There's much to do in Whistler, even when you're not on the slopes (photo: Leanna Rathkelly/Destination BC)

The Weekender: Off the Slopes in Whistler, B.C.

By Crai S. Bower

Normally an art museum wouldn’t make headlines at a ski resort, but Whistler’s Audain Art Museum is not your everyday gallery. The new museum, which opened in January 2016, includes one of the world’s finest collections of indigenous masks, an impressive array of Emily Carr paintings and featured examples from the Vancouver School of photography. While the Audain may not be the primary reason to visit North America’s top-rated winter resort, it certainly elevates Whistler to a rarefied air shared only by a few other resorts in the world—and shows that a visit to B.C.’s most famous ski town doesn’t have to be all about the slopes.

WHAT TO DO
Whistler’s aesthetic maturity is visible everywhere, just take a look at the more than 60 public art pieces. Dozens of First Nations sculptures appear throughout the village, complemented by abstract pieces like Rec-Line and several images that honour the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

You’ll never regret spending an off day at Scandinave Spa, a Nordic-inspired set of hot and cold pools, steam rooms and brisk waterfall rinses located just north of the village beside Lost Lake. Begin with a eucalyptus steam bath followed by a series of hot baths or a nap in the quiet room. AMA members save 15% on bath access and 10% on massage services with bath access at the spa.

Whistler Scandinave Spa
Nordic-style relaxation at Whistler’s Scandinave Spa

As with the Audain Art Museum, always save a couple of hours to visit the Squamish-Lil’Wat Cultural Centre, Canada’s first exclusively Aboriginal museum. Take a look at the Great Hall’s 12-metre-long Salish hunting canoe, which is still paddled every year in Howe Sound to preserve the canoe’s spirit.

When it comes to slope-side fun, comfort rules this year across Whistler-Blackcomb’s 8,000 skiable acres. New ownership group Vail Resorts has committed $2.4 million to fundamental improvements, including an overhaul of learning areas, plus 45 new, low-energy snow guns (for a total of 315 snow guns across the two mountains). There will also be more groomed trails thanks to a $3.3 million boost to the grooming fleet. And those who like taking a break now and then will enjoy 250 new heated outdoor seats at Roundhouse Lodge.

STRAP ON YOUR SKIS
This winter, book a Rocky Mountains ski vacation with AMA Travel. Whether you’re in Alberta or B.C.,we’ll help you create the perfect getaway—all while saving you time and money.

Feeling adventurous? Trade your skis for a sled on a guided snowmobile tour through Whistler’s wilderness. Two- and three-hour excursions include hotel pickup plus all the gear you’ll need to have a great time zooming through the snow-covered backcountry.

WHERE TO DINE
Whistler has always been a restaurant village; there’s more exceptional cuisine to be found here than in many mid-size cities. The dining experience actually begins on piste via white tablecloth service at Christine’s on Blackcomb and Steep’s Grill on the Whistler side. Both kitchens highlight local produce, fresh wild-caught fish and free-range meat. The Four Seasons Resort’s Sidecut has emerged from several iterations to become Whistler’s best steakhouse. Bearfoot Bistro chef Melissa Craig continues to present what is arguably the best dining experience in the village (or any North American resort for that matter), accompanied, naturally, by selections from the 20,000-bottle wine cellar. Even 30-plus-year-old Sushi Village still competes with Vancouver’s famed Japanese restaurants.

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Alberta’s downhill action ain’t too shabby either. There’s much to recommend both at Rocky Mountains resorts and smaller, more affordable urban slopes.

Of course, with all this choice it can be a challenge deciding where to eat. A progressive fine-dining dinner tour makes things easy by taking you to three restaurants (including Bearfoot Bistro) and a chocolate boutique for a diverse, host-led evening of Whistler wining and dining.

Whistler Bearfoot Bistro Melissa Craig
Chef Melissa Craig leads the acclaimed kitchen at Bearfoot Bistro (photo: Bearfoot Bistro/Joern Rohde)

WHERE TO SHOP
Like what you see at the Audain? Whistler’s numerous commercial galleries feature top-quality Aboriginal art to hang on your own walls. The Black Tusk Gallery exhibits the finest Northwest Coast native art in the province. Fathom Stone Art Gallery features iconic animals and other figurines sculpted in fine local granite and other stone. Crystal Lodge Art Gallery specializes in contemporary interpretations of Coast Mountains scenery, among modern genres. And the Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler are always worth a visit; the varied roster includes many of B.C.’s best artists.

Whistler Audain Art Museum
The Audain Art Museum is one of Whistler’s newest attractions (photo: Justa Jeskova/Tourism Whistler)

GETTING THERE
Travellers to Whistler typically make the journey by flying into Vancouver, then driving about 1.5 hours north along Highway 99—the “Sea to Sky Highway”—to the famed resort town in the Coast Mountains. Get great rates on flights, accommodations and car rentals with AMA Travel by booking online or speaking with an expert travel counsellor at an AMA centre.

AMA members also save up to 20% and earn up to 25 reward dollars when booking Hertz car rentals. Prefer not to rent a vehicle? Consider reserving a seat on a coach transfer from downtown Vancouver to Whistler village instead.