Winter Weekend in Whistler
Take two 30-something women, put them on snowboards for the first time, and embarrassment (or broken bones) will ensue, right? Not so fast. I grew up in Tennessee, which is not exactly a hotbed for winter sports. After living in Seattle for four years and listening to my friends tout the joys of nearby skiing and snowboarding, I decided it was finally time to learn. I recruited my friend Emmie to join me as she was in the same boat, a completely novice snowboarder. We discovered there was an all-women ski and snowboard camp being taught throughout the winter in Whistler, British Columbia. Making fools of ourselves in front of a group of women seemed like the ideal way to learn, so we signed up.
Early that morning, Emmie and I boarded the Pacific Coach Lines Whistler-bound bus in Vancouver. The two-and-a-half-hour ride flew by thanks to free onboard Wi-Fi and beautiful British Columbia scenery. Though Whistler had received a disappointing amount of snow during the winter season, luck was with us as the forecast called for heavy snowfall over the next two days. As we approached Whistler and climbed in elevation, the snow began to come down in earnest. There was a blanket of snow on the ground when we arrived at our hotel, Nita Lake Lodge.
Nita Lake Lodge is located outside of Whistler Village, which allows the hotel to be a serene spot for guests yet just a short drive to the action. The all-suite luxury lodge offers two restaurants, a cafe, a full-service spa, yoga and fitness studios, outdoor hot tubs with mountain views, and an art gallery. Depending on the time of year, Nita Lake Lodge provides its guests with a wide range of complimentary amenities such as ski lockers during the winter or bike, fishing rod, canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals to use on Nita Lake during the summer.
The 77 suites at Nita Lake Lodge each feature king-size beds, double soaker tubs, glass-enclosed rain showers, heated slate flooring in the bathrooms, gas fireplaces, complimentary Internet, and 40-inch LCD TVs. Upon checking in, a bellman led us to our two-bedroom suite, which consisted of a bedroom and bathroom downstairs and a loft with another bedroom and bathroom upstairs. Emmie took the downstairs bedroom, and I took the upstairs loft. The suite also included a kitchenette, living room, gas fireplace, three TVs, and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Nita Lake.
After getting unpacked, we took Nita Lake Lodge’s complimentary shuttle to Whistler Village. Our shuttle driver, John, filled us in on some of the best restaurants and places to visit. As we were getting out of the shuttle, John recommended Sushi Village for lunch, so that was our first stop. Emmie and I each ordered the Super Hiro Roll consisting of spicy tuna, avocado, tempura bits, and ponzu sauce. It was the best sushi roll I’ve ever eaten.
After lunch, we walked around Whistler Village, browsing the boutiques and art galleries. The village was bustling with skiers and snowboarders just coming off the mountain and heading into the bars and restaurants for après ski. After collecting our rental snowboarding clothes from the Salomon Store and lift tickets from Whistler Blackcomb, we headed to the shuttle pick-up stop and waited on John to collect us to take us back to Nita Lake Lodge to get ready for the evening.
At 7:30 p.m., we were back on the shuttle for the short drive to the village for dinner at Bearfoot Bistro. We were greeted by the hostess and promptly shown to our table. The restaurant was bustling giving it an energetic feel, a pianist was playing, and the walls displayed beautiful modern artwork. A trolley cart rolled by to make cocktails and martinis at a nearby table. Our server introduced himself and asked if we would like to begin the evening by visiting the wine cellar.
We were led down a flight of stairs to the large wine cellar, which we discovered held more than 20,000 bottles. Mike greeted us and asked if I wanted to try my hand at sabering a champagne bottle. After explaining to us the Napoleonic-era tradition of sabering, he held the champagne bottle and showed me the proper technique before I successfully severed the top off the bottle. Mike told me I had made a perfect clean break, which legend has it means good luck.
After wandering around the wine cellar for a bit and inspecting the bottles, we returned to our table and studied the menu, opting for the chef’s five course tasting with wine pairings. While waiting for the food, we sipped on champagne.
