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Discover Majestic Whistler

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Story by Jill Killeen

I like my vehicles like my men: solid. Call the X5, then, the BMW of my dreams. Given the current work-in-progress state of the Sea-to-Sky Highway, solid and confident on the road is exactly what you want. The road construction is, as we all know, for the greater good, but in a vehicle of lesser pedigree the road to Whistler could feel like a perilous drive.

My husband Mike and I set out on our “journey of BMW discovery” by heading to Whistler to attend the annual Cornucopia Food & Wine (emphasis on wine) Festival. We began with a tug-of-war to see who would get to drive the first leg: I won, of course. As we made our way from Vancouver to Squamish, we made a “her thought, his thought” comparison of the X5. While I concentrated on the driving features, my “solid” man sat and actually played with the control panel, determined to figure out this piece of advanced technological wizardry (which our 14- year-old could no doubt have mastered in mere minutes).

The X5 is the perfect height off the road: a little above the action but not toweringly so. We both loved the visibility and clear view the huge windows offered, and to say the sunroof is large would be an understatement: on a sunny day I could get a full body tan (with my Dermalogica SPF 20 sunblock on, of course). From the full-size accelerator pedal to the steering wheel, everything felt solid to the touch. (You’ll have to pardon my use of the word “solid” over and over again to describe the X5, but every aspect of the vehicle brings it to mind.

I have never felt safer on the road—bring on the big trucks!) Now, until I got my hands on the X5, I had actually never contemplated steering wheels. This one made a power statement. Later, Mike discovered that it was heated. Warm hands, warm heart—indeed. The X5 was also incredibly roomy, both front and back. I could easily see loading in the two kids, their hockey equipment and the dog comfortably. But this trip was supposed to be my sip and spa adventure; smelly hockey bags could wait.

Despite the bumps and grooves of the road, the ride was smooth. But I was anxious to put my foot down and “open her up,” as my Dad used to say. My first real chance came just outside of Squamish. My husband, who was eyeball-deep in the LED control panel, looked up when I pressed the accelerator and shouted, “Oh yes!” The power and pick-up of the X5 were instant; but so was my braking when I checked the spedo meter and realized I might be tempted to push the speed limit.

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Arriving in Whistler, we reluctantly gave the X5 up to the valet team at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Mind you, in comparison to other vehicles I have occasionally placed in their care, this is a vehicle I delivered with pride. Like us, the valets appeared rather eager to get their hands on it, so imagine my delight when I had to show the 20-something male valet how to start the X5 and put it into gear.

Let’s just say he didn’t get to take it far: vehicles with showability of the X5 get to stay out front, adding to the decorativeness of the Chateau, a showpiece itself. So while the valet took the vehicle for an all-too-brief spin around the driveway, we headed into the hotel. While Whistler has been blessed with many great hotels the Four Seasons, Westin, Pan Pacific, Adara, Hilton and Marriott among them I still consider The Chateau, nestled at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, the destination’s definitive mountain resort.

The moment you walk into the lobby it delivers the full-on Whistler punch: a massive ceiling, wooden beams, roaring fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer up a full view and the promise of the outdoor mountain activities you’ll soon be enjoying. Our suite was on the 6th floor facing the mountain and overlooking three steaming outdoor hot tubs, perfect for those in need of a post-ski, golf, or mountain bike soak. (It also works well for those who take part in the strenuous sport of of wine glass curls while at Cornucopia.)

However, for those in need of more serious body work, the Vida Wellness Spa discreetly located off the Chateau’s lobby is required therapy: a must. For the record, I am not a spa-goer and tend to approach such experiences with a bit of impatience. If I am giving up an hour or two of my time, I

want to see and feel results: a gentle massage is simply not my thing. So I booked in for an Ayurvedic Swedana treatment, a traditional Indian detoxification treatment and one upon which Vida built its reputation some ten years ago. My treatment provider was Colleen Fraser, one of the the spa’s founders. (Clearly, she has remained very “hands on,” if you’ll pardon the awful pun.)

However, before I was put into her care I had to briefly offer my own perspective on my own physical, emotional and mental characteristics. This was to determine my “dosha,” or body constitution, which would in turn determine a personal blend of herbs which would be ground and added to the steam. It turns out I am a near-equal mix of Vata and Pitta doshas. Now, Vata types are multi-taskers, have a tendency to be intense and are prone to increased stress. Bingo. Pitta people, on the other hand, can be good leaders and speakers

when in balance. (I need balance.) Doshas established, the oiling began—very slowly, from head to toe. This was not a timid application but rather a full-on pour of rich, warm seed oil (which has an affinity to nerve tissue, allowing it to hydrate and nourish the body). Then came the massage. Colleen, whom I would describe as slight, had—thankfully—hands of steel.

I could feel my muscle tension easing away as she offered gentle answers to my questions. She explained the cause and effect of muscle tension, and how the incredible range of motion and movement I was enjoying was due to the oil. Colleen’s understanding of the body and its functions was impressive.

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Apparently, the Ayurvedic Swedana treatment is a favourite of both men and women: women tend to like its ability to “settle the busy mind,” while men particularly enjoy the massage followed by the steam component. Which was the phase I was about to experience. Into the steamer I went, where my own special blend of herbs created an incredibly appealing scent. I can also be a bit claustrophobic but the box—a West-Coast style steamer—provided ample room and my head protruded comfortably at one end. I gave into the relaxation, the steam and the Middle Eastern music. I awoke when I heard a soft snore: it was my own. After the steam I returned to the table, where I was covered with a liberal amount of super fine flour, which was then dry-brushed off. Again, Colleen’s firm hands went to work.

