Editor’s Note: This post was inspired by a blog originally written by Pip Campbell in 2012.
When you travel you’re looking to dig into the authentic experiences of the place you’re visiting. Knowing that we’ve put together a robust checklist of the top Canadian experiences you can have while you’re in Whistler!
My first introduction to Canada (as a Brit) was, don’t laugh, the television show Due South where a superman-handsome, Canadian mountie helps fight crime in the US with his tracking skills, politeness and a deaf husky. I am pretty sure plaid was involved too.
People ask me how I ended up in Whistler, and my answer is that I was following the snow. However, there was something about that polite, Canadian mountie and his faithful pooch that might have had a bit of influence too; that subtle introduction to Canadiana. After all, snow alone doesn’t keep you in a place for nearly two decades.
There are some things that are quintessentially Canadian and I’d say there are things that are quintessentially Whistler, and the mix of the two makes for a great checklist of experiences.
1. Yell at a Hockey Game
This one’s at the top of our Canadian checklist. Ice hockey (or in Canada, hockey) is without doubt a sport woven deep into the Canadian psyche. It’s evident from the amount of games crammed into each season of the NHL, and the fact the minute the lakes are safe to skate a plethora of pucks, sticks and jerseys will appear.
If you’re interested in experiencing the national sport firsthand you could consider popping down to Vancouver for a game, but you could also head to Meadow Park Sports Centre, Whistler’s local rink. Check the timetable before you go and then take a seat in the bleachers, pick a side and cheer them on! The Vancouver Canucks sometimes train up here and if you fancy a drop-in game yourself, just sign up.
2. Ski or Snowboard. A lot.
All this snow has got to be good for something, eh? Canadians take sliding on snow seriously, devoting large portions of the winter to exploring peaks and powder. Some charge hard and ride First Tracks to the last chair, while others prefer to cruise from ski run to ski run. The important thing is to get good gear, learn good technique and go up in all weather to really get a feel for the slopes.
Around Whistler, you might hear terms like fresh dump, pow and blower – try them in a sentence when you talk about the snow and you’ll fit right in.
3. More Sliding
To really get that satisfying tick on your Canadian checklist, you need to go a bit further when it comes to sliding sports. Tobogganing is the ultimate family fun day out, where parents can be seen careening down the slopes and having just as much fun as the kids.
Head to the toboggan-dedicated Snow Zone at Whistler Olympic Plaza in Whistler Village or for a bigger adventure head out to Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley for the day.
For adults who want to knock it up a notch, go bobsledding or try skeleton at the Whistler Sliding Centre, and follow in the tracks of Canadian gold medalists. Whistler’s track is the fastest in the world, so I mark this experience quintessentially Whistler. You can also go and watch athletes train over the season, and it’s free. Just check the Whistler Sliding Centre’s This Week on Track page to see when it’s happening.
4. Connect with Indigenous Culture
Whistler’s Indigenous culture is rich and vibrant, and to connect with it, start at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC). Here, you can learn about the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation and the Lil̓wat7úl Nation, two distinct nations with their own traditions and history whose land meets in Whistler. SLCC tours are led by a Cultural Ambassador who shares a traditional drum song, inspiring film and takes you on a guided tour of the museum.
The exhibits include incredible carved house posts, canoes, weaving, regalia, bold artwork and artifacts. You can also shop handcrafted Northwest Coast art and authentic Indigenous keepsakes in the gift shop, and enjoy First Nations-inspired cuisine at the Thunderbird Café (definitely try the bannock).
5. Snowmobile Up a Mountain
Some Canadians prefer to get into the mountains by sled rather than chairlift, and there’s a range of snowmobile tours to tap into around Whistler that will let you experience this motorized pastime.
The benefit of using a motor? Go further, faster and get a taste of the real Canadian wilderness. Take a night tour to see the northern stars or add in a Yukon breakfast (potatoes, pancakes maple syrup and coffee) in a backcountry cabin for a little taste of Canada on the side.
6. Catch the Festive Light Displays
The festive season lasts a bit longer up in the mountains. The sparkle and dazzle of Whistler’s festive lights are a sight to behold. Typically up around the end of November, take in the beauty of these carefully created light displays as you explore areas of Whistler you might not have ventured to.
Take advantage of the free, Go Whistler Tours app, which has three self-guided tours taking you around some of the most impressive of Whistler’s lights. And when the snow falls? Pure magic.
7. Watch the Alpenglow
On clear days, the first and last rays of the sun slide through the atmosphere turning the snow-covered peaks brilliant shades of pink and orange against blue and purple skies, a phenomenon known as alpenglow. It’s worth taking a winter walk out to see the peaks shine across the waters (or ice) of Alta Lake. Be sure to watch from start to finish, as the colours change minute by minute.
