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The one that didn’t get away

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Ryan Judd consoles himself with the thought that it’s a dry cold, as he patiently waits for a bite.

Brad Knowles doesn’t care much for bananas. Not when he’s fishing, at least.

“Did you bring bananas?” he asks from the driver’s seat.

I check with my son Ryan, sitting across from me in the back of Brad’s truck. No, we didn’t bring bananas. We check our packed lunch. No bananas, although the hot chocolate seems to have spilled.

Bananas will jinx fishing every time,” says Brad, who double checks that his assistant guide, Matt, has not brought bananas. Matt, a bass fisherman from Mississauga – where he’s known to some as “The Bassassassin” – knows better than to bring bananas.

We’re on our way to Blackwater Lake, about an hour out of Whistler, east of Pemberton. From mid-November to late-March, give or take, the 6.5-kilometre lake near D’Arcy is ice fishing country.

6.5-kilometre Blackwater Lake, about an hour out of Whistler, east of Pemberton.

At this time of year, Brad’s company, Pemberton Fish Finder, runs ice fishing tours. “It’s for people who want to escape the Whistler bubble and experience the lakes, wildlife, catch some fish and listen to some stories,” says Brad.

Brad has lots of stories. He grew up in Pemberton and is something of a local celebrity, starring in his own fishing show on Whistler Cable for a while. Together with running a fishing store, Pemberton Fish Finder keeps him busy year round.

My only adult fishing story involves a crab trap and a capsized canoe. I had always assumed ice fishing would involve a flight to Prince George or Edmonton.

Brad Knowles, owner-operator of Pemberton Fish Finder.

Blackwater Lake is idyllic. Serrated peaks loom all around us and under blue sky, the ice is blinding. The air temperature is just below freezing, there’s no wind, and the sun is flirting with the clouds. But for a creek in the distance, the only thing I can hear is my heart beating.

“Australians lose their marbles when they see this,” says Brad. “They ask me, ‘You’re sure we can stand on this?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m 300 pounds, you can stand on this.’”

Brad sets about cutting holes in the ice with a gas-powered auger. He and Matt set us up with rods and we bait the hooks with freshwater shrimp, which are native to the lake. Everyone gets an upturned bright orange bucket and a thermal pad to sit on.

And that’s it, we’re ice fishing.

We immediately get bites. Brad and Matt coach us on setting the hook, otherwise known as the hook-set – a quick upward thrust of the rod before reeling in. One by one though, we lose the bites and rue our bad luck.

“Well there’s a reason it’s called fishing and not catching,” says Brad.

After about an hour, Brad carves out new holes and we spread out. Under his guidance, I switch bait from shrimp to trout roe. Ryan and Matt are several hundred yards away but the air is so still, it’s easy to talk without raising our voices.

A lone whisky jack keeps us company, occasionally stealing a shrimp from the bait bucket, and otherwise mocking us.

A lone whisky jack steals bait and taunts us.

Brad’s been fishing in this region for about 35 years, chasing all five salmon species, plus pike minnows, steelhead, cutthroat, bull, brook, lake and rainbow trout. Together with his dad, Ivan, and his brother, Sheridan, Brad has carved out a living here and now employs his wife in the guiding business while raising three kids.

“There’s not a day I don’t wake up and look at the mountains, excited to go to work,” he says. I can see why. Fish or no fish, Blackwater Lake is quite an office. There’s a small forestry campground nearby with a dozen sites and in summer, lily pads and extensive weed beds flourish here. And somewhere beneath our boots and buckets today are rainbow trout ranging from 10 to 25 inches and weighing as much as six pounds.

Just as I’m beginning to think the shrimp bait looks tasty we decide that it’s lunchtime.

Brad carves pairs of holes a few inches apart and sets up a shelter in seconds. We’re not cold but from inside the shelter the water appears even clearer through holes that take on a luminous quality. “Sometimes you can see the fish before you catch them,” says Brad. For now, we watch our bait descend beyond sight and remain ever hopeful.

No bites but the sandwiches help.

