120km (75 miles) N of Vancouver
The premier ski resort in North America, according to Ski, Snow Country, and Condé Nast Traveler magazines, the Whistler/Blackcomb complex boasts more vertical feet, more lifts, and more ski terrain than any other ski resort in North America. And it isn't all just downhill skiing: There's also backcountry, cross-country, snowboarding, snowmobiling, heli-skiing, and sleigh riding. In summer, there's mountain biking, rafting, hiking, golfing, and horseback riding. And then there's Whistler itself, a full-service resort town with a year-round population of 10,000 plus 125 hotels and lodgings.
The Sea-to-Sky Highway is the scenic 135km (85-mile) portion of Hwy. 99 that stretches from Horseshoe Bay to Pemberton, including Whistler. The road is famously beautiful, with views of Howe Sound and towering mountains along the route. And it’s famously dangerous, with narrow, winding, single-lane stretches that go through deadly avalanche country. One of the conditions of winning the bid for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games was upgrading the highway, and it’s a much better, safer trip now. Whistler, of course, is the most popular destination along the road, but there are some other stops worth checking out.
Britannia Beach is a tiny community where workers at the Britannia Mining and Smelting Company were housed between 1900 and 1904. Some of the old clapboard houses are still standing, but these days, they’re more likely to be art galleries or ice cream shops. The big attraction in the village, and worth a stop if you have restless kids in the car, is the Britannia Mining Museum (tel. 800/896-4044; www.britanniaminemuseum.ca). It offers a fascinating peek at what it was like to work as a miner back in the day. The best part of the experience is the little train that runs around the old mining tracks.
For a long time, Squamish was little more than a bedroom community where people who worked in Whistler could actually afford to live. Now it’s considered the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. There’s serious biking, hiking, and killer windsurfing here, plus just about any other activity you can imagine. There are two major natural attractions: the 335m-high (1,100-ft.) Shannon Falls, and the continent’s tallest monolithic rock, the 700m (2,300-ft.) Stawamus Chief. The Chief is a favorite destination for rock climbers who scale its face, and hikers who clamber up one of three tough trails at the back.
As of spring 2014, there’s an exciting, brand-new manmade attraction in between these two natural ones: the Sea-to-Sky Gondola (tel. 604/892-2550; www.seatoskygondola.com). Eight-person cars whisk you on a 10-minute journey up the mountain in between the Chief and the falls; at the top there is a lodge where you can get a bite to eat, hiking trails to explore in summer, cross-country trails to ski in winter, and, of course, an absolutely stunning view of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains. Tickets are C$35 adult, C$33 senior, C$23 youth 13 to 18, C$14 children 6 to 12, and free for kids 5 and under.
For more information on Squamish, contact the Squamish Adventure Centre (tel. 604/815-5084; www.adventurecentre.ca) or Tourism Squamish (tel. 866/333-2102; www.tourismsquamish.com).
Around Brackendale during the winter, thousands of bald eagles—the largest number in North America—line the banks of the Squamish, Cheakamus, and Mamquam rivers to feed on spawning salmon. Local outfitters, including Sun Wolf (tel. 877/806-8046 or 604/898-1537; www.sunwolf.net) run tours.
The mountain town of Pemberton, about 30km (20 miles) north of Whistler, is famous for its organic farms and passionate foodie culture. There’s a popular Slow Food cycle here every August, when thousands of people hop on their bikes for a tour of local farms (www.tourismpembertonbc.com). It’s also home to the Pemberton Distillery, which makes vodka and other spirits from local organic potatoes. Drop by for a tasting (tel. 604/894-0222; www.pembertondistillery.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.