8. Have a Chairlift Conversation
That old thing about Canadians being polite? It’s true. They’re also a friendly and helpful bunch, so it’s worth kicking up a conversation on a chairlift and making new friends. You might just learn the guy or gal next to you has been riding these mountains since before you were born and has a few tips on the next best run or the best spot for a post-ski beer.
9. Meet the Hounds
This is a once-in-a-lifetime Canadian checklist item. Dog sledding was a traditional way to get around in winter in Canada, originating around 4, 000 years ago. Meet the specially bred and trained dogs and learn how to harness them, get them ready for a run and the basics of handling a sled. A full immersion, educational experience, you’ll spend plenty of time getting to know the dogs before heading out on a ride through the snow-covered forest.
10. Snowshoe through a real winter wonderland
There’s nothing quite like the Coastal forests of British Columbia, Canada, and in deep winter when the snow lies thick on the ground and the trees, the forest is a peaceful, powerful place to be. Throw on a set of snowshoes and you can get out among the trees to discover frozen waterfalls, ancient glades and hidden viewpoints. Don’t know what snowshoes are? Well, that’s how you know this is a good one for the checklist!
Lost Lake Park and the Whistler Olympic Park (Callaghan Valley) have dedicated snowshoe trails, or you can hit up the various trails around the Whistler Valley (note aside from the paved Valley Trail these are not maintained or signed). Pack a winter picnic to go full Canadian. As always, be AdventureSmart when planning your adventure.
11. Go Ice Skating
It’s a national pastime and with a special outdoor rink in Whistler Village (opening November 24, 2023) and one out at Meadow Park, there are plenty of places to lace ‘em up. Just be aware that most Canadians learn to skate young, so if you’re an older learner prepare to have teeny tiny kids skating elegant circles around you.
Skating on lakes around Whistler is possible when conditions are right, but it’s important to never go on the ice unless you’re absolutely sure it’s safe. If in doubt, stay on the shore.
12. Heat Up in a Hot Tub
It’s hard to beat the feeling of immersing oneself in warm water after a day on the slopes, sled or snowshoes. Hot tubs not only provide ideal conditions for recovery, for the body and the mind. If you’re lucky you’ll have one all to yourself at your accommodation, but if you don’t, Whistler has a rather unique answer.
The Scandinave Spa is an outdoor bath experience encircled by Whistler’s old-growth rainforest with rugged Coast Mountain views. You need to allow at least two hours to embark on a restorative Thermal Journey where you take your body through stages of hot, cold and rest in a variety of features (waterfalls, plunge pools, hot baths, saunas and steam rooms, etc.) surrounded by nature.
Yes, this is Nordic-inspired, but it’s all Whistler views and definitely worth a tick on that Canadian checklist of yours.
13. Dance in Your Ski Boots
On the other side of the spectrum, après can be quite the party. After a day in the snow, there’s no better way to celebrate being alive than grabbing a drink with friends. Be warned, once the live music starts it’s hard to leave, and wearing ski boots has never stopped a Canadian dancing at après -ski. Go hard or go home!
14. Catch a Glimpse of the Northern Lights
While not as spectacular a display as in the far north, on the odd occasion the aurora is visible from Whistler and dark winter nights offer some of the best viewing conditions out there. Keep an eye on the Aurora Watch website and be dressed ready to spend a couple of hours in the cold – just know that when the lights dance across the sky you’ll be well rewarded for your patience.
15. Try Poutine and a Caesar Cocktails
The Caesar is quintessentially Canadian. I know the Caesar’s British relative, the Bloody Mary, but the key difference is the use of clam juice in the Canadian version. This tomato-based cocktail was invented in 1969 in Calgary and you can read its full history and where to get a good one in our blog, A Whistler Tour De Caesar. Whistler’s favourite Caesar garnish? Bacon.
Another must-try is poutine. We do have cheesy chips in the UK, but that is not what poutine is and most Canadians will tell you so. Hailing from Quebec and East Ontario, this Canadian delicacy is french fries with rich gravy and cheese curds. Two delicious options for you Canadian checklist!
BONUS: Watch the Snow Fall
Even the most hardened Canadian would agree, that snow is an absolute miracle. Make time to appreciate it – slip into your favourite plaid, a toque and a hoodie and simply watch it fall for an hour or two. Life’s too short to rush moments like these.
If our Canadian checklist has inspired you, check in with the team at Whistler.com. They’ve been wearing plaid and rocking toques (Whistler’s formal attire) for years and know all about making your vacation a Canadian special.
Thank you kindly.
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