Journey Through Western Canada on the Whistler Mountaineer

This classic rail trip is a great way to take in the beauty of the region

By: Marty Wentzel

This is the first Image
Running from Vancouver to Whistler
and back, the Whistler Mountaineer
has become a huge hit with visitors.
Some clients ride the Whistler Mountaineer to soak up beautiful scenery that they wouldn’t see by car or bus. Others want a sneak preview of the co-host (with Vancouver, B.C.) of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Then there are the travelers who want to visit the famed four-season resort town while leaving the driving to someone else. All of those factors played into my decision to try the train, trumped by a key motivation: spending time with my dad.

Created by the folks who masterminded the Rocky Mountaineer trains, the Whistler Mountaineer was launched in Spring 2006. “After careful analysis, we decided there was considerable international interest to market this as a tourist-oriented train and combine that with the international reputation that Whistler is experiencing,” said company spokesman Ian Robertson.

Clearly they were on the right track, as the Whistler Mountaineer hosted 50,000 guests in each of its first two years of operation. “We're still learning, and we made one minor change from the first year, delaying the departure out of Whistler by 30 minutes so day-trippers can spend a little longer there,” said Robertson.

In either direction, the Whistler Mountaineer covers 73 miles of Western Canadian splendor in about three hours. Since my dad and I were making the round-trip in one day, we upgraded from Coast Classic to Glacier Dome seating, lured by extras like first-class food service, generous legroom and a free, open bar.

This is the second Image
The train’s cuisine and service receive
high marks from passengers.
As the train pulled out of North Vancouver at 9 a.m., the crew poured orange juice and champagne into each guest’s glass and proposed a toast: “To a spectacular trip up to Whistler this morning!” We gave high marks to the first meal of the day: a fruit salad, followed by scrambled eggs, potatoes, Canadian bacon, a roasted tomato, juices, tea and coffee.

After breakfast we stepped into the Henry Pickering observation car, an open-air coach constructed in 1914 by Canadian Pacific Railway. While it’s noisy, breezy and not a good place for conversation, it brought us close to such visual spectacles as old-growth forests, snow-covered peaks and cascading waterfalls.

During the morning ride, the highly efficient crew provided spot-on commentary about the history, nature, legends and lore of the landscape. As we neared Whistler, they whetted our appetites with facts about the resort, its plans for the Olympics, and suggestions on what to see and do while there.

With just a few hours to spend in Whistler, day-trippers should focus on one activity in the town. We opted for the Whistler Gondola, rising to the 6,030-foot elevation and providing panoramic views plus a selection of mountaintop eateries for lunch.

Back on board, soon after departing Whistler, the crème-de-la-crème arrived in the form of High Tea, complete with brews of green, black and berry. After giving thumbs up to the first course -- finger sandwiches filled with goodies like salmon, ham, cucumbers or red peppers we munched happily on fresh scones with Devonshire cream and jam, followed by perfect lemon tarts, cream puffs and chocolate-covered strawberries.

While the rail trip back to Vancouver took us past the same landmarks as the morning route, somehow it all seemed new when traveling in the other direction. The crew continued to impress us with their combination of good humor, area knowledge and attention to detail. “Our employees go through an extensive recruiting and training program,” said Robertson. “We look for people who excel at providing outstanding customer service.”

Chatting with one of the train’s attendants, I found out that the Whistler Mountaineer was created as a miniature version of the multi-day excursions offered by the Rocky Mountaineer. “It’s a trip that people save for their most special occasions,” he said. Robertson echoed that sentiment. “We hope that after clients enjoy the fabulous scenery and onboard service of the Whistler Mountaineer, they will consider taking a longer journey on the Rocky Mountaineer,” he said.

Travel agents benefit from a Whistler Mountaineer booking as well, said Robertson. “The Whistler Mountaineer trip extends the client’s stay in Vancouver and ultimately Canada, which increases the value of the commission that the agent receives,” he said.

For me, the Whistler Mountaineer was an ideal way to spend quality time with a loved one, proving once again that getting there is half the fun -- and then some. As my dad put it, “With most modes of transportation, you have to be there. On the Whistler Mountaineer, you want to be there.”


In 2008, the Whistler Mountaineer runs from April 23-Oct. 19.

For Glacier Dome service, one-way rates are $185 per adult and $135 per child, with round-trip at $309 and $219.

For Coast Classic service, one-way rates are $110 per adult and $60 per child, with the round-trip at $199 and $109.

Commission starts at 10 percent.

Travel agents who want to experience the Whistler Mountaineer firsthand get a 50 percent discount on the rates.