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February 1, 2010




Whether or not you scored primo — or for that matter, any — tickets to the Winter Olympic Games or Paralympics (for last minute Olympics tickets, check out CoSport and Vancouver 2010 Games Tickets), the Whistler resort area is one of the world’s premier snow playgrounds. On my recent  week up here, I didn’t even miss downhill skiing or snowboarding with attractions like these:

Before getting started, I should mention that if you happen to be heading over this week, that this Friday, February 5, the Olympic Torch Relay comes to town — and you can catch the ceremony at 5:30 in front of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, built jointly by the two local Native Canadian tribes. Which brings me to the…

Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre The Squamish and Lil’wat nations  have peacefully coexisted hereabouts for centuries, and their graceful contemporary crown jewel, built in 2001, houses a wealth of their cultures, including carved cedar spindle whorls; authentic dugout canoes; wool and cedar weavings; exhibits showcasing their relationship to the land; and a Great Hall designed in the form of a Squamish longhouse. A 15-minute documentary, Where Rivers, Mountain and People Meet, provides a superb overview of their history and ways. Adults CA$18, students/disabled/ 65-plus CA$13.50, age 18 and under CA$8-$11.*

Sno-Limo Mountain Ecotouring When I saw a woman settling onto the Sno-Limo, it looked like so much fun that I had to try it. While the company bills itself as a “fully interactive on-mountain activity for non-skiers” it’s also great for folks like me, who occasionally don’t mind relaxing and letting someone else “drive” down the slopes for a change. Your guide will help you into the sled, belt you in, then control the direction and speed of the descent. My “limo driver” was a college student from England who was a delight to talk to — he even graciously stopped at several points to let me take photos of snowboarders doing stunts. Just remember, bundle up — since you aren’t exerting yourself, it can get chilly! Packages $125-$495; customized itineraries also available.

Bearfoot Bistro Whistler’s après-ski is outstanding, and Bearfoot’s a star among stars, especially famed for its wine list and cellar — more than 2,100 labels and 20,000 bottles. Decadent yet affordable, IMHO it also shines both in service and “modern Canadian”  menu (Arctic caribou chop, anyone?). And when I met the vivacious proprietor André St. Jacques, I had no idea that he’s the Guinness World Record holder for “sabering” champagne — 21 bottles in under a minute. Not familiar with this tradition, dating back to the Napoleonic era? Believe me, it’s a sight to behold. Main courses start at $8.

Peak-2-Peak Gondola What a thrill! Spanning 2 3/4 miles (4 1/2 km) between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains,  this epic engineering feat holds several world records, including highest contraption of its kind — 1,427 feet (436 meters) above the valley floor — and the world’s longest continuous lift system. It’s just an 11-minute ride, but the 360-degree views from the 28-person cabin are stunning — so try to wedge yourself next to the window. The gondola’s included in the $93 regular lift ticket and the $42 “sightseeing” lift ticket.

Grouse Mountain Zipline Grouse is actually a two-hour drive from Whistler — but it’s just 15 minutes from Vancouver, so it’s definitely worth a stop en route for a two-hour taste of the adrenalin rush that Olympic athletes experience as they fly over the snow. “Air Grouse” sends you on a 50-mile-an-hour zip across the peaks of Grouse and Dam mountains along a brand-new cables up to 350 feet (1,150 meters) above the slopes, and you can get it all caught on film by staff photogs. And by the way, during the games, this is where NBC’s Today Show will be based, so keep your eyes peeled for celebrities. Open weekends; 24/7 February 12-28 and March 6-14; $105.

*Approximately US$17 / £11 / AU$19 / 12€ for adults; US$13 / £8 / AU$14 / 9€ for students,disabled, and seniors; CA$8-$11  US$7.50-10 / £4.75-6.50 / AU$8.50-11.50 / 5-7.50€ for 18 and under. All prices above are cited in Canadian dollars.

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