By Trip Styler, on December 17, 2013

Whistler beyond the ski hill

There’s a silver lining to Vancouver, Canada’s rainy winters: snow on the mountains. When the rain hits hard in October, winter enthusiasts get stoked for snow as the surrounding mountaintops turn white. Come November, a storm of skiers head for the local hills and make the 90-minute pilgrimage to Whistler, consistently voted one of the top ski resorts in North America by a powder keg of publications.

Living in Vancouver, I’ve been visiting the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics since I snowplowed down the hill in pigtails and a neon pink snowsuit. If I found myself sipping hot chocolate in a hot tub at the end of the day, I was in heaven. This was my introduction to après-ski (French for after skiing).

Nowadays, my perfect start-to-finish ski day involves an early morning trip to 7th Heaven, one of the highest peaks at the resort, where I ski like hell. Mid-morning finds that same hot chocolate calling my name. When the clock strikes 1 p.m., I channel Lindsay Vonn and swish down the mountain to get a jump-start on Whistler’s adult après-ski scene – a series of activities as important as the ski day itself.

From 2 p.m. onwards, most of the mountain’s powder hounds congregate on mountain-view patios sipping beer, noshing nachos, and comparing notes at hot spots like Garibaldi Lift Co. (locals call it “GLC”), the Longhorn Saloon, and Merlin’s Bar. Word to the wise: going straight to these watering holes from the hill is part of the Whistler’s ski DNA.

There’s a quiet moment between the afternoon and evening après-ski sessions when locals head home and visitors head to their hotels. During this transition, it’s key for ski-vival to relax and rekindle your fire for the next round of off-slope activities. This is best accomplished at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, my local hotel crush graced with rooms spacious enough for an entourage, a Ski Concierge to wrangle gear, an on-site spa to soothe strained muscles, and a fleet of Mercedes-Benz SUVs to drop you at the next après address. Bonus: the lobby smells like a cedar forest infused with a hint of vanilla.

Viewfinder Tip: Order a bottle of bubbly at the Bearfoot Bistro and ask to saber it, Napoleon-style, in the restaurant’s 20,000-bottle wine cellar.

If flutes of sparkling speak to your ski soul more than beer and nachos, elevate your après experience at Whistler’s most iconic restaurant. Led by award-winning Chef Melissa Craig and bon vivant restaurateur, André Saint-Jacques, the Bearfoot Bistro delivers in both the splash and substance departments with palate and eye-pleasing seasonal tasting menus and a magic show dessert blending cream with liquid nitrogen to craft a smooth-as-silk sweet treat (read: nitro ice cream).


Belvedere Ice Room at the Bearfoot Bistro

Filled to the brim (and then some) from dinner, I’m wooed into a Canadian carpe diem moment and find myself in the Bearfoot’s -25 degree Fahrenheit Belvedere Ice Room (the world’s coldest vodka tasting room). Before entering, I’m handed a Canada Goose down jacket to ward off the chill, and waltz into the wintery-blue sanctum to toss back the clear-as-ice spirit. No future nightcap will ever compare.

A zen end (or daily enhancement) to any Whistler vacation involves a few hours at Scandinave Spa. Here, I trade my snowsuit for my bathing suit, and aches and pains for restoration, practicing a Nordic bathing ritual. Cycling through the hot-cold-relax sequence – a series of hot therapies, cold immersions, and relaxation spaces carved into the hillside – I’m completely smitten by my wellness wonderland lit by the stars and the glow of crackling fires. Add in an oh-so-Canadian snow-capped mountain view and a strict code of silence, and I consider skipping the hill tomorrow in favor of all-day après-ski.

What are your après-ski traditions?