To Ski or Après Ski – Adventures in Whistler BC

Blackcomb Glacier
I fell in love with skiing many years ago after a week of lessons in Canada at a resort called Gray Rocks and have enjoyed the sport more and more each year.  I am not a “lay on the beach person” and don’t find it at all relaxing and thus opt for more active vacations.  Much of my vacation time is used up each year at ski resorts.  There is something very satisfying at the end of the ski day where one has conquered a challenge or two never before undertaken such as a particularly difficult run or interesting new terrain.  Even more fun, after a tough day on the slopes, is the concept of après ski which basically involves food and drinks and fun (three of my favorite things), preferably with a group of friends in a slope side bar, restaurant, or your own condo.
Whistler Village
This past week, I went skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia with some friends.  My last trip to Whistler was more of a family trip with my son, and two other families who joined us.  It was equally fun but very different than this trip which was adults only.  This time I had the chance to après in a very different way, stopping for a beer or a drink and some light snacks before heading back to the condo; sometimes alone and sometimes with others.  I didn’t have to rush or worry about meeting someone or finding my son.  We each had our independent days and met up if we could without pressure.  My daily life revolves so much around a tight schedule that not being on a schedule is a wonderful treat.  That is when I feel like I’m on vacation – something I really haven’t had time to do for over a year between work and a construction project.
Whistler has a lovely village at the base with many restaurants and bars from casual food to upscale establishments.  The nice thing is, one can walk into most of them with ski boots on.  In fact, one evening, we didn’t leave the mountain until after dinner still in our ski clothes.  The base of Blackcomb is a bit quieter if you prefer to be away from the hub bub, with a few restaurant options and base area bars of its own.

 

We started our vacation by meeting in Vancouver arriving at the Pinnacle Marriott at different times and met up at breakfast the next morning.  After some smoked salmon on English muffin and tea – so very Pacific Northwest – I went for a walk along Vancouver harbor to take in the beautiful morning sunshine.  We picked up our rental car, stopped at Whole Foods for some provisions for the week and then headed to Whistler which is about a 2.5 hour drive from Vancouver.

 

Vancouver Harbor

 

Nita Lake
We arrived in the early afternoon and since our condo was not yet ready, wound up at Nita Lake Lodge on the recommendation of the front desk for some lunch.  Though their restaurant was not open, we got a nice table overlooking the lake in their lounge and ordered some sandwiches and beer.  I opted for a grilled chicken with a side salad and a local lager which was simple and yet everything seems to taste better on vacation in beautiful surroundings.  We took our time with our meals and then went for a walk along the lake enjoying views of the mountains and the beautiful houses built along the water’s edge.  After checking in and unpacking, we set off to collect our ski passes and rental equipment before settling down for the evening.  Still full from our late lunch, we opted to snack on some cheese and bread with some local wine and skipped dinner.

 

Our first day on the slopes was challenging but fun with poor visibility on the mountain which did not stop us from having a full day of playing in the snow.  We ventured all over Blackcomb mountain that day, stopping for breakfast at Glacier Creek lodge and lunch at the Roundhouse lodge, and wrapped up our day around 3:30pm when our legs were feeling tired.  Choices for breakfast and lunch on the mountain are far better at Whistler than what I’m used to at other ski resorts and go beyond the usual burgers, fries and chicken fingers.  Most of the lodges offer Noodle bowls, Pasta, Soups, and more.  The first full day on the slopes is always tiring and even more so if it’s in challenging conditions, and so we decided to cook in that evening.  We had picked up some beautiful halibut in Vancouver and decided to make Thai green curry along with some Jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk and a salad.  I wouldn’t say it was my best effort but it wasn’t bad considering I had to make do with minimal ingredients, an electric stove, and basic cooking vessels.  Sadly, in my rushed packing efforts, I forgot to include my normal stash of spices and other ingredients that I like to carry along on most trips.  But we were so hungry after our day on the slopes that we managed to finish it all any way along with a bottle of wine.
Skiing the Bowls
Made it through these trees
The next day, we signed up for “The Camp” at Whistler which is a ski coaching program that breaks you up into groups according to your ski level and provides a coach for four days.  I can ski quite well on groomed trails but don’t have much experience off-piste (ungroomed terrain).  So I was placed in a more advanced group at first, but after a very humbling day of skiing on very steep slopes and through trees, I was moved to a group more my speed the next day, though I must say I was proud to have conquered the trees for the first time.  The next four days were grueling, challenging, exhausting and the most fun I’ve had in a very long time.  I skied on a glacier, rode a T-bar without falling, skied in fresh powder as deep as my waist and became a better skier thanks to my coach, Kim.  We worked hard but also played hard.  We made new friends and après’d with them to discuss the day on the mountain, later meeting up with our own group for dinner.  Each day was a new adventure on and off the mountain.  Here are some of our après highlights including some amazing meals.
At the top of Blackcomb Glacier

