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Go North | Whistler: Full-speed escape

Josh Sens | October 21, 2011 | Story Travel

On a winter’s drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the scenic asphalt ribbon that spools north from Vancouver into Canada’s Coast Range, the speed limit restricts you to 56 miles per hour (or, rather, 90 kilometers)—until you arrive at the largest ski resort in North America, where only the laws of physics govern how quickly you can go.

Welcome to the revamped Whistler. In 2010, this twin-mountain resort town—a sprawling alpine mecca composed of two peaks (Whistler and Blackcomb) that thrust a mile-plus into thin air—hosted the Winter Olympics. Now, more than ever, it’s a place for everyone to play in, with an energized village stretched along its base and 8,000 acres of snow-covered terrain. Here, the warming allures of a winter retreat (rustic restaurants, spas, resplendent hotels) open onto a world that invites you to live the Olympic motto—faster, higher, stronger—on the very slopes and tracks where the games were staged.

At the Whistler Sliding Centre, for example, anyone can tackle the skeleton, a (very) grown-up version of a sled ride. Strap on a helmet, prostrate yourself on a slick-railed steed, then hurtle, headfirst, down the serpentine track, its frozen surface just inches from your chin (relax—you learned how to handle the hairpin turns at the pre-ride boot camp). The bobsled makes its thunderous way down the same track, except a skilled pilot does the steering. Up at higher altitudes you can take on the miles of ski runs that snake down the mountains, including the two used in the Olympic men’s and women’s downhill.

Outdoor types without a death wish will also have plenty to do, thanks to new Nordic terrain that was added in the run-up to the Olympics. The cross-country tracks extend for 55 miles around the resort, and there’s the option of participating in “the biathlon,” a cardio-heavy combo of Nordic skiing and marksmanship (you’ll need to take a class if you want to shoot). In the valley, the ZipTrek Tour guides guests along wooden footbridges hanging some 200 feet above the snowy landscape. Closer-to-the-ground diversions include snowshoeing and mini-chariots on sleds—and for those traveling en famille, I guarantee that young kids will enjoy being hauled like emperors through the snowy woods.

Village Life Eat:
The newly opened Alta Bistro pairs Canadian wines and beers with artisanal charcuterie. Aura Restaurant (think glazed bison short ribs with Tokyo turnips) draws on a rooftop garden that would make Alice Waters proud. Sleep: More than 24 hotels provide ample choice, but for a real treat, book at the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Soak: A new destination for an age-old indulgence, Scandinave Spa features traditional baths, saunas, and relaxation rooms.


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