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Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Pass through a welcoming archway and along a snowy path to reach Scandinave's quiet sanctuary in Whistler

Whistler has so much more to offer than hitting the slopes, with plenty of options for a revitalizing weekend retreat

Two of my New Year’s resolutions were to slow down the hectic pace at which I was moving last year and to treat what author Richard Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder” by spending more time enjoying BC’s spectacular, natural environment. The latter resolution also aligns with one facet of yogi, surfer, and blissologist Eoin Finn’s five Blissology Commitments that I have been endeavouring to follow: nature appreciation.

I crossed both intentions off my list as my husband and I started our rejuvenating weekend at Scandinave, a Nordic day spa at the northern tip of town.

Relaxing at Scandinave

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Check in at Scandinave’s main foyer where you’ll find comfy seats next to a crackling fire, a healthy cafe, and a view to the spa below.  (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

Whistler had a large snowfall the night before we arrived at Scandinave so the spa was blanketed with pristine snow and the weather had cleared to reveal blue skies and brilliant sunshine. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

We checked in at the main foyer from which you can see the buildings and outdoor pools of the spa below – where you are asked to refrain from speaking to preserve the “haven of peace and quiet.”

Be sure to bring a bathing suit, water bottle, reading material, sandals to wear along the paths, and a bathrobe to cover up between dips and rests.  If you forget anything, not to worry, they rent bathrobes, and bathing suits, sandals and water bottles are available to purchase. Magazines are provided in the relaxation rooms.

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The outdoor spa experience includes hot pools, a steam room, a sauna, cold pools and two indoor relaxation areas (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

There are three parts to the Scandinavian spa experience – body warming, cold plunge, and relaxation – and they recommend repeating each cycle three or four times. First, we spent about 10 minutes raising our body temperature in either the eucalyptus steam bath, Finnish sauna, or one of two hot pools (we did four cycles and tried every warming, cooling and relaxation station at least once). Raising the body’s temperature is said to release toxins through perspiration.

Next we took an exhilarating plunge in one of two cold pools (where I could only manage about 30 seconds) to close our pores. Then we headed to one of two indoor relaxation areas for about 20 minutes. Some guests quietly gazed out the large picture windows while others lay down or read. We had both forgotten our novels but were happy to see a great selection of magazines to suit all tastes (fashion and fitness for me, outdoor adventure and men’s health for him).

The treatment is said to relieve stress and improve circulation, and after four cycles, and for the rest of the day, we felt invigorated, clear, and completely devoid of tension. It was a luxurious start to our blissful weekend getaway.

Before leaving the spa we stopped at the cafe, catered by the Bearfoot Bistro, for a snack and then headed to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler to check into our room.

Staying at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler

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The Fairmont’s slopeside-view rooms have a Juliet balcony with an incredible view of the steaming outdoor pools and Blackcomb Mountain beyond (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

With its position right at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, the 550-room Fairmont Chateau Whistler is the perfect place to accommodate skiers and snowboarders, but with nary a ski, pole or boot in tow, it was also the perfect place for us to unwind and refuel.

Our deluxe slopeside-view room had a Juliet balcony with a breathtaking view of Blackcomb Mountain, and, as I’ve experienced at every Fairmont I’ve visited, an incredibly luxurious bed and bedding that lulls you into the most magnificent sleep.

But before sleep came cocktails, dinner offsite, and a soak in one of the outdoor hot tubs. First we headed down to the Fairmont’s Mallard Lounge and Terrace for an appetite-whetting cocktail. The Mallard Lounge has a great cocktail selection, all of which are made with fresh ingredients.

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Choose from a wide selection of craft and traditional
cocktails at the Fairmont’s Mallard Lounge.
(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

We tried the Martinez, a gin-based drink with sweet vermouth, orange bitters and maraschino liqueur, and the Patron Cadillac margarita, with Patron Silver tequila, Grand Marnier and freshly squeezed lime juice, and were entertained by live music from Colin Bullock, an Aussie singer-songwriter.

After dinner (more on that later), we changed into our swimsuits, donned comfy robes, and headed to the health club for a late-night dip in the hot tub. All three outdoor hot tubs were packed, and we squeezed in amongst the young revelers as their merriment was elevated by the poolside food and beverage service. It was a pretty cool experience to be outside in the dead of winter, surrounded by beautiful mountains and a celebratory spirit, basking in the warmth of the steamy water.

The next morning we had the most incredible buffet breakfast I’ve ever seen at Fairmont’s The Wildflower restaurant. There was smoked salmon and herring, fresh fruit, cereals and yogurts, brioche raisin French toast, bread pudding and freshly baked cinnamon buns, an omelette station, bacon, sausages, ham, homestyle fingerling potatoes, and even a smoothie station. It was divine.

Before heading off to our snowshoeing tour (more on that later, too) we stopped by the Fairmont’s Portobello Market and Fresh Bakery to grab a sandwich, drink and sweet treat in case we got the munchies during our snowshoe adventure.

