Whistler, British Columbia – If you must know, the city of Whistler – best known for hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics – was given its onomatopoetic name by prospectors some 100 years ago upon hearing the shrill shrieks of the western hoary marmot living in the nearby rocks. Formerly called London Mountain because of its heavy fog and rain, the city was renamed for the noisy ground squirrel to make it sound more user-friendly.
The ruse worked. Nowadays, Whistler is a top-drawer, four-season resort destination, especially for thrill jockeys who like hurtling downhill at breakneck speeds on skis or mountain bikes. For those of us who think a downhill lie is plenty vertiginous, there also is some splendid, impossibly scenic golf to be played here.
After a winding, two-hour drive from Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, one arrives at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, a 550-room property at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. Rooms look out on Whistler Village, a tidy assemblage of dining, shopping and galleries just steps from the hotel. You like snowscapes, they got snowscapes.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club, a 6,635-yard, par-72 track (No. 30 on Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses in Canada). Every look here is an oil painting – exposed rock faces, mountain ledges, ravines and waterfalls compete for your attention while one eye remains open for the mostly neighborly bears that prowl the adjacent Douglas fir forests. (Note: Golf bags with trail mix inside are a particularly vulnerable target for Yogi and Boo-Boo.)
The glacier-capped Coast Mountains frame some fairly tight looks, and the first four holes climb steadily uphill before descending into the valley. The green at No. 8, a 212-yard par 3, is some 80 feet below the tee and is defined by a pond along the entire left side as well as granite cliffs to the right. The silence and solitude are deafening, the beauty unsurpassed.
Truth be told, Whistler is a little too whole-wheat healthy for my admittedly decadent tastes, but the vibrant culture of multiethnic Vancouver beckons. Its 2.6 million inhabitants live in a perfect balance with nature – biking and hiking and beaches are juxtaposed with a clean and friendly big-city environment.
Robson Street, the main ventricle running through the city’s heart, abounds with chic boutiques, hotels bars and cafes. Add to that the city’s reputation as home to the best Shanghai-style Chinese food outside of that fair city. Try the pan-fried pork buns at Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen in suburban Richmond. Warning: The appetizer menu is in Chinese, so speak slowly and make dumpling shapes with your hands if you want to get fed.