Cold As Ice
Mention the word ice to any skier or snowboarder, and the person will likely shudder and shake as if touched by frozen hands at the start of a massage. The thought of edges sliding uncontrollably through your turn is incredibly frustrating, but that sound — oh, that sound. Ugh!
In Whistler, we are blessed with more than 11 metres (33 feet) of beautiful coastal snow annually, so the playground is constantly being buffed up for our sliding pleasure. But ice isn’t all bad. Heck no! From mellow, family-friendly and bucket-list adventures to adult-only indulgences, there are several ways to enjoy the frozen stuff in and around Whistler, and some in ways you probably never imagined.
One of the coolest experiences is at the Whistler Sliding Centre. It was the host venue for all the sliding events during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Today, this Olympic legacy venue still hosts World Cups, is the main training centre for Canada’s national sliding athletes and is open to the public. Depending on your level of commitment, you can try either skeleton or bobsledding. No previous experience is required, and an orientation session is provided before going on track.
The Passenger Bobsleigh Experience begins with an orientation. Participants then hop into a four-person bobsled (also spelled bobsleigh) steered by a trained pilot and take an exciting ride down the world’s fastest sliding track. You and your team will race through 10 twists and turns at speeds of 125+ km/h (78 mph) and feel the acceleration of up to four g-forces. Philippe Melun, guest services manager at the sliding centre, points out, “Our public experiences are unique activities, and we are currently the only place in Canada where the public can slide on a world-class track. The rides are real sports experiences, and our guests get a first-hand understanding and appreciation of the sliding sports.”
Want to get a little closer to the ice? Put your head down and try Public Skeleton. Participants take off from about halfway down the track, slide through six corners and clock speeds up to 100 km/h (62 mph). Don’t worry that your run might be over too fast, as you get to go down twice. Either way, it’s an exhilarating way to experience the fastest ice in the world and slide like an Olympian. whistlersportlegacies.com
Do you like your adrenaline levels a little more on the manageable side and prefer your ice flat? Whistler Olympic Plaza is the ideal place for you and your family to rent ice skates and skate on the outdoor rink. There is nothing more Canadian than bundling up and skating outdoors on a crisp, clear night, and then warming up with a soothing hot chocolate. The skating rink is conveniently located in Village North, surrounded by festive lights and the iconic Olympic rings. So, be sure to bring your camera.
Snowshoeing is another outstanding Canadian experience. Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures offers rentals and tours at their facility adjacent to Whistler Olympic Park. But what does that have to do with ice, you ask? Among the myriad trails located in the Callaghan Valley is one that meanders through the forest and eventually leads you to Alexander Falls. During winter, the falls are frozen, and it’s quite a sight to be able to stand near the base of this natural wonder (at a safe distance) and listen to the water, as it continues to fall behind the icy facade. skicallaghan.ca
If you want to ramp your adrenaline back up several notches, why just look at a frozen waterfall from its base when you can climb it? Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures offers ice climbing tours (weather and conditions permitting) in a safe environment for people with no previous climbing experience. All gear and training are provided in this thrilling adventure package. With crampons on your feet and ice axes in your hands, you will be safely tethered against the falls by your guide. mountainskillsacademy.com
If getting up close and personal with ancient ice is on your must-do list, there is nothing more unique and exhilarating than these next adventure tours. Imagine lifting off in a helicopter to fly over Canada’s southernmost ice fields, located right in Whistler’s backyard. Offering unparalleled opportunities to capture the scenic magnificence of the Coast Mountains, high-elevation terrain, as well as the chance to be captivated by venturing inside natural ice caves, these spectacular experiences are truly memorable.
No Limits - volcano and ice cave adventure
No Limits Heli Adventures offers tours that also include visiting an active volcano — for the added rapture. This tour transports guests to Mount Meager, where a quick stop will give guests a rare opportunity to observe a cavern created by the venting of volcanic steam. Lifting off again, guests fly over the arresting ancient glaciers of the Pemberton Ice Cap. After landing on the glacier, an experienced mountain guide will lead you on an interpretive tour that includes ice cave explorations, followed by a picnic lunch. According to Kim Gregoire, No Limits Heli Adventures’ marketing director, “The Volcano Ice Cave Adventure is a ‘bucket-list’ must. It is the only active volcano in the world that has an ice cave running through it. You can observe the fumaroles through the glacier. It is simply unique, and one of the most fascinating attractions ever created by Mother Nature.”
On the Heli Ice Cave Explore Experience from Head-Line Mountain Holidays (HLMH), your guide will lead you through a labyrinth of chambers of aqua-blue grandeur, where guests may well stand in astonishment and ponder whether they have stepped into a time capsule. Discover a display of nature’s art like no other. Doug Washer, president of HLMH, loves the reactions of his guests when they arrive in the ice caves. “It’s like walking from one world into the next through an invisible door,” he says. “All your senses light up, and your brain starts racing as it tries to make sense of all the unexplained feelings, sounds, sights and smells jumping out at you. The blue hues of the caves are so difficult to express in words. It simply leaves guests in awe, and some even in tears, as the natural beauty of the place washes over you.” This tour also includes a mountain-style artisan lunch. headlinemountainholidays.com
For a different kind of Whistler ice experience, the Ketel One Ice Room in the Bearfoot Bistro is Canada’s only permanent vodka tasting room and the perfect place to taste and discover the wonderful nuances of vodkas from around the globe. Don’t worry about catching a chill; you’ll be cozy and warm wrapped in an Arctic Expedition parka as you sample and savour a few of the more than 50 vodkas on hand. An expert will guide you through the unique experience and explain how distillation and filtration, as well as the base of the spirit itself, affect the final product. André Saint-Jacques, Bearfoot Bistro founder, describes stepping into the -32 C (-25 F) temperature of the vodka room as “one of the most unique tasting experiences available. After all, it is the coldest vodka tasting room in the world, led by our vodka specialists. Everyone loves it, and many come back, again and again, to share the experience with other friends — a ‘must’ when visiting Whistler.” Veselit’sya (“rejoice” in Russian)!
Bearfoot Bistro is known for many other things, including Executive Chef Melissa Craig’s mouth-watering cuisine, the champagne sabering experience in the restaurant’s extensive 20,000-bottle underground wine cellar as well as the theatrics of their signature nitro ice-cream, dramatically prepared tableside. A night at this restaurant can generate a lifetime’s worth of memories all on its own. bearfootbistro.com