Dining at the Bearfoot Bistro

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The Bearfoot Bistro’s impressive wine cellar has over 20,000 bottles and many different champagnes to choose from for sabering (or just drinking) (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

After our delicious cocktails at the Mallard Lounge we hopped in a cab that took us to the Bearfoot Bistro, a legendary Whistler restaurant that we’d heard so much about.

As soon as you walk into the restaurant, you know you’re in for a memorable experience. To the left, a custom-made pewter champagne bar and beyond that, Canada’s first sub-zero vodka room. Straight ahead, beautiful live music emanating from a gorgeous grand piano. To the right, we were lead through the dining room to our table and custom-made chairs that felt more like upright hammocks with their thick leather sheets woven to sturdy, steel frames.

We had an excellent vantage from our position at the top of the stairs that led down to the cavernous wine cellar, and faced the open kitchen where we could see executive chef Melissa Craig and the rest of her staff hard at work.

We started the meal by heading down the steep metal stairs to the wine cellar, which stores over 20,000 bottles, to learn about the history of sabering champagne (owner André Saint-Jacques used to hold the world record for most champagne bottles sabered in one minute) and partake in the tradition ourselves. My husband did the honours and was shown how to aim the bottle toward a curtain that would break the cork’s flight toward priceless vintages, like the 1914 Möet & Chandon Brut Imperial.

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The author and her husband sample some of the more than 50 different vodka labels in the Belvedere Ice Room (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

We were presented with the tip of the bottle – wiring, cork, glass and all – in a little box, which is said to be a good luck charm, and headed back to our table with champagne flutes in hand.

We had the chef’s five-course tasting menu and quietly squealed with delight as each course and the sommelier's accompanying wine pairing were brought to our table. We savoured delicate tuna tartare, perfectly seared Qualicum Bay scallops, creamy truffled scrambled eggs, and gorgeous Wagyu beef with baby potatoes. But the real wow factor arrived when the nitro ice cream cart rolled up to our table.

Into a giant hammered metal bowl, our server poured seasoned cream and slowly mixed in liquid nitrogen until the concoction was ready to eat. The ice cream came with a selection of lip-smacking toppings like homemade caramel and chocolate sauce, fresh berries, and candied nuts.

Then we were whisked away to a closet where we were instructed to don a Canada Goose down jacket before heading into the minus-18-degree-Celcius Belvedere Ice Room to sample a flight of vodkas from a range of about 50 varieties from around the world.

After such an extravagant and decadent experience we were ready to head back to the hotel for a hot tub and then bed.

Playing Outside with Canadian Snowmobile and All-Terrain Adventures

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Canadian Snowmobile and All-Terrain Adventures offers daytime and nighttime snowshoeing tours through beautiful Callaghan Valley (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

On our last day, we experienced Whistler’s natural tranquility with a guided snowshoe tour through Callaghan Valley with Canadian Snowmobile and All-Terrain Adventures, a company that offers everything from snowshoe, snowmobile, and dogsledding tours in the winter to ATV, Jeep, and canoe tours in the summer, as well as year-round culinary adventures and training courses in avalanche skills, snowmobiling safety, first aid, and guiding.

Our friendly and knowledgeable guide Daniel led us along the Medicine Trail, a meandering path through an ancient forest with some trees reaching over 1,500 years old, and occasionally stopped to offer interesting facts on some of the forest’s medicinal plants, and shared a valuable tip on wilderness survival – tree sap can be used as a fail-safe fire starter (golly, I love to learn).

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Tour guide Daniel pours us tea made from mushrooms
and Old Man’s Beard in front of narrow bridge with a
curtain of icicles below (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

After crossing a narrow bridge bejeweled with striking icicles we stopped for a steaming cup of healing tea made from mushrooms and Old Man’s Beard that grow along the Medicine Trail, and substantial fruit, nut and seed bars made by the Bearfoot Bistro.

Once back to the company’s eclectic home base (the property has a number of charming, mismatched buildings from the log hut where the snowshoes are stored to an old caboose, dubbed the “Pistol Club & Tea House,” that has a built-in bar, chairs and tables) we caught the company shuttle back to the village where it had picked us up. Canadian Snowmobile and All-Terrain Adventures offer two daytime snowshoe tours as well as moonlight tours that end with a campfire cookout. Fun!

Booking through Enjoy Whistler

Much of our trip was booked through Enjoy Whistler, a central booking service that offers discounted hotel rates, tasting tours and lift tickets when purchased as a package, as well free incentives like the Whistler Blackcomb Fresh Tracks (be first up the hill via the Whistler Village Gondola, enjoy a buffet breakfast and then hit the slopes while they’re fresh) when you spend over $1,500.

We came home from our trip feeling absolutely blissful and rejuvenated, just the ticket after a busy holiday season, and can't stop talking about all of our incredible adventures. 

It's hard to believe that such a dynamic winter wonderland exists only two hours north of Vancouver, ready to delight and dazzle when we need an escape from Vancouver’s dreary winter months. 

For more ideas on where to stay, eat and play in Whistler, check out our Whistler Getaway Guide.