We feel a twinge of sadness as we leave the Yukon. We were blown away by its untamed natural beauty, but it was the people who made us fully appreciate this part of the country. Their warmth nearly melted the ever-present cold in Whitehorse. We will never forget our visit.
7 a.m. Our plane takes off for Vancouver. Maya is wide awake and ready to resume her run up and down the aisles. Of course, she falls asleep the minute we land. We take the shuttle bus to Whistler. With the roadwork (preparations for the Games have turned the Vancouver-Whistler highway into a driver’s nightmare), it takes us nearly three hours to get there. Fortunately, the Perimeter bus driver is in fine form and entertains us with stories about the region. I gather there are so many bears in Whistler that every resident has a tale to tell. My favourite is the one about the baker who found a bear sitting like a Buddha in the middle of his kitchen, savouring the fruits of his labour.
Tourists who come for the Winter Games in 2010 will have access to a wider highway and lots of buses. And by the end of 2008, visitors will be able to ride on the new cable car connecting the tops of Whistler and Blackcomb: 4.4 kilometres suspended between heaven and earth.
Our suite at the Village Inn is huge. The décor may be a bit dated, but there is enough room for an army (well… a small army). Maya is busy going up and down the stairs that lead to the bedroom on the upper level. The kitchen is equipped with a fridge, a stove, a microwave and a dishwasher––ideal for saving money on a longer stay.
To get a feel for the place, I immerse myself in a brochure on the history of the village. I learn that the first hotel, the Rainbow Lodge, opened in 1914. The owners of the lodge, a young couple from Maine, had arrived on horseback three years earlier, after hearing about the beauty of the region. They built the lodge just a stone’s throw from where they first pitched their tent, and it soon became a popular destination among visitors to the Rockies. In the fifty years that followed, it drew increasing numbers of tourists who travelled there on horseback or by train.
In 1960, four businessmen who were skiing fanatics decided to find the ideal location for the 1968 Olympics. One thing led to another, and they ended up in Whistler. Although the games were not held in British Columbia, the development of the area as a ski resort meant that it could accommodate a greater number of sportspeople. In the mid-1960s, a highway was built between Whistler and the town of Squamish, facilitating access to the resort. In 1965, what had been known as Lake Alta was officially renamed Whistler. The following year, the first cable car, and the first chair lifts and T-bars were installed, and in the 1970s, Blackcomb Mountain was developed as well.
Today, Whistler is considered to be the largest ski complex in North America. Some go so far as to say that it offers better skiing than Italy, Switzerland and Austria because it gets more snow.
In summer, skiers and snowboarders storm the slopes of Blackcomb, while cyclists take to the trails of the world’s first mountain bike park, founded in 1999. With festivals, shopping (more than 200 shops), hiking, a museum, a variety of restaurants, spas and more, there is no shortage of things to do here when the weather warms up.
“I saw a bear!”
For a moment, I think the mountain air has gone to my husband’s head. But with photos to prove it, he tells me how the animal ambled under his lift chair on the peaceful descent from the peak.
“And how was it up there?” I ask.
“Magnificent. There’s still snow. People are skiing and snowboarding. It’s amazing! I think I took a photo from every possible angle.”
The cable car was being repaired (it’s working again, rest assured), so Maya and I stayed in the village while Joseph went to the top of the mountain. We could have taken turns, but as you need to allow an hour each way (and our time was limited), I preferred to explore the area. And I had already taken that ride a few years ago. I totally agree with Joseph: the view is stunning. There is something almost sacred about the mountains. There’s nothing like taking in the scenery from way up there to realize how small we are. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.
Now it’s my turn to see a bear…
For more information:
Vancouver Coast & Mountains: www.vcmbc.com
Tourism Whistler: www.tourismwhistler.com
Whistler Blackcomb: www.whistlerblackcomb.com
Perimeter Transportation: www.perimeterbus.com
Whistler Village Inn + Suites: www.whistlervillageinnandsuites.com
Thank you to Air Canada, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Vancouver Coast and Mountains, the Whistler Village Inn + Suites, and Perimeter for making this trip possible.