An amuse-bouche arrived first—cured salmon with cauliflower panna cotta, crispy capers, and Meyer lemon. Our next four courses progressed from yellowfin tuna tartar to a lobster gratin and lobster salad to squab to a Greenland caribou rack. The food was inventive, and the wine pairings were (not surprisingly based on our visit to the wine cellar) perfect.
As we finished our fourth course, our server asked if we would like to have a vodka tasting inside Bearfoot Bistro’s Belvedere Ice Room. Naturally, we said yes. Chris was our host in the ice room. Before entering, he outfitted us in Canada Goose Arctic jackets consisting of nine layers of goose down, which would be necessary to brave the -25 degrees Fahrenheit temperature that makes Bearfoot Bistro’s vodka ice room the coldest in the world.
Inside the ice room, more than 50 vodkas from around the world were on display. Chris poured five vodka shots from five different countries, explaining the differences between the vodkas. Before taking each shot, Chris taught us how to say “cheers” in the respective country’s language, such as “Nostrovia!” (Poland).
Before our fingers developed frostbite, we left the vodka room and returned to our table. After watching the cheese cart visit other diners, we requested the cart be rolled in our direction for a pre-dessert sampling. We tried 11 cheeses from five Canadian provinces, all with 100-percent Canadian cow’s milk. My favorite was a strongly flavored cheese called Harvest Moon from Penticton, British Columbia.
The final act of the night was having ice cream made tableside for us with dry ice. After the dry ice show, vanilla ice cream was spooned into stainless martini-shaped glasses, and we were provided various toppings to make our own sundaes, including raspberries, caramel, and chocolate sauces and brownie bites. The sundaes were the cherry on top, so to speak, of a perfect evening. I have never been more entertained while being so well fed at a restaurant.
Saturday was the first day of the Arc’teryx Women’s Ski and Snowboard Camp. We grabbed a quick meal of breakfast sandwiches and caffeine at Nita Lake Lodge’s Fix Cafe, before jumping on the hotel shuttle for Blackcomb Daylodge.
We met the other ski and snowboard campers at the CAN-SKI store at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. In a camp of dozens of women, we were the only two who had never been on a snowboard. The upside to that was we practically had a private lesson for two. The downside is we had to quickly advance through the ranks to join another group who had previous snowboard experience.
Delors from Andorra, a small country between Spain and France, was our snowboarding instructor. She led us to a roped-off learning area with a gradual hill. After teaching us the basics, such as how to strap into our snowboard and how to stand up, she grabbed onto my hands and walked me down the hill as I got a feel for being on the board. Delors then went back and repeated the process for Emmie. Each time we went through the exercise, Delors would let go of our hands for a few seconds until she could tell we were comfortable on our own. Pretty soon, both Emmie and I were able to snowboard down the hill on our own.
After several hours of snowboarding, we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel. When we made it back to Nita Lake Lodge, the hotel’s Cure Lounge was filled with people enjoying après ski and was clearly a popular gathering place on the weekends for both hotel guests and locals.
We took Nita Lake Lodge’s shuttle back into the village to have dinner at Alta Bistro. We first sat at the restaurant’s beautiful wooden bar to enjoy a drink before dinner. The bartender, Scot, created a cocktail for me of bourbon, grapefruit juice, lavender syrup, lime, and an orange twist.
After enjoying our cocktails, we were seated by the window so we could watch the snow fall. Alta Bistro emphasizes local, ethical, and sustainable food wrapped up in a modern French bistro cuisine menu. We each ordered three courses with wine pairings. For my starter, I couldn’t resist the Alberta elk tartar and duck liver parfait, which the server paired with a glass of Gewurztraminer. The parfait was prepared with parsley, endive, molasses rye bread, apple, smoked shallots, and cocoa nibs. The result was one of the best courses I ate in Whistler.
I continued with the wild game theme with a roasted venison filet for my entrée, paired with a Pinot Noir. I noted that both of my wines were from British Columbia; in fact, a significant portion of the wine list was from British Columbia, in keeping with Alta Bistro’s emphasis on local products. For the final course, Emmie and I shared our respective desserts: a dark chocolate and fig mousse and a pink peppercorn semifreddo.
