes location, being just a stone's throw away from Mountain Square and a five-minute amble up to the main ski lifts. If, like us, you're partial to simple, Scandi-minimalist bedroom interiors, the pared-back bolthole's functional aesthetic (and affordable price tag) will tick your boxes.

On the hunt for accommodation that delivers just as well in the summer as it does in winter? Make waterside Nita Lake Lodge your base, where alpine-chic interiors and an award-winning spa meet a world-class network of hiking and biking trails, as well as waterfalls, alpine lakes and a high-octane zipline tour covering the valley between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.

Food, The Raven Room, Whistler
The Raven Room, Whistler, Canada

Where to eat

One thing's for sure, you won't go hungry in Whistler. The town's staggering number of eateries (over 170 restaurants across the village) means you'll find cuisines from all around the world, from sushi and ramen to pasta, as well as hearty traditional recipes such as poutine and seafood chowder.

Start your day at Purebread, Whistler's favourite family-run bakery, where fresh-out-the-oven pastries, bread, cakes and sandwiches fuel hungry locals on their way to the slopes. Or, for a sit-down breakfast, make your way to Portobello - a contemporary rustic eatery with exposed brick, wood and metal interiors designed by the award-winning Frank Architecture. Gather at the open-plan kitchen for made-to-order sandwiches, rotisserie chicken and smoky brisket, or head to the grab-and-go counter for top-notch coffee and gourmet pastries.

There's arguably no better food after a day on the mountain than a good plate of Italian grub. Open since 1996, family-run Quattro has been internationally recognised for its extensive wine list, putting it firmly on Whistler's culinary map, and is loved locally for its warm service and whimsical menu of Venetian delicacies. Settle in for an eclectic mix of small plates (bocconi - radish hearts with mozzarella, parma ham and a sweet cherry glaze - is the must-order dish) and hearty mains like pappardelle bolognese and king salmon risotto. For a more casual setting, stop in at The Raven Room for local fare and craft cocktails.

Raven Room, Whistler
Black's Pub

Where to drink

Unlike most European ski resorts, where après begins on the mountain before woozily winding into town, Whistler's post-ski drinks scene starts at the bottom of the slopes, just after the final lifts close. Park up your skis and follow the music to Black's Pub, where thumping DJ sets soundtrack the afternoon as merrymakers gather around cosy outdoor fire pits, fuelled by draft beers and cocktails by the pitcher.

Continue the evening at Tapley's, Whistler's first pub, where poutine and pizzas circulate the bar. Or, for a more refined affair, make tracks to Fairmont Chateau Whistler's Mallard Lounge, where a sophisticated wine and cocktail menu is served beside crackling log fires. Come morning, kick off the day with a caffeine hit at The Living Room at Pangea, a coffee and brunch spot within Whistler's first and only pod hotel.

Rocks and Gems, Whistler, Canada
Rocks and Gems, Whistler, Canada

Where to shop

As is the case with any large ski resort, activewear outlets such as Lululemon, Rip Curl and Salomon are scattered along the high street, but venture past the big-name chains and you'll find an impressive line-up of local businesses guarding their corner among the big brands.

Looking to blend in with the seasonaires' dress code? Pick up super-cool mountain gear at Evolution Whistler, an independent bike and snowboard shop run by locals since 1995, or head to circular fashion pioneers Ecologyst for natural threads that come with a lifetime repair guarantee. Elsewhere, sustainability superhero 3 Singing Birds offers a line-up of conscious fashion and lifestyle wares all made locally, including Skwalen Botanicals - an Indigenous skincare label that honours cultural knowledge and employs sustainable harvesting methods.

Flying the flag for small, family-owned businesses, Rocks and Gems is a third-generation-owned emporium selling gemstones, minerals, meteorites and fossils - keep an eye out for the 100,000 year old Russian cave bear fossil in the shop window.

Finally, those with a sweet tooth should look no further than Rocky Mountain Chocolate, a Willy Wonka-esque local chocolatier famous for its rocky pop (slow-cooked, copper-kettle caramel with popcorn, almonds, peanuts and cashews), chocolate-coated apples and deliciously rich homemade fudge (churned in store).

Photo credit: Destination Canada

What to do

You'll find nine art galleries in Whistler village, each showcasing a vast array of work from local artisans, including basket weavers, potters, painters and jewellers. Designed by the award-winning Patkau Architects, the visually-arresting Audain Art Museum takes visitors on a whistle-stop journey through British Columbia's artistic history. Blending seamlessly into the forest with its dark metal and wood exterior, the gallery is home to one of the world's finest collections of First Nations masks and a large collection of paintings by acclaimed First Nations-rights activist Emily Carr, as well as works by some of Canada's most celebrated contemporary artists.

To truly get to grips with Whistler's heritage, make a beeline for Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre - a first-of-its-kind museum and exhibition space celebrating the history of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations, who together shared the land on which Whistler was built. Its design inspired by the Squamish Longhouse and Lil'wat Istken (earthen dwelling), the cultural centre offers fascinating guided tours conducted by representatives of both nations, as well as a café serving delicious Indigenous-influenced cuisine (don't miss the hearty bannock bread, a slightly sweet-tasting traditional flatbread).

Still got time for the snow? This is one of the only places in the world where you can comb fresh powder on the slopes, zipline across alpine valleys and catch a world-class art exhibition, all before dinner.

The longest unsupported lift span in the world, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains - a 4.4km journey that takes 11 minutes - granting access to more than 3,000 hectares of alpine terrain, including more than 200 trails, three glaciers and 16 alpine bowls to suit all ski and snowboard abilities. Ride the gondola to the top of Whistler and you'll be met with open arms by the Salish Welcome Figure, a wooden figurine carved in traditional style that welcomes riders to the shared territory of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations.

The Lowdown

Plan your visit to Whistler at whistler.com
For more information on British Columbia, visit hellobc.com
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