WHISTLER — A lot of people tell me that they think I have a great job. And they’re right. I do.
But my buddy Crai Bower has a really great job. Crai is a freelance travel writer, employed by some 30 publications, most of which focus on high-end travel. He writes about the kind of trips that you would take if money wasn’t a major concern. In other words, the kind of trips you would take if you had a buddy who wrote stories about how rich people travel, and asked you to come along with him.
So, needless to say, when he asked me to come along for a “buddy weekend’ in Whistler, I jumped all over it like a fat kid on a Ho Ho. It was a trip I’ll never forget.
My photographer Walker and I met Crai in Squamish. Located about 40 miles outside Whistler, Squamish is the little town where most of us stop to fill up with gas or grab a cup of coffee on the way to Whistler, but that is changing.
Squamish is becoming a destination in its own right.
Nestled in the shadow of legendary Big Chief and the northern Cascades, serious hikers and climbers know that Squamish is the home of world-class hiking, mountain biking and climbing terrain. Until now, you would have to amble up the mountainside on your own to reach the prime trails at the top, but the new 2800 foot Sea to Sky Gondola just opened last month, and has changed the game.
At the top of the lift, you are greeted by the gorgeous Summit Lodge, featuring breathtaking views of the Howe Sound Fjord framed by lush, green, forested mountainside.
There’s also a suspension bridge, and a series of trails that you could explore for 20 minutes, or spend the day hiking or biking to the top of the mountains; an outing as simple or as technical as you’d like–it’s completely up to you and your ambitions.
It amazes me that the entire project was completed in 13 months. And this is just the beginning. The guys who made this dream a reality say they plan to expand the trails in the coming years. It’s Mother Earth’s amusement park. Maybe that’s why they call one of the mountain biking trails along the ridgeline “Disneyland”.
We arrived in Whistler village just in time for dinner. We checked into our rooms at the fabulous Fairmont Chateau Whistler (I told you Crai knows how to do it right), and headed to the Mallard, the Chateau’s cocktail lounge, for dinner.
I sipped a dirty martini, while Crai ordered a specialty drink called the “Root Down”, which I assumed was a reference to a Beastie Boys song, and maybe it is. It is made of beets. Yes. Beets. We ordered some truffle fries and lobster macaroni and cheese to share among the three of us. It was a party in my mouth. So good.
And after devouring both plates, we quickly ordered two more.
The next morning, we got up early to play golf at the spectacular course at Chateau Whistler. We had the good fortune to play with Padraic O’Rourke, the head golf pro, a rail-thin, preternaturally positive Irish chap, who really enjoys his job.
“I like your office here,” I said.
“I never get tired of it,” Padraic said. “I think everybody needs to get up here and escape from life for a few hours.”
Padraic had a lot of terrific advice about how to improve my golf game.
“Make sure you are accelerating your swing at the point of contact.”
“Keep your left shoulder forward.”
“Square up to the ball.”
Handy tips that actually improved my score, but maybe the most important piece of advice he gave me:
“Watch out for the bears.”
On the 14th hole, I sliced my drive into the rough, and as I went over to retrieve my ball, I noticed a large black bear, with a cub enjoying lunch in the exact spot where I hit my ball. I decided it was probably best to abandon my search.
The black bears are just coming out of hibernation this time of year, and they are a little groggy and hungry. They are a fairly common sight around the golf course, and the rule is to keep your distance. Don’t bother the bears, and they won’t bother you.
The black bears aren’t going to attack you unless they feel threatened. They are big, strong, beautiful and powerful animals. If you get too close, they may take a swipe at you. In general, though, the locals say the bears are very docile, and they treat the animals with a great deal of respect. It was their home first, after all.
On the 15th hole, another bear sauntered across the fairway. We decided to let him play through.
After our round of golf, we headed back to the resort for a ride on the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, the longest and highest lift in the world. There is still snow at the top of the hill. Bring a sweater with you, and build a snowman. Have a snowball fight. And starting at the end of June, bring your skis, and ski down a glacier on the backside of the mountain.
I was surprised to learn that more people visit Whistler in the spring and summer than in the winter. One of the big reasons why is how the mountain transforms into the largest mountain biking park in the world. Crai and I rented bikes and protective gear and headed out.
I hadn’t done a lot of mountain biking, so we took a quick lesson from the (very) patient instructors, and within 30 minutes we were confidently navigating the picturesque trails through the Evergreens. It was such an incredible rush.
I felt like a kid again. I can’t wait to bring my own kids to do it with me next time.
Still amped from the ride, we headed to the legendary Bearfoot Bistro for dinner. I didn’t know it yet, but I was in for the most incredible dining experience of my life. We started with a visit to the iced vodka bar, which—yes– is made of ice.
It’s -25c inside the bar. I never realized that vodka actually tastes better when it’s ice cold. After several samples, I can now attest to this fact.
The dinner was a performance. A 7-course affair, with delicious wine pairings, capped with the most amazing ice cream presentation I’ve ever seen. The waiter arrived tableside with a steel bowl and a pitcher of cream. He froze the bowl with liquid nitrogen, poured in the cream, stirred a few times and poof! Instant ice cream. Delicious.
But the biggest surprise was still to come. Crai guided me downstairs to the wine cellar. The walls are lined with precious, prized bottles wine—many worth thousands of dollars. As I stepped back to get a better look, I tripped over a bottle that was on the floor and knocked it over.
As it hit the ground with a clank, and rolled a few inches, I noticed that I had toppled a magnum of Dom Perignon. I didn’t dare ask how much it was worth. The gasp from the Bearfoot sommelier told me all I need to know.
I was then handed a bottle of champagne and a long, silver knife. I didn’t know it, but I was about to take part in a longstanding French tradition of “sabering”. The sommelier told us that Napoleon’s soldiers would use a saber to open a bottle of champagne the night before battle. A clean shearing of the top of the bottle, leaving the cork intact was considered good luck and a good omen for a successful battle.
I had no idea how to achieve this. I figured you would hack off the top of the bottle, but it’s actually far more simple than that. You take the saber (or the dull side of a large kitchen knife), and slide it up quickly along the side of the bottle, and clip the lip at the top of the bottle.
It’s a flick of the wrist really, much like throwing a Frisbee, and the top of the bottle pops right off. It was surprisingly simple, elegant and exciting. We each poured a flute of champagne from the “good luck” broken bottle.
The bubbly never tasted sweeter.