Whistler was made for winter: Built from scratch in 1966, its founders envisioned a ski town they hoped would one day host the Olympic Games. That dream came true in 2010, when the world saw Whistler as Whistler was intended: cloaked in snow for Vancouver’s winter ceremony. By then, Whistler Blackcomb already claimed the most skiable, and snowiest, terrains on the continent. Today, the ski resort still basks in some of the world’s best powder, with this year—its 50th anniversary season—making history with record-breaking snowfall.
But seasons change—and so do resort towns. News announced in April that Whistler Blackcomb is planning a $345 million “Renaissance” project to bolster the mountain facilities and terrain, as well as to add a series of all-weather sports venues and adventure centers, is sure to further entice a storm of skiers, and beckon new crowds.
Best to dodge them altogether: Before these changes arrive, a slew of recently opened high-end offerings suggests the best time to visit Whistler is actually now.
A warm Whistler may be less familiar, but it’s no less extraordinary. In spring and summer, the resort makes the most of its gorgeous surrounds, offering visitors everything from lake kayaking to golfing to mountain hiking. Cycling, the foremost activity during these warm weather months, is pegged to go the distance: A near half-million dollars worth of funding has already started connecting cultural institutions with designated pathways and bikeways, adding to the 25 miles of paved valley trails and 155 miles of off-road trails that already exist.
Beyond the outdoors, fine art—a market that Aspen has more or less cornered for ski towns since the 1980s—just went world-class after March’s opening of the Audain Art Museum. Housing an excellent collection of works from British Columbia’s homegrown artists, the museum, with an angular facade of black-coated steel unlike any Whistler has seen before, encourages a new cultural expansion beyond the slopes.
Habitués of Whistler Village’s après ski, meanwhile, will be treated to an entirely new tradition: Savvy restaurants, just a few months old, have begun setting up happy hours—a significant first for the resort town after an inhibiting liquor law was relaxed last year.
And for those still clinging to their skis? Whistler Blackcomb, which already sports North America’s longest season, just announced it’s extending through May, with its uppermost glacier open through July—thanks again to that record-breaking snowfall. The newest thing this spring and summer might just be a little more winter.
Places to Eat + Drink
Stocked wine cellars, imported caviar, and buttoned-up bars made of rosewood—even pewter—have long defined Whistler Village’s elegant fine dining scene. But a new convivial vibe, with inventive small plates and sleek interiors, is now broadening Whistler’s classic approach thanks to a clutch of recent openings. A linchpin of the establishment scene, Araxi Restaurant, the founding farm-to-table spot in town, has opened its first new venture in over 30 years: Bar Oso (150-4222 Village Sq.; 604-962-4540; baroso.ca). The svelte, Spanish-style tapas bar nods to cosmopolitan fare with house-made charcuterie and an entire section of its cocktail list devoted to gin and tonics that incorporate fresh, herby ingredients sourced from around British Columbia. Basalt Wine + Salumeria (4154 Village Green #13; 604-962-9011; basaltwhistler.com) opened off the main square in November and has just launched its first spring menu. Its signature house pâté and chicken liver mousse can be paired with a broad selection of international wines, cured meats, and curated cheeses from Europe and the province at large. With pared down menus served in contemporary settings—more posh than proper—these new gems add a new dimension to a night on the town: casual, before- and after-dinner spots perfectly suited for a leisurely sip or bite to eat.
THINGS TO DO
The two-month-old Audain Art Museum (4350 Blackcomb Wy.; 604-962-0413; audainartmuseum.com) is home to billionaire philanthropist Michael Audain’s private collection, and “Moonlight Tours,” which debuted this April, offer intimate viewings—and thinner crowds—by nightfall (complimentary with admission; Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m.). Designed like a contemporary tree house in the forest, the museum’s entrances, framed in light hemlock wood, glow like lanterns above the tree line at night. Outdoors, a Bici Gusti Gourmet Ride (May 22; 604-568-8648; bicigusti.com) takes 70 cyclists over 45 miles in Whistler and its neighboring Callaghan Valleys. The ride, which passes alpine lakes and mountains, culminates with an alfresco dinner prepared by Ned Bell, head chef of the Four Seasons Vancouver, using ingredients sourced from the same route. Taking to the skies, Whistler’s most daringly luxe tour outfitter, Head-Line Mountain Holidays, leads a new “Heli-Fishing & Hot Spring” excursion exclusively with Four Seasons Resort and Residences, Whistler (from $6,375; 4591 Blackcomb Wy.; 604-902-6415; headlinemountainholidays.com). Outfitted in top-of-the-line gear, guests are whisked by private helicopter to high alpine lakes and glacier rivers for prime fishing. The tour ends with a stop at a remote, natural hot spring where a Four Seasons chef prepares a mountainside feast using the guests’ catches of the day.
Thanks to its mile-high, skiable vertical, Whistler’s valley can flourish with green leaves, budding flowers, and emerging wildlife while Blackcomb Mountain’s uppermost Horstman Glacier keeps its snow, allowing for extended skiing through July. This year, it’s actually worth it: Rendezvous Lodge, Blackcomb Mountain’s main lodge, sheds its rustic aesthetic after a massive renovation, boasting minimalist architecture and a contemporary menu. Housed in the same hub, Christine’s on Blackcomb, also part of the overhaul, is now helmed by Steve Ramey, former sous chef of Vancouver’s esteemed Hawksworth Restaurant. Part of an ongoing project to make the lodges interactive, new charging stations and free Wi-Fi connections make it easier for visitors to stay connected, and stay longer, while at the top. 604-967-8950; whistlerblackcomb.com.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodations, stunted by a hotel cap set in the 1980s to control visiting crowds, are doing their part to improve with fresh renovations long overdue. Chief among them is Fairmont Chateau Whistler (from $440; 4599 Chateau Blvd.; 604-938-8000; fairmont.com), which just refurbished their bathrooms with new rainfall showers, marble tiles, and soaking tubs. This follows recent updates to its pool deck, health club, and popular Mallard Lounge (home to a new happy hour on Fridays), with more overhauls set to come. Meanwhile, Whistler Platinum continues to manage the destination’s most exclusive rental properties. April’s latest acquisition, the exceedingly modern five-bedroom Kadenwood 2927, is part of a private enclave of massive eco-estates perched high above the valley (from $1,250; 877-932-1777; whistlerplatinum.com). One Backcomb Place, a boutique hotel, residence, and club, is also planned for the final stages of Whistler Blackcomb's Renaissance project. The resort will mint this proposed “six-star” property using Whistler’s most precious hotel rooms—ones it had purchased rights to before the hotel cap was met.
Image Credits: Joshua Peter Esterhuizen; Courtesy Fairmont Hotels