Take in the sights, sounds and stories of this magical multimedia adventure
We got a sneak peek at Vallea Lumina, this summer’s must-see nightlife: an immersive multimedia night walk trekking up and down Cougar Mountain, just a 10-minute free shuttle north of Whistler. This delightful and unexpectedly moving outdoor experience is a collaboration between local adventure kings TAG (their Superfly Ziplines base camp is right on site) and Montreal’s Moment Factory, which has created a handful of similar nighttime “Luminas” in places as far-flung as Barcelona, Japan and Tonga.
“What we do is create stories and experiences using the local culture and the natural beauty of the site,” says Jonathan St-Onge of the Moment Factory, which is also responsible for the Canucks Hall of Heroes interactive installation at the Rogers Centre and the giant fashion-inspired screens at Tsawwassen Mills. “We put in technology, yes, but it’s not just about putting technology in the woods. It’s about creating magic, allowing people to discover the magic in a world that they’re going to discover in the night.”
Fans of the British nature artist Andy Goldsworthy might feel as if one of his high-concept installations, a gentle molding the natural world into a narrative we can all respond to, has come to larger-than-life.
Without any spoilers, here’s how to do Vallea Lumina right...
1. Pay attention to the details
While you’re milling around base camp, and further along the trail, pay attention to the little things, like the maps and posters on trail head notice boards. There’s a meta-narrative in which the glowing salmon, neon bear paws and giant cupcake-looking fungi you might spot start to make sense. It’s a choose-your-own adventure story, and you can lap up as much, or as little, of the narrative as you like.
2. Walk with all your senses
You’ll be bombarded with sounds: is that real or fake wind whistling down the valley, animals rustling the trees? And the lighting and visuals are spectacular: Are those actors or spectral projections? There are mists and fogs, music recalling the most uplifting U2 riffs and maybe even pumped-in ambient scents. (Could it have been the collectively good, botanical smell of so many Whistler luxury hotel guests I sniffed…or just the rainforest itself?)
3. Bring your appetite
The Cougar Cafe in base camp has snacks for wilderness-induced appetites. On opening night, Whistler’s renowned Bearfoot Bistro served craveable liquid-nitrogen ice cream, hot chocolate and other goodies. You might nosh while you kill time waiting for sundown or your timed entry, and by the end you’ll definitely feel Iike you’ve earned a treat.
4. The bugs are for real
The ambient cicada sounds might be piped in, but those mosquitoes aren’t multimedia. You’ll want to heavily repellent up on any exposed bits.
5. Feel safe and secure
Trail lighting is totally adequate, but not bright. There are thick guide ropes and posts throughout, study wooden stairways, lots of benches and places to rest as well as “forest rangers” stationed frequently throughout the trail, should you need any assistance.
6. Brush up on your retro entertainment
Base camp is like Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom come to life, with its tied-twig signage, Glen Campbell strumming “Wichita Lineman” over crackly loudspeakers, and giant Jenga and Connect Four games. Then there are the vaguely X-Files references, like busted vintage consoles at a remote ranger station and an eerie announcement about Protocol 35 and a secret trail. It’s all just familiar enough to feel safe and fresh enough to feel adventurous.
7. Wear the right shoes
This is not the night to bust out your cute summer sandals, or even your not-so-cute Birks or Tevas. The trails are packed earth, wide and very well-groomed, but your feet will still get coated in dust this very hot summer—closed-toe shoes like sneakers are the right pick.
8. Come ready for a hike
It’s a 1.5-kilometre gentle uphill walk, with flights of stairs on steeper grades… but don’t forget about the downhill (your knees won’t). It’s a moderate walk for the fit, but plenty of folks were huffing and puffing by end end. Which brings us to…
9. Go at your own pace
The walk could take anywhere from 50 to 80 minutes, so try to control the human impulse to race ahead and see what’s coming next. You will miss some of the narrative nuances and truly magical moments (like feeling as if an entire forest of fireflies is twinkling just for you) by racing through. There are rangers throughout the trail controlling pacing and the number of people walking each phase, so you have the option to stagger yourself to feel like you’re having a truly singular experience.
To answer the unspoken, number-one question of city people everywhere: yes, there are plenty of bathrooms at base camp, and they are very are civilized (think: real sinks and foot-pedal flush, not portas). The signage (“Leonard” for men and “Gloria” for women”) will make sense, if you’re paying attention to that breadcrumb-trail of details…
Vallea Lumina runs every 20 minutes nightly from sundown, until October 15. Tickets are $29 for adults and $24 for kids 6 to 15 (no strollers or pets); children under 5 are free.
Get a sneak peek at Vallea Lumina