As 2 o’clock nears, Brad suggests we concentrate on a shaded corner of the lake. We exit the shelter and set up one last time, trying to ignore the creeping cold. I start to wonder whether one of us is actually carrying a concealed banana. Then I think back to growing up in the UK. As a schoolboy, I used to accompany friends on night-fishing trips in the Kent countryside. In two years of those fishing trips, I never caught anything but a cider hangover. It occurs to me that not only have I never caught a fish, I’ve never actually seen anyone else catch a fish.

Perhaps I’m cursed?

One rainbow trout, about 10 inches long and just in time for dinner!

I decide not to share this thought with Ryan, and instead concentrate on the hole, which I realize is freezing before my very eyes. Then I’m shaken from my thoughts.

“YEAH!” shouts Brad. I turn just in time to see the rod bend for a moment and a plump rainbow trout flop into Brad’s palm. “No way we were going before we got one,” says Brad as we celebrate the catch. It’s closer to the 10-inch end of the scale and a beautiful looking fish.

Hopeful of more to come we continue fishing for another half an hour, but to no avail. “That’s fishing,” says Brad philosophically as he drops us back in Whistler. Ryan and I both warm up while a friend cooks our catch. It’s more than worth the wait: fresh, flavorful and not even a hint of banana.

nevjudd.com

If you go

For more information about guided ice fishing trips with Pemberton Fish Finder, visit pembertonfishfinder.com.

Do not bring bananas.

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Whistler from the saddle

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It's not Roman Holiday, but Green Lake, Whistler is a good substitute for anyone on a scooter.

It’s not Roman Holiday, but Green Lake, Whistler, is a good substitute for anyone on a scooter.

When brothers Adam and David Vavrik travelled from their native Czech Republic to Whistler on work visas they quickly noticed something about the mountain resort. Most adventure here requires some kind of physical effort. Five years after the Olympics, Whistler still feels like an Olympic village whatever the season. Aside from the hours between midnight and 4 a.m., people here ooze health. A culture based on outdoor pursuits will do that to visitors and residents.

But suppose your shredding days are behind you, yet you still crave a little speed? Or, like me, you can no longer keep up with your teenagers on the hill, but still want some excitement off-piste. Despite being in their 20s and heavily into snowboards and skateboarding, the Vavrik brothers asked themselves the same question.

The answer was Spitfire Scooters, a fleet of 2014 Yamaha BWs and 2013 Honda Giornos, available to rent from the Vavriks’ base at the Summit Lodge Boutique Hotel on Main Street.

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49cc Honda Giornos are sleek, elegant, and run on about $6 of gas a day.

 

In the interests of full disclosure, I’d come for the second annual Whistler Village Beer Festival – four days of brewmaster dinners, cask showdowns, free tastings, obscenely large hangover-themed breakfasts, (thank-you Dubh Linn Gate) and a glorious Saturday afternoon festival in Whistler Olympic Plaza. Getting around to more than 150 beers from 50 breweries had seemed so exciting. But that was on Thursday. By Sunday morning I’d fallen out of love with beer, if only for a day.

The Summit Lodge offers Norco City Glide bikes for guests to borrow free. But with late-summer temperatures still in the high 20s, we were looking for wind in our hair, not sweat. So for the first time in our 40-something lives, my wife Leah and I rented scooters. Leah’s always had this thing about Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, particularly the scene where she rides a Vespa with Gregory Peck through Rome. So like Audrey, she wore a dress and sunglasses. Unlike Gregory, I wore shorts and T-shirt.

With two hours to spare and David Vavrik as our guide, Whistler beyond the village awaited us. After a brief orientation, we test-drove the 49cc Honda Giornos up and down Main Street. Storage under the seats allowed plenty of room for our backpacks, and we wouldn’t be stopping for gas any time soon. You could drive this model all day for about $6, according to David.

Nothing good can come from Beer Jenga.

Nothing good can come from Beer Jenga.

