As the leaves turn and our first Whistler summer comes to a close, it’s time for a blog post that summarizes the three months of awesomeness that is summer in the sea to sky corridor. This post isn’t about those spots that involve a helicopter flight followed by a three day bike ride followed by an ambitious feat of mountaineering to find (although many locals live for summer adventures like this.) It’s about those more mellow experiences that might be considered ‘touristy’, are easily accessible to all, but come summer time are on the don’t-miss list of every Whistlerite.
1. Floating, on a lake
You know those fluro-orange and yellow boats that you can pick up at your local Walmart for $20? Little did we know that our inflatable boat would become our most trusty companion this summer. The Explorer 200 is pretty much a Whistler summer icon in its own right.
It’s simple really – escape work, pack your Explorer, a pump (essential), snacks (recommended), a good book or a fascinating floating companion and beers cunningly disguised in water bottles, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect evening in Whistler. Whether you choose Lost Lake, Alta Lake, Nita Lake or Alpha Lake, there’s plenty of options that all offer calm waters on which to float and gorgeous mountain views to admire.
2. Floating, on a river
Looking for some wilder Explorer action? You’re ready to brave the River of Golden Dreams. The nemesis of the Explorer 200, for every inflatable boat that survives this epic journey, another five are torn to pieces by rogue logs or an unexpected beaver dam. Starting from the launch spot at the bottom of Lorimer Road and ending at Meadow Park, this 5 km float takes around three hours to complete, and features stunning views around every corner, fun times, new friends, dubious rowing techniques, some stretches of floating relaxation and much drama as you attempt to avoid getting tangled up in bushes or caught on rocks. Whether your Explorer survives it or not, it’s a Whistler must-do.
A few River of Golden Dreams tips. Leave your Go Pro at home or it is likely to be lost to the Whistler waters forever. Pack your pump and a puncture repair kit for emergencies. Pick your time in the summer wisely – go too early and the spring melt rapids might be more than the Explorer can handle. Go too late and you’ll spend half the journey wading through the shallow waters. And finally – if your Explorer does become a victim of the river, take it home and dispose of it safely. The number of abandoned Explorers on the side of the river this year made us a little sad.
3. Scandinave Spa
I know, I know, we’re more than a little biased (as our regular readers know, one of us works for the Scandinave Spa) but, continuing on the water theme, the Scandinave Spa really is a summer essential. Refreshing cold plunges in which to cool off on a scorching afternoon, hammocks to sway-the-day-away in, terraces with spectacular views where you can sit and contemplate life – the Scandinave Spa is the antidote to action packed summer burn out. Tip – visit on a weekday at the start of the day or in the evening and it can feel like your own private spa.
Given the high population of Aussies here in Whistler, it’s no surprise that come summer time BBQs are a way of life. Indeed visit Alpine Meadows on a sunny July evening and you’ll probably find no end of locals willing to throw a shrimp on the barbie for you. But if you’re looking to treat yourself to something a little higher end, there’s two stand-out options.
Firstly, there’s Whistler Blackcomb’s Mountain Top BBQ – the ultimate summertime dinner with a view. Time it right and you can ride up the Blackcomb chairlift for some bear-spotting, experience the incredible feat of engineering that is the Peak2Peak gondola, have a stroll and enjoy some photo opps on the Whistler mountain trails– and then enjoy a feast. Whether it’s Whole Hog Fridays, Prime Rib Saturdays or Pacific Seafood Sundays, the buffet format has something for everyone. Then it’s just up to you to grab a chilled glass of wine from the bar, pick a patio table and enjoy the 360 degree views. Just one tip – dress warm – a baking hot day in the village does not equal a balmy evening at 6000 ft.
Secondly, (our personal favourite), is the Thursday night BBQ at the Four Seasons hotel. Similarly priced to the Mountain Top BBQ, what it lacks in views, it makes up for in outstanding food quality and selection, with grilled salmon, Korean ribs, roasted suckling pig and a whole host of salads and sides. And yes, you are allowed seconds (and thirds…). Add music from local duo the Hairfarmers and the legendary Four Seasons service standards, and you have the perfect Thursday night.
5. Embrace Events
Wanderlust (yoga). Ironman (crazy dudes and dudettes swimming, cycling and running some intense distances). Crankworx (even crazier dude and dudettes dropping epic moves in the bike park). Whistler Half Marathon (fun and awesome runners). Go Fest (outdoor activities on snow, land and water). Whistler Presents Concert series (great music). Gran Fondo (cyclists in tight lycra). If you live in Whistler, it feels like there is a world class event every weekend.
