Sore muscles and bruised limbs -– are these the sign of a good vacation? They were for me after a weekend in Whistler, British Columbia, a town that takes physical activity to new heights. This mountain playground was the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics, after all. While this all-seasons resort nestled in Canada's breathtaking Rocky Mountains might be best-known as a ski resort, it shines just as brightly in summer.
Though Whistler's majestic mountain views and glacial lakes are a serene summer backdrop, I, like most, didn’t come here for a lazy mountain retreat, but for a taste of adventure. During my recent weekend getaway, I pushed myself physically and mentally with adrenaline-fueling and fear-inducing rock climbing and downhill mountain experiences. I even punctuated the days’ feats with equally adventurous (if less scary) ways to unwind: Swedish spas and ice-cold vodka rooms. Whatever adventure you find yourself trying at Whistler, take a deep breath and look up. You don’t want to miss the view.
Follow my summer must-do's for a Whistler adventure to remember:
Think biking is all the same? I thought so too, until I tried downhill mountain biking at Whistler; with a vertical of 5,020 feet, it's one of North America’s highest mountains. Outfitted with a full-face helmet a la Power Rangers and full shin and arm armor, I was ready to tackle the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. The space includes 5,000 feet of vertical trails, including a beginner's “green” trail called “Easy Does It” (not entirely true to name, in my opinion). My beginner lesson taught me all the nuances of downhill biking, most important of which for me included never letting my fingers off the brakes. “No experience is required,” Whistler assures. All you need is courage. Nothing felt more rewarding than knowing I biked down the same mountain Olympians have skied. Nothing except a cold glass of the refreshing Whistler Grapefruit brew at Garibaldi Lift Co., the best après-bike spot to rehash the day's near-spills or (for me) crash survival moments on the mountain.
After I survived my first downhill biking experience, what better way to chill out than with one of Whistler coolest experiences? Toast your day’s Olympian-like athletic feats by raising a vodka shot (or if there’s enough of you, a shot-ski, a ski with 4 shot glasses attached) in the world’s coldest ice bar, Belvedere Ice Room at Bearfoot Bistro. To stay warm you’ll be given a Canadian goose down parka to slip on before you enter the minus-25 degree Farenheight ice room, where more than 55 vodkas from 12 different countries are stored and showcased. The illuminated igloo-style room holds 10 people comfortably and the tasting experience lasts 12 minutes and includes 4 different vodka samples.
Yes, this is another heart-racing experience at Whistler where no experience is needed. In fact, the video I watched before climbing Via Ferrata showed a tween successfully reaching Whistler’s peak without breaking a sweat. Surely, I could do the same, even, admittedly, with my small fear of heights. Meaning “Iron Way” in Italian, Via Ferrata allows novice climbers to reach Whistler's summit by clipping onto a series of metal rung ladders pounded into the face of the mountain. The 4-hour journey includes ice trekking, rock climbing (at times without any re-bars to hold onto) and fearless pushing on, topped with glorious views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. I don’t know which was more surreal, glacier hiking in shorts or earning my breathing-taking summit, the hard, or “ferrata” way.
About the Author
Kathleen Rellihan is a digital producer, writer and editor for TravelChannel.com. A Washington, DC, resident, Kathleen's love for adventure travel has inspired her to go dog sledding in Quebec, search for the northern lights in Iceland, learn to surf in Costa Rica and give elephants a bath in Thailand. Kathleen’s next adventure is volunteering as an English teacher in Haiti. Follow Kathleen on Twitter @k_rellihan.