They’re elegant, too, with sleek curves and a cherry-red paintjob. The helmets by contrast, are decidedly un-Audrey Hepburn, but mandatory: Pity – but probably for the best. Soon we were buzzing along Blackcomb Way and up the ever-so winding Glacier Drive, past the tube park and onto the Whistler Sliding Centre. The place was deserted and we spent about 10 minutes walking the track and reminiscing about the 2010 Olympics and Jon Montgomery’s skeleton gold. Skeleton experience programs offer the public a chance to go headfirst, 100 km/h, David informed us. Not today, I thought. Riding a scooter at 50 km/h was more our style.

Riding the Sea-to-Sky Highway to our next stop, Green Lake lookout, allowed us to open up the throttle and push close to the bike’s top speed of 60 km/h. We stopped to admire the view and right on cue, a float plane took off from across the lake and into the cloudless blue sky.

I was glad to be off the highway and onto Alta Lake Road where traffic was scarcer. We passed Rainbow Park on Alta Lake and then on past Nita Lake and Alpha Lake, stopping when we felt the urge to take photos. The advantage of a scooter became more obvious with every kilometer clocked. For an afternoon or day of sightseeing beyond the village, this ride offers great freedom to see so much more of Whistler and its parks and lakes.

The oysters disappeared moments after this photo at Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler.

The oysters disappeared moments after this photo at Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler.

The highway with its fast-moving traffic and sketchy hard shoulder can be a little nerve-racking when you’re on a scooter. On the ride back from Alpha Lake through Whistler Creekside I realized my mid-life crisis – when it inevitably hits – will not feature a Harley Davidson. But I’d rent a scooter again in a heartbeat.

Back in the village, energized by equal parts adrenaline and fresh air, we made like Audrey and Greg and went for cocktails on the patio at the Bearfoot Bistro. A half dozen oysters led to a dozen more, accompanied by Pimm’s Royale for Audrey and a Whistler Grapefruit Ale for Greg.

Turned out Greg wasn’t through with beer after all.

If you go:

Starting May 1, Spitfire rents scooters for $25 an hour; or $120 for 24 hours. Guided tours are $120 (single), $100 (two or three riders), or $80 for four or more riders. Visit spitfirerentals.ca or call 604 938-3686.

Besides being a great, centrally located place to stay, Summit Lodge offers some handy, complimentary extras, such as snowshoes in the winter; bikes in the summer. There’s hot chocolate happy hour, plus smores and roast chestnuts by the pool. The free beer tasting in the lobby during the beer festival was most welcome, too! Visit summitlodge.com or call 1 888-913-8811.

The Bearfoot Bistro can justifiably claim to offer more than just a meal. Learn the fine art of Champagne sabering in the Bearfoot’s wine cellar surrounded by more than 20,000 bottles; brave minus 32 Celsius in a $1,400 Canada Goose, Arctic-ready parka and taste vodkas in the restaurant’s Belvedere Ice Room; or enjoy the Bearfoot’s $68 five-course menu. Details at bearfootbistro.com

This year’s Whistler Village Beer Festival will be from Sept. 17 to 20. Bookmark wvbf.ca for updates.

 

It takes a village to raise a beer festival

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According to Benjamin Franklin, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Benjamin may have been on to something.

According to Benjamin Franklin, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Benjamin may have been on to something.

 

A cultural experience, not a chug fest, is how Liam Peyton describes this weekend’s second annual Whistler Village Beer Festival (Sept. 11-14). That’s not to say the four-day celebration is solely for purists: Far from it.

“There’s something for everyone,” says Peyton, who organizes the festival, which features more than 150 beers from 50 breweries in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Along with Saturday’s main tasting showcase from 1 till 5 p.m. at Whistler Olympic Plaza, there are a broad range of events to immerse guests into beer culture, including beer dinners, seminars, parties and cask showdowns.

The latter particularly appeals to the expat Brit, who hopes his responsibilities hosting more than 4,000 visitors still allow him to attend a showdown or two.

Saturday’s main tasting showcase, from 1 till 5 p.m. at Whistler Olympic Plaza, features more than 150 beers from 50 breweries.