The hour and a half literally flew by. By the time I got back to my room I was in a happy haze; it was 1:00 pm and I hadn’t even begun the day’s round of Cornucopia activities. I was on a definite body high and could easily have melted into my bed, a happy, relaxed lump. Now, Whistler is my winter wonderland. I love snow, so was thrilled to awake on our second morning to giant flakes coming down. In the competitive global business of skiing, the mountain that snows first has bragging rights for the year. Whistler has been particularly blessed the past few years, and with last year’s snow drought in Europe, Whistler is again a hot snow spot.

On average, Whistler receives 914 cm (30 feet) of white gold every year, and the snow drums began beating around the world in October, whispering “Head to Whistler, head to Whistler…” While we were not there to ski on this occasion, I do tend to think Cornucopia as a giant après-ski event. It’s all about sipping, spa-ing and soaking in the hot tub. Or you can just soak in the scenery, because Cornucopia is definite show-and-tell event.

All of the hotels host sophisticated winemaker’s dinners, with impressive pairings of food and wine, but for many Cornucopia-goers the event is all about finding the best parties. One legendary party, which shall remain nameless, chose not to host its usual body-baring bacchanal this year, but other parties, such as the Bond-themed party, Casino Royal at Ric’s Grill and the UltraLounge & Burlesquerave hosted by the Mountain Club, stepped in to ensure ongoing revelry. Besides the parties, there were several new events in innovative locations at this year’s Cornucopia, among them a nibble and wine event prepared by Don Letendre, Executive Chef from Opus Hotel’s Elixir Bistro Moderne and Opus Catering, held at Fitzsimmons Walk, the newest chalet development to hit Whistler. Howard Bingham Hill, architect of both the Westin and Pan Pacific in Whistler has designed a pedestrian-focused resort community of 41 attached chalets. I could have moved into the show home, particularly the bathroom complete with double sided fireplace. Interest in this project is high among those who don’t yet have their slice of Whistler.

‘Cheers’ was in order to this development with Mionetto’s sparkling Prosecco, which was the afternoon bubble of choice. Mission Hill Family Estate, just named Canada’s “Winery of the Year 2007” by Wine Access Magazine, hosted their own event at the Solarice Wellness Spa, located off the beaten track in the Lower Village, close to the Tourism Centre. Mini-treatments were the order of the day on this occasion, but my therapist Erin, prompted by me, waxed poetic about their signature Paprika facial–which sounds like a great fix for winter-weary skin. The true focus, however, was Mission Hill Reserve wines (the Pinot Gris was a favourite) a real treat for fans of this made-in-BC brand.

There is no question that the reputation and success of the Okanagan wine region is growing, thanks to the efforts and talent of many talented winemakers, marketers and brands; but Mission Hill has been certainly at the forefront. Founder Anthony von Mandl set down roots in the Okanagan when it was still unknown, and he and his team, led by wine master John Simes, have built an impressive portfolio of award-winning wines and an estate that is the showpiece of the valley. Without a doubt, one of the classiest acts in Whistler remains Araxi, a restaurant that has stood in the heart of the village for more than 20 years. Owned by the quietly dynamic Jack Evrensel, the restaurant is named after his beautiful wife. Araxi and its top-calibre chefs have got it together.

They have hosted Hollywood and international ski royalty; staged events at New York’s famed Beard House; their annual Bubbles event during Cornucopia is all about the sophisticated sipping of champagne; and they continue to be at the forefront of BC dining. Whenever you’re in Whistler, Araxi needs to be at the top of your list. Of course, with all this food, wine and wine, my body was screaming for fresh air and that meant actually moving beyond the hot tubs.

As I tend toward adrenalin-inducing activities, I jumped, literally, at the chance to go ziplining with Zip Trek Eco Tours. 

One of Whistler’s newer sports, participants are strapped into a harness and then “zip” themselves out on thick, thick cables strung high over gorges and rivers. I was among the less timid in our group of kids and corporate suits, and did a few upside-down flips as I flung myself along the lines. Ziplining is a great lesson in conservation, too, as each landing station has been set up with information on the local ecosystem, which our guide walked us through.

Even I am a bit timid when it comes to heights, but this felt like flying. Skyline Eco Tours on Cougar Mountain offers another option if once is not enough. In October Whistler was just gearing up for its countless winter activities, and skiing is just the tip of the mountain, so to speak. In the past I loved the mountain sleigh rides, a calming journey on a snowy, moonlit night with gentle giant Percheron horses pulling your sleigh over rolling meadows.

It’s a must to follow this up with a warm beverage in my favourite nesting spot, the Mallard Lounge at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler. While there’s no a bad seat in the house, my choice is to curl up on a sofa close to the fire, facing the windows that offer up a view of Blackcomb and the roaring outdoor fire pits. This year I will also be trying dog sledding, as I’m keen to see the Alaskan racing dogs with the captivating icy blue eyes I’ve heard so much about.

I may even try ice climbing if I’m truly in need of that adrenalin rush; but then it will be back to Vida to ensure I stay in balance. What can I say—call me a spa convert. Whistler is truly the backyard playground of us lucky British Columbians; on the drive home Mike and I vowed to spend more time there. Best of all, it’s only a BMW drive away—any excuse to get “solid” on the road. Call us BMW converts, too.

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