Whistler Flies High -- Year-Round

British Columbia resort keeps allure strong with new activities for visitors

By: Robert Carlsen

WHISTLER, B.C. Whistler, the ski resort, has been collecting kudos worldwide for its enthralling snow-sports experience and first-class accommodations, but the focal point of Tourism Whistler representatives in 2003 is to make known the destination’s year-round appeal.

Before the snow falls, the Whistler area is a proven lure for all things active, from kayaking in mountain lakes to hiking trails high in the summit, from cycling to enjoying the spa life. And with the opening of an expanded conference center, meeting groups, big and small, can actually spend productive off-season time in Whistler.

In keeping with its winter reputation, however, Whistler just scored some major coups in the December issue of Conde Nast Traveler magazine, grabbing first and second place in a readers’ poll of the Top 50 Ski Resorts in North America. Westin Resort & Spa took the top spot; followed by Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Also in the honors list were Pan Pacific Lodge (eighth), Summit Lodge (13th) and Delta Whistler Resort (17th).

And, if events unfold in Whistler’s favor and Vancouver wins its 2010 Winter Olympics bid the decision is due in July Whistler would be the host venue for a number of events, such as alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, bobsled, luge and all the Paralympic Games, according to Michele Comeau Thompson, manager of communications for Tourism Whistler.

New this winter season, according to Comeau Thompson, is the service from Vancouver International Airport to Whistler by Helijet Airways, a code-share partner of Alaska Airlines. The 28-minute helicopter flight is offered twice a day.

For active and/or extreme clients looking for something different, Whistler just launched a high-flying thrill-ride across Fitzsimmons Creek and the old growth forest between Blackcomb and Whistler mountains.

Ziptrek Ecotours offers this two-and-a-half-hour adventure to clients willing to be harnessed to a steel-pulley system and explore the hidden beauty of Fitzsimmons Creek and the picturesque forest valley between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, from a bird’s-eye view.

For clients more attuned to watching, rather than experiencing extreme events, Whistler, for the first time, will be hosting the X Games Global Championships May 15-18. Events include snowboarding and skiing.

Whistler’s annual Summer Gravity Festival, also known as the Mountain Bike Festival, is slated for July 14-20, and will showcase the world’s best riders in downhill, freeride, cross-country and other events.

Mountain biking is also the focus of a new plan in the works by the Whistler Cycling Committee. Its goal is to expand and improve bike trails around the Whistler region and provide environmental standards on trails in sensitive areas.

Meanwhile, the grand re-opening of the Whistler Conference Center is scheduled for October. Renovations are costing approximately CAN$9 million, and include a new entranceway from Village Square, highlighted by exposed wood beams and a glass façade; a 40-foot-tall wood-burning fireplace in the Grand Entrance Hall, which was created out of the upper level of the prefunction area, and includes increased meeting and reception space; and a new roof made of reflective, 80 percent recycled material.

Meeting planners can get a virtual tour of the conference center at www.whistlermeetings.com.

One of the first meetings to take place in the refurbished center will be Canada’s West Marketplace, the largest tourism trade show in Western Canada, which is scheduled for Dec. 2-5.

And Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts will open a 242-suite property in Whistler in the summer of 2004, at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, adjacent to the Fairmont.

The property will feature a restaurant, full-service concierge, spa, health club, outdoor pool, 10,000-square feet of meeting and banquet space and 1,500-square feet of retail space.

www.tourismwhistler.com or www.mywhistler.com.