Saturday’s tasting showcase at Whistler Olympic Plaza features more than 150 beers from 50 breweries.

“The cask showdowns feature one-offs, rare brews created for the event,” says Peyton. “You meet the brewmasters, sample the ales and vote on what you like.” The festival hosts three showdowns – Best of the Island, Best of the Mainland, and Best in West (U.S. West Coast breweries).

Cask showdowns are among several new additions to the festival, which is significantly bigger than the 2013 edition.

“Last year we had six events between four venues. This year there are 31 events spread over 11 venues,” says Peyton. He credits several reasons for the growth. “Last year we went from scratch to a sold-out festival in 10 weeks. Some people were skeptical to begin with but then participating venues saw their revenues jump 40 per cent and the 31-degree weather didn’t hurt either.”

Just one of the many interesting T-shirts I'll be wearing at this weekend's Whistler Village Beer Festival.

Just one of the many interesting T-shirts I’ll be wearing at the Whistler Village Beer Festival.

Now familiar with navigating B.C.’s quirky liquor laws and with 12 months to organize this year’s festival, Peyton says he’s confident he’s ahead of the curve. “It’s a little unnerving at times, but we’re far ahead in organization and in ticket sales now compared to where we were this time last year.”

At 27, the transplanted Birmingham native comes by his love of both Whistler and beer honestly, having worked as doorman, barman and manager of The Longhorn Pub before joining Gibbons Hospitality Group in 2009.

The company represents many of Whistler’s best-known pubs and created the annual beer festival to drive more business to the area, as well as forge new partnerships. Top placing breweries in Saturday afternoon’s Best in Fest voting, for instance, win one-year draught contracts to supply local venues. Local hotels are participating, including the Westin Hotel, (westinwhistler.com) which is hosting beer seminars and the Summit Lodge and Spa, (summitlodge.com) which presents nightly beer tastings. The festival also offers a food voucher program, allowing festival-goers to get $5 off meals in local restaurants.

As for Peyton’s favourite brews, IPAs are a good start. After a birthday pilgrimage in April-May to brewing hot spots in Washington, Oregon and northern California, he returned a dedicated fan of Deschutes, Lagunitas and Pyramid breweries.

“For my 27th birthday we stopped at Deschutes Brewery in Portland,” recalls Peyton. “They made me a Black Butte Porter ice cream float as a birthday cake!”

You’ll find all three breweries at the second annual Whistler Village Beer Festival, Sept. 11-14.

  • For festival tickets and a full schedule of events, visit wvbf.ca
Stay thirsty my friends.

Stay thirsty my friends.

Splendor in the snow

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ski out2

Skiing takes on a surreal quality when it’s 28 degrees and you’re wearing a T-shirt. That’s part of the appeal when it comes to skiing Blackcomb Glacier, a time-honoured summer tradition at Whistler.

Most of the shale atop Blackcomb started as mud on the seafloor about 100 million years ago. The place still resembles a beach in July. That’s when summer skiing is in full swing and public displays of nudity are commonplace. OK, not full-on nudity like Whistler in the 60s, but there’s plenty of flesh visible 7,500 feet up on the Horstman Glacier.

I’ve never been summer skiing before and I pack with excited anticipation bordering on paranoia: neck-warmer, gloves, fleece jacket, Under Armour and longjohns compete for space in my backpack with water, emergency chocolate and a camera.

It’s too heavy so I ditch the longjohns and eat my emergency chocolate.

It’s 11 a.m. when I upload on the Wizard Express at the base of Blackcomb. The temperature in the village is about 25 degrees. (Thank goodness I ate the chocolate.)

The first thing I enjoy about glacier skiing is the journey. My skis are stowed on the chair in front; I’m wearing a T-shirt and enjoying the warm mountain breeze. Compared to the winter experience, it’s liberating.

Another tough assignment - but someone has to do it.

Another tough assignment – but someone has to do it.