 

Après Ski

View from Black’s Pub
Manhattan at Milestones
I don’t drink beer very often, but something about a nice cold one just hits the spot after skiing.  Black’s Pub, GLC and the Brewhouse are all great places to get some good local brew.  The younger crowd tends to favor the Longhorn Saloon at the base of Whistler with its heat lamps, hip vibe and music playing all day long.  Milestones at the base of Blackcomb is a bit more refined and good for cocktails and some interesting snacks too like the warm goat cheese with roasted garlic served with grilled flat bread. I accompanied it with a Manhattan while sitting under a heat lamp and watching the skiers come down the slope in front of me.   One evening we continued the fun in the condo and my friend made a baked brie with garlic and white wine which we scooped up with pieces of baguette.

Whistler Dining

We dined in twice – once on the Halibut curry mentioned earlier and another night I cooked chicken with maitake mushrooms and white wine served over a rice pilaf with steamed asparagus.  I find cooking very relaxing after a long day and enjoyed preparing both meals.  We had two very memorable dinners at Elements and Trattoria di Umberto and one not so memorable one at Legs Diamond.
Pork Belly on Bacon & Rosemary Bread Pudding
Elements is an urban tapas restaurant serving nothing like your typical Spanish or Mediterranean style tapas.  The food is very good and while there isn’t much of a wine selection, there are some interesting cocktails on the list.  We shared Duck Confit Sliders, Seared Scallops, Bruschetta, and an amazing slow cooked Pork Belly served over Bacon & Rosemary Bread Pudding with a Maple Glaze and Apple Butter. For dessert we ordered Sticky Toffee Pudding and the Peach Cobbler.  At the end of this very satisfying meal, we unanimously decided that we would have all been perfectly content with one order of the Pork Belly and one of the Sticky Toffee Pudding each.  That is how much we enjoyed these two very memorable dishes.  So much so that we went back on my last evening for the Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert in an effort to try to coax the recipe out of the chef. We did not succeed and so I will now be on a mission to experiment with it on my own.

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding

 

Kitchen at Trattoria di Umberto
Trattoria di Umberto is the less formal cousin of Il Caminetto di Umberto.  If this is on a lower scale, I’d love to see what the more formal restaurant is like because this was a very nice experience in terms of ambiance, wine list, food and service.  The Sommelier recommended a nice Cabernet Sauvignon from the Okanagan region of British Columbia which was more fruit forward than most cabs I’m used to, but very good nonetheless.  I ordered a Caesar Salad and the Roasted Half Chicken which were both excellent.  My friends ordered a Tiramisu for dessert of which I tried a spoonful and can honestly say it was one of the best I have ever eaten.

 

 

Roasted Chicken with Veggies and Demi Glace
Tiramisu

 

Albacore Tuna Carpaccio
On my last day, the weather was wet, the snow difficult to traverse and my legs were tired.  After a couple of runs my non-waterproof ski jacket had allowed water to permeate to the inner layers and I was no longer a happy skier.  So, I decided to head back to the condo, changed and went for a walk in the Village.  I’m not much of a shopper but sometimes it’s fun to browse around for interesting items that you wouldn’t find in your day to day life.  After a stop to pick up some Aero bars for my son (he recently discovered how awesome they are) and a few browsing stops, I was hungry for lunch.  I walked around to check out all the options and wound up finding a recently opened wine bar.  Basalt Wine & Charcuterie is a small but inviting space with a long bar in the front and about a dozen tables.  I took a seat at the bar and the bartender, Gil, immediately greeted me with a friendly smile.  After some conversation around the food options and trying a few different wines, I ordered the Albacore Tuna Carpaccio to start, paired with a Marsanne from New Zealand.  The tuna was presented beautifully over arugula & avocado puree, and topped with roasted peppers, pickled red onion and fried capers. It was so good that I finished it in about five minutes.  Still hungry, I ordered the chicken liver mousse to follow which was served with toasted bread and mustard and topped with a berry jam.  This too was absolutely delicious and I was glad that one of my friends had joined me part way into the meal because I was full and hated to see it go to waste.  I paired the mousse with a Nero d’Avola which was a light refreshing red that worked perfectly with the dish.
Chicken Liver Mousse

 

The food at Legs Diamond, which is at the base of Blackcomb, was not bad but it wasn’t great either.  My salad was overdressed and nothing special, my one friend’s fish was way undercooked and the Beef Wellington was not quite what we expected – slices of beef with a biscuit on the side.  It was a bit underwhelming compared to the other restaurants we ate at and not one that I would likely revisit.
Overall this is was an amazing and memorable trip from all aspects – phenomenal ski conditions & experience, meeting new friends, wonderful food and a truly relaxing vacation.

 

So the next time you’re faced with the dilemma of “To Ski or Après Ski”, just do both!!

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