Let a local show you beyond the iconic white peaks of Whistler. Discover a fairytale hotel made of ice and a city where you can snowshoe into the wild after dinner. If you like an epic white winter, you’ll love Canada’s most magical secrets...
“I love standing at the top of Whistler when the sun hits the slopes,” says local freelance photographer and adventurer, Christie Fitzpatrick.
“I like to take the first Peak Chair up Whistler in the morning – the ride is as steep as a roller-coaster and when the last section reveals the volcanic peak called Black Tusk, it’s so dramatic it feels like you’ve been lifted into a movie. For me, these British Columbia mountains are paradise: blue sky, tonnes of powder, perfect runs. Whistler Bowl is my favourite for some of the most challenging and playful lines in Whistler – you get everything from beautiful turns to Volkswagen Beetle-sized bumps to jump over. The snow on the black diamond Shale Slope is so deep that people cheer and tap their poles when they see you drop in.
“There are more than 200 marked trails for all different levels of skier or snowboarder spread across the two mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb so the resort never seems that busy. But if you want to feel like the only person on earth, a heli-skiing tour with Extremely Canadian can take you out over 174,000 hectares of big mountain terrain to ski untouched back country with a guide. The team at Mabey Ski is the best at creating bespoke adventures that will blow your mind: you can go ice fishing on a frozen lake or even camp overnight in the back country. Closer to Whistler village, the Vallea Lumina lightshow illuminates the giants of the old-growth forest at night. You walk through the trees on a multimedia journey, following the story of two lost hikers. When snow starts falling, it feels like you’re inside a snow globe. Kids love it.
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“Whistler is just as magical off the slopes. At Scandinave Spa, you can bask in woodfired and Finnish saunas, steam rooms and open-air baths surrounded by woods. I love the no-phones rule: it’s absolute peace. But the energy in the village’s bars and restaurants is also amazing. I like The Raven Room for a Negroni before dinner at Bearfoot Bistro. Between courses, taste vodka sub-zero style in the bistro’s Ketel One Ice Room or sabre champagne in the wine cellar. Everyone has to do that at least once.”
If you like the magic of Whistler in winter, you’ll love…
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
You’ll love… seeing the brightest Northern Lights
You’re in prime position to see the not-so-elusive-around-here Aurora
Borealis in the Yukon. On an adventure with Northern Tales, go off the grid at the luxury Northern Lights Resort & Spa, which is 20 minutes beyond the small city of Whitehorse. Spend bright days snowshoeing with guides or sledding through virgin pine forest with happy huskies. As dusk descends, keep looking up to catch the first threads of green, purple and red pirouetting across the sky. Book a glass-dome chalet to continue watching from your bed.
Local tip: At Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs, a 40-minute drive from the lodge, you can recline in volcanically heated mineral waters, gazing at the lights through rising curls of steam until 11pm.
You’ll love… dog sledding through epic wilderness
Your senses will expand in southern Alberta’s Bow Valley. As you cut through the snow behind a team of huskies, corridors of towering green forest break open to glaciers coloured blue, cloudy grey and every shade of white. Lakes frozen into solid crystal stretch out to mountains bigger than you can imagine. But the only sound for miles? Joyful yips from the dogs pulling under your reins – and maybe your own heartbeat. On a mushing adventure with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours, your guide will hand over the steering so you can pretend you’re out here all alone. If you’re travelling with the family, you can opt for an instructor-driven tour (kids aged five and under ride for free) so you can focus on sharing the adventure. This is one wonderland experience they will never forget.
Local tip: Stay in cosy mountain style at Paintbox Lodge in Canmore. Owners Sara Renner and Thomas Grandi are Olympic skiers and can offer tips on local spots that fit your ski or boarding skills.
Vancouver, British Columbia
You’ll love… snowshoeing in the city
Cloaked in white-tipped fir forest, Grouse Mountain rises steeply into the sky, straight out of Vancouver’s northern suburbs. In a 20-minute drive, you can swap the humof downtown’s theatres and eat streets for the crunch of fresh fallen snow on guided snowshoeing adventures into the wild. The Discovery Snowshoe tour is an easy wander for first-timers but delivers epic views. To lose yourself in the folklore of a silent forest bathed in moonlight, strap on a headlamp for a night-time walk. If you’re up for more adrenaline, slip on the skis for night runs down slopes that seem to glow in the dark. You can also take children for a spin on the 8000-square-foot ice-skating pond – the only mountaintop outdoor skate pond in lower mainland Canada – into the evening.
Local tip: Be early for the night tours. Hop the Skyride gondola to the top of the mountain for a sunset hot chocolate at Altitudes Bistro as Vancouver’s lights spark up below.
You’ll love… sleeping in an ice palace
At Hôtel de Glace, the only hotel in North America made entirely of ice, cosy igloo rooms and grand suites with architectural columns and intricate friezes are carved fresh each season (January to March). Watch the light thrown from your crackling fireplace sparkle on the icy ceiling while wrapped tight inside an arctic-approved sleeping bag on your bed.
Local tip: The fairytale hotel is only 20 minutes from the culture capital of Québec City and presides over Canada’s biggest snow playground. Explore the city’s French-speaking cuisine scene and then go skating, tubing or snow rafting with your family.
Image credits: Christie Fitzpatrick/@gnarstie (Christie Fitzpatrick standing above Blackcomb Peak).