Above Merlin’s run I spot two deer and on Upper Main Line a solitary bear appears from the bushes. We switch to another quad chair – Solar Coaster Express. The first snow comes into view moments later above a black diamond run called Sorcerer, and there are more banks of white where the Nintendo Super Pipe used to be.

Solar Coaster takes us to the Rendezvous Lodge and the Peak 2 Peak Gondola where a bus awaits to ferry us the short ride to 7th Heaven Express and the last chairlift to the Horstman Glacier. Two T-bars, terrain parks and endless blue skies await.

At the top I find every kind of tourist: adventurous seniors hiking on the shale, international students up for lunch at the Horstman Hut, couples posing for photos at the inukshuk, and parents watching their kids play in the snow. Then there are the skiers and boarders – mostly half my age and seemingly unencumbered by back packs full of winter gear.

Undeterred, I spend the next hour skiing numerous variations of what are essentially two runs to the Horstman T-Bar. It’s where most of the skiers and boarders are funneling and the lineups are surprisingly long. But it’s warm, the views are spectacular and everyone’s happy. Not surprisingly the snow is soft and slushy in places, but I’ve skied on worse in January.

For a while I perch beside the public terrain park and photograph the jumpers whose attempts to defy gravity mostly end in wipeouts. I tell myself I’d try it, but what with the backpack and all; I don’t want to land on my camera, right?

Half-pipe or jump? Photographer Javier Carranza mulls his next move.

Half-pipe or jump? Photographer Javier Carranza mulls his next move.

I stop for lunch at the Horstman Hut and lather on yet more sunscreen, putting extra under my chin and nose – the most vulnerable spots for snow-reflected sunburn. I order a beer and a deli platter of bread, meats, cheese and pickles. From the deck, Black Tusk’s ominous spire is hard to miss in the distance – it’s the kind of day photographers set aside for brochure assignments.

With some effort I step into my skis again and prepare for another run to the Horstman T-Bar. That’s when I notice the Showcase T-Bar has largely emptied. It’s normally reserved for private lessons, like the Dave Murray Ski and Snowboard Camps. With an hour of skiing left till downloading at 3 p.m., I ski across and get the green light from a liftie to ascend.

The only way is down to the Horstman T-Bar and the Showcase T-Bar.

The only way is down to the Horstman T-Bar and the Showcase T-Bar.

It’s only about a 500-foot climb, but the Showcase T-Bar takes me to one of my favourite winter skiing spots, the entrance to Blackcomb Glacier. I seem to have this side of the mountain mostly to myself for the final hour and take full advantage, picking my routes beside the jumps, the half pipe and the inflatable landing spots for aerial gymnasts in training. With a bouncy castle to land on I’d almost consider attempting a jump. Almost.

I leave myself a little time to ski out on Green Line, a narrow strip of snow left among the rocks and the wildflowers beginning to bloom. Twice I almost fall while mesmerized by the epic landscape before me and it’s a relief on my legs to finally board Solar Coaster for the download. A mum and cub are basking on one of Blackcomb’s lower runs. At the bottom, a dozen horse-riders are wending their way uphill.

Within an hour I’ve revived sore muscles in the pools and hot tubs at the nearby Chateau Fairmont Whistler where – as luck would have it – the Mallard Lounge is serving $5 happy hour drinks and free appies. Somehow on reflection, those terrain park jumps don’t seem so daunting.

Maybe next time.

The thin white line. Almost time for apres!

The thin white line. Almost time for apres!

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If you go:

Weather-permitting, glacier skiing on Blackcomb is one of a multitude of summer activities on offer in Whistler. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is in full swing and the Alpine Wonder Routes – a vast network of hiking and running routes – is becoming more accessible with every day the snow melts.

The Peak 2 Peak Viewing Gallery is a new series of videos showcasing construction of the gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb. It’s on a raised walkway in the Peak 2 Peak Terminal on Whistler Mountain. Also new is the Alpine Theatre at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain. Movies with an alpine theme air every 30 minutes.

During our weekend in Whistler, I got to relive my adolescence dancing to The English Beat, part of the free Whistler Presents Concert series. Whistler Olympic Plaza hosts free weekend concerts throughout the summer.

