Travel Tips

Spotlight on Vancouver 2010 Olympics: Whistler & Blackcomb

Athens Olympics 2004 Got the Olympic fever? Irvina Lew reports on what’s happening in the Canadian cities that everyone is buzzing about. 

The longest torch relay in the history of the Games—a 106-day journey with 12,000 torch bearers traveling through 1000 communities—has begun.

The first snows of the season—a record-breaking 17 feet of white fluff—have fallen.

Many of the 1.6 million tickets for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games ( in Vancouver and Whistler/Blackcomb (in British Columbia) have been purchased.

Not to worry.

While only a fraction of the four billion people who are expected to watch the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron on February 12, 2010 will be lucky enough to see it in person, you can still be among them.

Tickets continue to be released via and will be available at the box office during the games.  And, there are still some condos, town houses, chalets and even hotel rooms available.

Learn more about Tickets for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

South Granville neighorhoodVancouver, on the northwest Pacific Coast, is a fascinating and cosmopolitan city with great and grand hotels and a variety of fine dining opportunities. Once a mining and forest town, it became a major international port after the transcontinental railroad reached it.

Today, it’s among the world’s most livable cities, a major cruise ship port (ships depart for Alaska from here) and as the third largest film-making city (after Los Angeles and New York).

In addition to the Opening and Closing extravaganzas, many of the ice skating events will occur at a variety of venues in and near the city. Freestyle, aerial ski and snowboarding events will occur at nearby Cypress Mountain—ordinarily just a 20 minute drive from Vancouver city center.

Vancouver's West EndThe 2010 Winter Games are called the Sea to Sky Olympics for good reason; Vancouver is a coastal city and many of the downhill ski venues take place all the way up in the teeny, tiny twin Alpine resort villages of Whistler/Blackcomb, 75 miles distant.

A scenic two hour drive on the Sea to Sky Highway (which has been much improved for the events) connects the two venues.

It travels along the coastline passing pristine lakes, mountain-fed streams and verdant forests en route.

Want to learn more about Vancouver? Don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Vancouver, Canada.

Whistler is as charming a community as one constructed in the late 20th century could possibly be. Its appealing centerpiece is a curving, pedestrian walkway that has a “river runs through it” feel as it passes shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes and a myriad of cozy lodges and hotels.

Whistler village plazaIts town center, the Village Plaza, is the ultimate pedestrian destination because it’s where the gondola to the slopes is located. There’s an energy in town that’s palpable; in winter, it flows from the constant parade of skiers walking through and, in summer, the mountain bikers carrying their bikes.

Athletic competitions start in pre-school, here, and energy infuses the entire community. Even during the Olympic Games, only 10 percent of the downhill slopes will be utilized for the events, leaving ample opportunities for skiers. Whistler/Blackcomb, is oft-listed as the ski resort numero uno; it’s also a year-round destination for outdoorsy activists and for visitors who relish its walking-town flavor and extraordinary beauty.

Visit the Olympics Travel section for tips on Vancouver 2010.

I recommend but can’t assure availability at either the Adara Hotel—a chic boutique hotel with a smart spa and outdoor hot tub—or the cool and green Summit Lodge with its serene Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa.)

Whistler landscapeFrom Whistler, it’s just a 5-minute walk on one of the village paths (and up a flight of stairs) to adjacent Blackcomb where two luxury hotels—the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Four Seasons Resort Whistler, and a huge timeshare resort Club Intrawest-Blackcomb—dominate the valley.

I had the opportunity to experience both luxury resorts in Blackcomb and stayed on the Concierge Level at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler where I experienced a superlative brunch. (The chef’s bread pudding recipe has since become a staple when I entertain at home.) The hotel, though built in 1989, has a traditional ambiance in the spirit of the great Canadian chateaux-hotels in Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise. Guests walk out the back door directly to the ski lift; the side doors lead to the shops and restaurants along the walkway.

Interested in the Paralympics? Want accessibility tips in Vancouver? Don’t miss Adaptive and Accessible Hiking in Vancouver.

The casually elegant Four Seasons Resort Whistler has a soaring style and impeccable décor that improves upon the typical mountain-lodge ambiance.

Path leading to Blackcomb MountainFittingly, its fine dining restaurant is called the Fifty Two 80 Bistro, a place name that honors the steep vertical drop of Blackcomb Mountain, the highest vertical drop of any ski resort in North America.

There’s plenty to do during, before or after the games. While thrill seekers may heli-ski from the tops of distant mountains, many adventurers delight in the 11-minute, 2.7-mile ride on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, the world’s longest unsuspended gondola ride. Traveling 1427 feet above the valley floor between the summits of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, the sky ride transports riders between the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain and the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain.

Even non-skiers get the chance to relish the snowy mountain scenery on SNO-LIMO, where they sit behind a personal and well-trained chauffeur and ride a snowy mountain trail. The gravity-gliding transport allows folks to savor vistas that they otherwise could never see.

Looking for a ski experience in Canada that isn’t hosting a gigantic global event with millions of visitors this year? Don’t miss our Ask the Locals Travel Guide to Banff, Canada.

There’s no need to rent a car for Whistler/Blackcomb; it’s actually more of a nuisance than a necessity and it’s not advised during the Olympics when public transportation is promised to be widely available.

Breakfast on the Whistler MountaineerThere’s a convenient van from the Vancouver airport to Whistler and a wonderful Whistler Mountaineer train to return. This glass-windowed, domed-top car on the Whistler Mountaineer transformed “transport” to an excursion rather than a simple transfer. During the afternoon Glacier Dome trip, they serve afternoon tea, served with scones and Devon cream plus petit fours.

Even avid photographers taking pictures from the open air cars rush to take their reserved seats when the trays arrive. (From Vancouver, it’s a morning trip and there’s breakfast service.)

British Columbia is as clean and pristine as its reputation; folks are friendly and enthusiastic and the topography is, quite simply, exquisite. So, whether you go to discover a lovely and lively English speaking neighbor or for the excitement of the winter games, enjoy Vancouver, Whistler/Blackcomb and all of B.C.

By Irvina Lew for Irvina Lew is a freelance food and travel writer who specializes in spas worldwide. She is also the author of Romantic Weekends In and Around New York.

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