To be a true Whistler local you must do the following. Complain to anyone who will listen about the traffic and how busy the village is. Then throw yourself into the event, cheering athletes on, dancing to music, having your mind blown at the local and international talent, attending parties and enjoying the energy and buzz that these productions bring to our town. Top tip – buy some cow bells to show you’re a serious supporter!
6. And finally….hit the trails
Biking trails or hiking trails, there’s a plethora of them to choose from in the sea to sky corridor including Joffre Lakes, Garibaldi Lake and the Stawamus Chief. They are free to use, fantastic exercise and for us, what a Whistler summer is really about – so look out for some separate posts on what to do on two feet or two wheels in our hood. And let’s not forget the Valley Trail. A perfectly formed network of easy paved trails that provide the best commute in the world, the Valley Trail is the only way to get around Whistler in summer – for people and sometimes a bear.
So that’s our list of Whistler summer mellow must dos. Whistler locals and weekend warriors, what’s on your list?
Most Vancouverites only visit Mt Seymour in North Vancouver between the months of December and April to take advantage of the abundant white stuff (snow, to be clear for any employers / children / parents / bored customs officers reading this). However, after 2 years of simply admiring the beauty of the North Shore Mountains in summer we decided to head up to Mt Seymour to check out the hiking trails in Mount Seymour Provincial Park.
The drive up to Mt Seymour which is situated at 1449m above sea level takes about 20-25 minutes, sharing the road with insane cyclists riding up the mountain who at any point look likely to drown in their own perspiration.
The Provincial Park has 14 well marked hiking trails which vary in grading from easy to difficult. Now we just want to take this moment to raise an internationally significant issue (possible with the UN Security Council) regarding Canadians’ ability to accurately grade the difficulty of their hiking terrain. Take note that what your average “I skied my first black run when I was 3” Canadian would grade as “easy” would require a week of intensive Everest style base camp training for a normally fit and active Brit to conquer! Based on this level of grading we decided somewhat foolishly take on a “moderate” hike named Mystery Lake trail because of the promise of a refreshing swim in the lake at the summit of the mountain.
Only a 1.5km hike in length from the starting point in the car park to the finish at Mystery Lake, the walk gains nearly 200m in elevation. While that does not sound too steep a gradient on paper, the reality is that you are basically clambering up rocks. However, this hike offers more dangers than those of a twisted ankle…..hungry black bears!
So everything was going well on the climb until we met “Can Man”. This jolly fellow has nobly spent the last 6 years picking up the beer cans of visitors to the mountain (note that in Canada you receive a monetary refund from the supermarket when you return containers, making beer can collection in prime drinking areas a better career option than a job in PR). He advised us that he had just seen a 700lb bear in the bushes and its young cub on the path. Now we are not natives and we have only picked up a bit of bear knowledge from Les Stroud’s survival programs and once reading a bear smart leaflet in a coffee shop but even we know that getting between a big black bear and its cub is about as good an idea as telling a US border guard that they should smile more. Despite carrying the latest in anti-bear armoury of bear bells (a steel ball with a smaller ball inside which creates Ibiza club levels of noise and is very irritating for fellow hikers) and bear spray (a hand grenade meets a deodorant can that is a useful tool in hand to paw close combat) we were unsure whether to turn back and give up on our dream of swimming in the clear fresh cooling waters of the Mystery Lake oasis…..
Fortunately, we were saved by a couple on the trail behind us. No, they were not locals who had Masters degrees from Dr Doolittle University in Black Bear hostage negotiations, but were just bear ignorant tourists hiking in their flip flops and only carrying a swimming towel for protection, who really wanted to go swimming. So adopting the statistical survival philosophy that you only need to run faster than one other person in the group (and the male tourist clearly did not say no very often when asked if he would like to “supersize”) we proceeded on into the danger zone (cue top gun music). As we came over the ridge we were confronted by a violently shaking bush but fortunately no angry mummy bear. Clearly big bears prefer berries in the bush to naive tourists.
We reached Mystery Lake to be greeted not only by crystal clear fresh water but also by 30 blokes having some kind of weird Chinese hat wearing drinking session!
With the thermometer in the high 20s, Paul eagerly jumped into the Lake……..approximately 1.2 seconds later hypothermia and frostbite kicked in simultaneously, much to the amusement of a smug Helena who had already worked out that a lake made from melted snow in the middle of a ski resort is likely to be cold. Perhaps the Chinese hat wearing guys had the right idea, having primed themselves with copious amounts of beer, and their numerous empty cans could have paid the rent on a Yaletown flat for the previously mentioned Can Man. Overall, not quite the peaceful swimming oasis that we had in mind, but totally worth it for the amazing views of the Lower Mainland, Boundary Bay, Mt Baker and the Georgia Straight.
Thanks for reading.
Paul & Helena