Details of all these activities are at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a few seconds’ walk from the Wizard Express chair and offers numerous summer accommodation packages. For more details, visit www.fairmont.com/whistler/ or call 1 800 606-8244.

Party on in Whistler

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The Dubh Linn Gate begins to fill up at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

It’s 4:20 p.m. on 4/20 in Whistler and the aroma wafting through the village is unmistakeable:  Axe body spray with just a hint of beef jerky. It smells like a high school locker room, which is probably why my 15-year-old son Ryan doesn’t seem to notice. Either that or he’s carrying too much Axe and beef jerky to notice.

The final weekend of Whistler’s ski season is also the final weekend of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. That means all manner of free arts, music, and sports events. It also means free giveaways – Axe, beef jerky, Monster Energy drinks and yoghurt. It’s an odd combination, but a popular one among teens nonetheless.

It makes for an eclectic scene: Sweet-smelling kids amped on caffeine. (Monster drinks are for over-18s, but plenty of parents were indulging their under-18s.) Bandana-wearing dogs fresh from Whistler DogFest, mingling with toddlers and locals mingling with visitors to the beat of G. Love and Special Sauce, (they’re a band). Somehow it all works.

You want some Axe with that beef jerky?

You want some Axe with that beef jerky?

We’ve skied out to the village just in time for Fashion EXPOSED, a fast-paced, high-energy show on a catwalk set up by the main stage. Macklemore’s infectious hit, Thrift Store is booming over the speakers as models come and go every few seconds. G. Love and Special Sauce, the day’s first live act, are up next and pretty soon everyone from the decks of the Garibaldi Lift Company to The Longhorn to the crowd in between are swaying to bluesy hip hop. The lead singer looks like Justin Timberlake and plays a mean harmonica.

Aside from abundant yoghurt and beef jerky, our immediate après options look sparse with lineups at almost all the bars fronting the main stage. Thank goodness for the Dubh Linn Gate where there’s room at the back. Pints of Guinness and a poutine and fries later, we’re back outside for Vancouver’s very own enduring hip hop band, the Swollen Members. They’re a more than capable warm-up act for the ever-popular Big Air event and Monster Energy Shred Show. (Try saying “Shred Show” fast! It’s easier after a Monster Energy drink.)

Lab chills out to G. Love and Special Sauce.

Lab chills out to G. Love and Special Sauce.

As darkness and temperatures fall, pro snowboard riders soar upwards of 70 feet in competition for a $15,000 cheque and the 2013 Big Air title. It’s an impressive finale made all the sweeter by 18-year-old Canadian Maxence Parrot landing a Triple Cork to beat a Norwegian and an American for the victory. As the lineups to the village’s bars and clubs grow ever-longer, we head back to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and find refuge in the Fitzsimmons Pub (The Fitz, as it’s known to locals) opposite the hotel. No lineups, great food and a solid beer list. ($13.75 a pitcher!)

Telus no longer sponsors the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, but that has not diminished the event’s appeal. On the contrary, organizers expanded the WSSF’s arts and culture scene this year. Open daily at the Whistler Conference Centre, State of the Art celebrated the mountain community in a variety of media. Storytelling and improv were the themes of the Mountain Multiplicity Show and the Chairlift Revue. And Vengeance in the Valley, the resort’s inaugural roller derby bout, sold out.

Skiing on Blackcomb continues until late May. Meanwhile golf season starts May 4. Visit fairmont.com/whistler for details of Whistler golf packages, starting at $139 per person.

For everything else Whistler, visit whistlerblackcomb.com.

G. Love's Garrett Dutton treats Whistler to a 'Booty Call'.

G. Love’s Garrett Dutton breaks from ‘Booty Call’ to harmonica.

Written by nevjudd

April 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Whistler celebrates readers and writers

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Sunshine Coast filmmaker Nicolas Teichrob appears at the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Oct. 12-14.

A comfy bed and a good book sound like the perfect antidote to the chilly onset of fall, but organizers of the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival have something less solitary in mind.

