It could be seen as a bit of a faux pas. Big time. Packing the ski gear for the first time since last winter. Flying to Vancouver, driving up to Whistler, looking forward to some late autumn/early season skiing on the glacier. Only…there was no skiing.
The glacier at Whistler-Blackcomb is open for much of the year. Only, not at the moment. It closes late summer and autumn. No, I didn’t check. Yes, my fault, silly of me. Not something to broadcast. Don’t tell anyone, please.
There aren’t many ski resorts in the world where I could find many positives after turning up to ski and finding there is no skiing.
But Whistler is one of them. First, my son and his girlfriend live here, so we’re hanging out with them. He’s been rolling his eyes heavenwards. ‘I didn’t think you were expecting to ski, just hike a bit and chill out,’ he said. ‘You know the glacier closes in the autumn – I didn’t think I had to tell you.’
Well, maybe I should have known. I’d forgotten. Strange how the dynamic of parental relationship changes as your children grow up. You become the one who does the daft, unpredictable things and they become the one who has to explain things slowly and carefully, with lots of sighs and raised eyebrows and finally tolerant and patient thin-lipped smiles and the resigned look that says, ‘Well, we’ll say no more about it.’
Anyway, secondly there is a lot to do here. Some gentle hiking, up the mountain and around the delightful lakes that dot the landscape around Whistler. Meeting the locals up in Pemberton and down in Squamish.
But most importantly, Whistler has some of the best restaurants you are likely to come across at any ski resort. And the best thing is that we’ve hit Whistler at the perfect time to enjoy them all – this is the time when special locals’ rates are introduced on menus all over town, to keep the restaurants busy and give Whistlerites the opportunity to try them out and spread the word through the rest of the year about how good they are.
The Bearfoot Bistro alone is probably worth the trip to Whistler – under the command of executive chef Melissa Craig it’s both a gourmet treat and a theatrical experience. We began by descending the steep staircase to the impressive cellars where, surrounded by 20,000 bottles of some very tempting vintages, we had a sabre adventure. That involves cleanly taking the top off a bottle of Champagne with a sabre – a tradition which goes back to the Napoleonic wars. The little Frenchman and his top officers believed that doing this on the eve of a battle meant good luck in the conflict.
Someone was obviously a bit cack-handed the night before Waterloo. Not me, my cork was packaged in a presentation box to take home and impress my friends.
The superb five-course tasting menu involved foie gras and lamb – and was pleasantly interrupted by a wonderful visit to the minus-32c Belvedere Ice Room, the world’s coldest vodka tasting room. It’s also the only permanent sub-zero vodka tasting room in Canada. Don’t worry, they wrap you in Canada Goose Arctic-grade parkas with furry hoods so you’re incredibly cosy as you taste some of the 50 vodkas from all over the globe – with distillations from rye, wheat, soya and hemp seeds to mention a few. We didn’t try them all. About 15 minutes is quite long enough to chill out in there, even with the parkas on.
Back at our table, the drama wasn’t over. Dessert was the Bearfoot Bistro’s signature Nitro ice-cream, prepared tableside with a flourish and a swirling cloud of vapour.
Amazingly, the discounted fabulous five-course menu can be enjoyed for just 39 dollars from Sunday to Thursday (78 dollars Friday to Saturday). We must go back!
We’ve also had memorable meals at Araxi, Rimrock Cafe and Alta Bistro. At Araxi, the three-tier Seafood Tower features oysters, prawns, mussels, seared tuna, seaweed salad, tuna rolls and a whole lobster. Not to be missed. Well, it’s three tiers high, so you can’t really miss it.
At Rimrock, just south of town on the Sea to Sky Highway, the four-course ‘locals’ special’ was just 45 dollars – with half a lobster on the side only another 15 bucks. Alta Bistro, under chef Nick Cassettari, goes for local and organic big-time, with a lot of their ingredients from nearby Pemberton and Fraser Valley. A two-course menu is available for 25 bucks.
Actually, there is some skiing. There’s snow now up on the glacier. But it involves hiking up to enjoy it. I think I’ll stick to strolling to the restaurants. I will be back though. When the lifts open.