Upon arriving for the second day of snowboarding camp, Delors informed us that we were heading up the chairlift to do a run. I looked at Emmie in horror. I had felt comfortable in the lessons area, but doing an actual run? With no choice but to hop on the next chairlift behind Delors and Emmie, I calmed my momentary panic attack. Panic returned once we were off the lift and I had a look from the top down to see how high we truly were.
I strapped my feet into my snowboard bindings, gave myself a silent pep talk, and started down. After a couple of minor falls (and one collision with Emmie), I hit my stride and made it down in one piece. I repeated the run again a few minutes later with only one minor fall. The remainder of the day was a similar success, and we ended the camp with the other women for après ski at Wizard Grill in Blackcomb Daylodge.
After two days of snowboarding, we were feeling a little sore, so it was the perfect time to visit Scandinave Spa. Scandinave Spa is an outdoor spa nestled in the forest yet only a few minutes away from Whistler Village. The spa offers a Scandinavian baths experience, which revitalizes and restores health by improving blood circulation and encouraging intense relaxation. In furtherance of relaxation, Scandinave Spa has a strict no-talking policy.
The spa suggests a three-step process to receive the full health benefits. First, warm the body for 10 to 15 minutes in either a eucalyptus steam bath, a wood-burning Finnish sauna, hot baths, or the thermal waterfall. Second, rinse for 20 to 30 seconds in cold water such as in the cold showers, cold baths, or Nordic waterfalls. Third, relax for at least 15 minutes in the solariums, hammocks, terraces, or by the outdoor fireplace. Repeat four times.
Emmie and I complied with the process, starting in the hot baths for 15 minutes and then plunging into the cold baths, which we could only tolerate for about five seconds. Our reward was to then warm up in the solarium. Even with the cold-water torture, the spa accomplished our goal of full relaxation. We decided it was probably best not to put ourselves into a relaxation coma with one of Scandinave Spa’s various massages—from hot stone to Thai yoga—and headed back to the hotel instead.
Dinner that night was at Nita Lake Lodge’s restaurant, Aura, located just off the hotel lobby. The entrance to Aura had a contemporary design, which was carried throughout the rest of the restaurant yet felt approachable and cozy at the same time. The décor struck the same balance as Aura’s menu—sophisticated and updated comfort food.
Upon sitting down, I ordered a perfectly blended Crimson Crush cocktail—vodka, St. Germain, muddled pomegranate, and muddled grapefruit—alongside Kusshi oysters. Emmie embraced the comfort meal aspect of Aura’s menu with braised short rib mac and cheese alongside a dry-rubbed Angus ribeye. For my entrée, I ordered pan-roasted diver scallops with Dungeness crab fritters, charred leaks, house-cured guanciale, and fennel. The scallops were outstanding, but the crab fritters stole the show. We sampled from Aura’s wine list that included an extensive selection of British Columbia wines.
On our last day in Whistler, we ate a leisurely breakfast downstairs at Aura before heading to Nita Lake Lodge’s spa. As we walked to the spa, we passed the hotel’s fitness center, Innovative Fitness, which offers fitness equipment alongside circuit classes and personal training. We also passed Nita Lake Lodge’s yoga studio, Jivamukti Yoga Whistler. The Yin yoga class being held was obviously a popular one with a studio full of yogis.
Upon arriving at the spa, we were guided into the women’s locker room to change into robes before entering the relaxation lounge. The lounge was tranquil with comfortable seating and books and magazines. I could have stayed there for a few hours, but I only had a few minutes before my spa therapist, MJ, retrieved me.
While Emmie had a facial, I enjoyed an ila Kundalini massage, a 75-minute treatment that involved the use of essential oils, massage, and chakra healing. When the massage was over, MJ told me when she performs chakra healing on a client, one word often comes to mind that describes how the client is feeling. She said that while working on me that one word was “happy.”
Of course it was. After a Whistler weekend of snowboarding, amazing meals, champagne sabering, vodka tasting, and staying in a beautiful hotel, happy was naturally my state of mind.