From Oct. 12-14, the resort will showcase the art of storytelling with a celebrated lineup of Canadian and international authors. Panel discussions, workshops, and speaking events make up the festival, which also pairs authors with wine and jazz at a Saturday-night gala to be held at the Chateau Fairmont Whistler. The Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre will host the festival’s opening night reception.

Whistler’s festival events have an intimate feel, say organizers, who add that booklovers can interact and connect with top authors from all over North America.

Festival headliner, Alistair MacLeod.

Headlining is Canadian author, Alistair MacLeod, best known for his critically acclaimed collection of short-stories Island as well as his multiple award-winning novel No Great Mischief. Lawrence Hill, author of the international best-seller and prize winning The Book of Negroes will be there, along with short-story author and journalist Zsuzsi Gartner (Better Living Through Plastic Explosives). Also speaking will be young adult writer Susan Juby (Alice, I Think, The Woefield Poultry Collective); non-fiction and fiction writer Margaret Macpherson (Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless, Body Trade); historical fiction novelist, Jack Whyte (A Dream of Eagles, The Templar Trilogy); fiction and poetry writer Miranda Hill (Sleeping Funny) and celebrated poet John Burnside(Black Cat Bone). Local author and festival director Stella Harvey will be releasing her new book, Nicolai’s Daughters.

In 2001, Harvey founded the Whistler Writers Group, otherwise known as The Vicious Circle.

“Our first festival was 20 people in my living room,” laughs Harvey. “We had a guest author – Andreas Schroeder – and a workshop the following day. We were finished by 4:30!”

Harvey invited the poet, novelist and Roberts Creek resident, Schroeder, back for the festival’s 10th anniversary. Another Sunshine Coast resident, Nicolas Teichrob, will appear at this year’s festival. The filmmaker will be part of a panel discussion on writing and film on Oct. 14.

Festival founder, Stella Harvey.

The Whistler Writers Group now has about 150 members and has seen its annual festival grow to a three-day event, attracting internationally acclaimed writers and about 300 participants last year.

But, says Harvey, the festival has lost none of its intimacy.

“One of the things we hear most in evaluations by guests and authors is that intimacy is a great strength of the festival. The fact that you can share lunch or a coffee with the authors and hear about the books they like, or what their motivations are, is definitely appreciated.”

Saturday night’s “Wine, Books and Jazz” event at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a first for the festival, says Harvey, who hopes it will be another way to cultivate that intimacy. “It will be a pub-like setting and a chance to share a drink with authors while listening to good music.”

The New Orleans Ale Stars take the stage with swing-era jazz from 7:30 p.m.

In partnership with the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival is offering “Book and Bed” packages. The full “Book and Bed” package starts at $658 and includes two full event passes (entry to 14 events over the festival weekend) for the festival plus accommodation for two nights, based on two sharing.

For more information, visit www.theviciouscircle.ca and http://www.fairmont.com/whistler/special-offers/other-offers/readers-writers-festival/, or call 1 800 606-8244.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler hosts the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Oct. 12-14.

Whistler spring break for parents: Kids optional

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No child was harmed during the creation of this obviously staged photo. (Really.)

What to do with your kids? It’s the theme of every spring break travel story. We all love our kids, but let’s face it, they cramp our style sometimes.

So how about spring break for parents? Have we not earned a little indulgence?

From the poolside hammocks at the Scandinave Spa in Whistler, yes. From the tranquil cross-country ski trails of Callaghan Valley, certainly. From the excitement found atop a throbbing 4-stroke Bombardier snowmobile, hell yeah!

The best part of a trip can be in the planning, but sometimes it’s easier to leave it to experts. Enjoy Whistler offers personalized service to ensure travellers strapped for time can still enjoy a memorable visit, with or without children. In 72 hours, I drove fast, fired rifles, relaxed in a spa and skied till I dropped. I think I may have even had a better time than my kids.

