When it’s not winter, many European skiing destinations try to re-brand themselves as summer resorts, but head to Canada’s west coast to Whistler and you’ll find a place that doesn’t have to make any effort whatever the season – it’s just perfect all year round.
Reached by a spectacularly mountainous 75-mile drive north of Vancouver along the Sea to Sky Highway, the resort boasts the twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb, the lifts of the latter rising to almost 7,500 feet.
Famed for its variety of winter ski-runs, the area hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. In summer, with an average August high of 24°C, most of the gondolas and chairlifts remain open.
As a taster for the “main event”, we boarded the Whistler Village Gondola, with fine views of valley and mountain (and, luckily for us, black bears) on the way up to the Roundhouse at 6,000 feet.
If the queue in the village is too long, a 10-minute stroll brings you to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, perfect for a posh afternoon tea later, and right next to the Blackcomb Gondola, which opened in December 2018.
It deposits you next to the Rendezvous Lodge and Helicopter Pad, from which all manner of delightful hiking paths radiate around and towards Blackcomb Mountain and its glaciers.
Next on the agenda was the Guinness World Record-breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola, spanning the gap between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.
This structure is the first lift to join two side-by-side mountains, the world’s longest unsupported span between two cable car towers, the world’s highest lift above the valley floor and the world’s longest continuous lift system. From either terminus, this glorious 20-minute trip dips down into the valley between the two peaks and up again to the other side.
We waited for the glass-bottomed gondola and were treated to an eagle’s view of British Columbia’s conifers and snaking emerald river below. The trick is to buy an unlimited pass, which gives you access to both village gondolas and the Peak 2 Peak for a more reasonable rate compared with the cost of a single journey.
Whistler Village itself is a revelation. Pedestrianised, beautifully landscaped and flower-bedecked, its cafes and restaurants are always buzzing.
As for shopping, naturally there are the usual outlets for hiking, skiwear and cycling (Whistler’s a world centre for this), but you’ll also find many high-end fashion and jewellery boutiques.
Not forgetting several historic, in both senses of the word, chocolate and ice cream emporiums. And within an hour’s woodland stroll (or 10 minutes by car) there’s a profusion of beautiful lakes, dotted with attractive beaches and coolly reflecting Whistler and Blackcomb’s snow-capped peaks.
It was refreshing to note that the whole village, as well as both mountains, were signposted as being “smoke-free”.
We stayed at the Westin Resort and Spa, conveniently located next to the Whistler Village Gondola. In celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary, we were upgraded to a spacious balcony suite, its huge picture windows framing magnificent views across the golf course to the mountains beyond.
Much camera time was spent each evening capturing the myriad dramatic effects of wispy twilight cloud against an azure sky.
Kosher food under is available in Whistler all year round in the apartments of the Four Seasons Residence. At Pesach, you can push the boat out and experience a gourmet stay at this luxurious ski lodge. Before transferring to Whistler, we had spent several days in Vancouver, where we discovered the Maple Grill, easily accessible in a central location underneath the Ohel Ya’akov Community Centre.
This is a beautifully-appointed restaurant, offering a huge selection of starters and, among numerous main course delicacies, juicy ribeye steak and slow-braised brisket.
There’s even a synagogue to visit. The Schara Tzedeck, opened in 1948 and replacies the earlier 1921 construction. It features colourful stained-glass windows and still retains the original, custom-made oak bimah and ark.
Back up to Whistler and a surprise was in store for us. On previous days, we had gazed longingly from the gondola station up to Whistler Peak itself and the Cloudraker Skybridge, a suspended construction perched above apparent nothingness between Whistler Peak and its West Ridge.
As we saw it, this was simply not a feasible option, firstly because the bridge is accessed by chairlift and my wife has, shall we say, an aversion to getting on and off a moving object and, secondly, because it’s known that the bridge sways as you progress across its length, worrying for us up at 7,000 feet.
Instead, we embarked on a walk along a gravel path which, while starting unpromisingly, soon opened out to a layered vista of rock-strewn foreground and majestic snow-flecked peaks, with galleon clouds sailing between havens of blue sky.
Then, as we climbed, the path meandered beside a three-foot high glacier and we got out the camera – this was midsummer, after all, and we were touching the snow.
We hadn’t intended to go this high, but, after some two hours and a 1,000 foot ascent, we rounded a bend and spied Whistler Peak summit, together with the Skybridge.
The summit itself isn’t your archetypal vision of a mountain top, but rather a huge area with pretty little paths branching off in different directions, each offering a better mountain prospect than the previous. There’s also an Inuksuk, an enormous man-made stone monument traditionally built by the indigenous peoples – the perfect backdrop for everyone’s snapshot.
And what of the Skybridge itself? Well, we felt quite secure within its five-foot high sides, although, yes, you could see through the floor grating to the glaciated Whistler Bowl some distance below.
Having scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’m tempted to call this a doddle, although it was certainly a wonderful experience, finishing at the Raven’s Eye viewing platform with 360-degree views of the mountains, lakes and Whistler Village itself.
The perfect day was rounded off by a chairlift descent, the kindly operators halting the whole system at both top and bottom to accommodate my wife.
The wonder of it all is that Whistler retains its ski resort
atmosphere throughout the year, irrespective of the presence
of the white stuff.
Barry’s Travel Tips
Barry stayed at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler (www.marriott.com) where rooms start at £158 per night. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola ticket can be booked two days in advance for unlimited summer access at www.whistlerblackcomb.com