Some of it was hard work though. Take the Biathlon Experience, for example, a two-hour immersion into the oldest winter sport of them all. At the Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley, adults can try the sport, a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Aside from one regrettable hunting trip in Ireland 20 years ago (the rabbit got away), I’ve never done either. That was soon apparent to my instructor Antoine, who gently coached me through the finer points of skate skiing. In contrast to classic cross-country skis, skate skis are thinner, trickier, and faster.

“Tougher to learn, but easier to master,” said Antoine, who should know. He started 30 years ago, when he was 22 months old.

After some advice on balancing and edging, I began shifting my weight from side to side, achieving a clumsy version of V-skating – no poles, just pushing off with one ski and repeating with the other. We moved on to the classic diagonal stride, coordinating a forward poling arm with the opposite driving leg. Antoine made it look like ballet, all grace and elegance. I looked like Bambi with haemorrhoids.

Ignore the snow, gusty winds, racing heartbeat and the burrito you ate for lunch, and just focus on the grapefruit-size target 50 metres away.

I was exhausted by the time we reached the Biathlon Range, where I at least got to lie down. It was the part I’d been waiting for: Firing a 22-calibre rifle.

Antoine demonstrated, telling me to focus on my breathing, and pointing out that with snow and gusty winds, a racing heartbeat won’t improve my chances of hitting a grapefruit-size target, 50 metres away. I hit five out of five. Would the Whistler Olympic Park really go to such lengths to make me feel good?

“The size of grapefruits, you say?” my wife whispered to me later that evening through the mist of a eucalyptus steam bath at Whistler’s Scandinave Spa. It wasn’t a whisper of hushed reverence; in fact I detected a hint of sarcasm. Talking among guests is strongly discouraged at Scandinave, which offers hydrotherapy and massage packages. The hydrotherapy comprises outdoor baths – some hot, some cold – with a sauna, steam room and solarium.

We followed the hot-cold relaxation sequence three or four times, and aside from the occasional gasp in the Nordic plunge pools, we observed the spa’s code of silence. There was plenty of time to talk, back at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Our kids were making the most of the hotel’s pools and hot tubs, where silence is discouraged.  The hotel is more progressive than most when it comes to children. Not only do its chefs offer a children’s menu that is actually healthy (and delicious), its gym offers guided fitness training for seven to 17-year-olds.

"Yeah, it's Ryan ... wait a second, my dad's taking a picture."

On Blackcomb the next day, my son Ryan explained to me Whistler Blackcomb Live, the new Telus Mobile app. Track your runs using GPS, clock distances travelled, vertical shredded and maximum speeds. As if further proof were needed that Ryan’s cool and I’m not, the app is available on his iPhone, but not on my Blackberry. I was stressed to learn that the app logged Ryan’s fastest speed at almost 80 km/h. But then I’m a 44-year-old dad who skis: As long as Ryan’s mum doesn’t find out, he’ll be fine.

Not that any of us were slowing down the following day. The biggest adrenaline rush of the weekend came courtesy of Canadian Snowmobile Adventures’ Callaghan Cruiser tour. After getting geared up in helmets, gloves and heavy waterproof jackets, our guide Morgan gave us a detailed safety talk about the Bombardier snowmobiles and the conditions ahead. The engine sparked to life, and I was actually a little nervous until Ryan leaned into my ear and told me to step on it.

The Callaghan Cruiser tour may be billed as ‘family friendly’, but I still felt just slightly rebellious whizzing around wide and winding trails in a blizzard. We followed our guide Morgan to a frozen lake near Northair, a former gold mine, where we could really let loose on the wide-open flat.

The snow fell as thick as the traffic we encountered on the drive back to Horseshoe Bay. The backcountry snowmobile route might have been quicker.  Not to mention more fun!

  • Enjoy Whistler specializes in planning and booking the perfect Whistler vacation. Find a lower price within 72 hours of booking your reservation and Enjoy Whistler will match it and refund the difference, or cancel your reservation without penalty. Call 1 888 882-8858 or visit www.enjoywhistler.com
  • For more details about spring-ski packages at Fairmont Chateau Whistler, visit www.fairmont.com/whistler