Find Heaven and Ski Fantastic at Whistler Resort

Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

You can ski on runs named Fantastic and 7th Heaven in this Western Canadian village next month while Calgary hosts the Winter Olympics.

You may also try Whiskey Jack or Ego Bowl or Southern Comfort, down the Highway from Heaven, among the more than 180 major trails on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains around Whistler Village, 70 miles north of Vancouver in British Columbia.

With more than 5,000 feet of vertical skiing, the greatest lift-serviced vertical rise in North America, the four-season Whistler Resort will be a destination for skiers of all abilities during this Olympic winter.

Skiing at Whistler started Nov. 26 and now has a base depth of about three feet, which assures good skiing whether you are on the Fantastic beginners slope or booming down out of 7th Heaven with the experts.

World Cup Events

Many of the Olympic competitors will be coming from Calgary to Whistler for the World Cup Downhill Championships on March 5. The first week of March will be a World Cup festival with opportunities to "meet the racers."

There will be special events almost weekly throughout the winter, from celebrity competitions to junior ski races and Dave Murray's Masters Camp program.

Whistler has three new high-speed quad chairs: Wizard Express, Solar Coaster and 7th Heaven. The chairs have reduced to 15 minutes what had been a 45-minute ascent to mountaintop Rendezvous Restaurant.

The new Glacier T-bar on the Horstman Glacier opens what also will be the largest summer ski area in North America, with June-to-October skiing.

The Whistler/Blackcomb ski area now has 25 lifts, including a gondola plus eight double and nine triple chairs. Pony Trail is one of the oldest runs, originally cut by Indians hired to transport supplies by packhorse.

Cross-Country Trails

There are more than 15 miles of cross-country trails that begin within walking distance of the village center. My wife and I have played the 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course in the summertime, and made our own Nordic trail across it after a new snowfall.

Whistler Village has become a world-class resort. More than 30 hotels, lodges, condo complexes and pensions are within walking distance of lifts.

Nine-story Delta Mountain Inn is the largest facility with 161 rooms. Some rooms have a Jacuzzi for two in a room and a fireplace. Some have a mountain view. Beneath the rooms, a large Jacuzzi steams in the snow next to a heated outdoor pool.

International Lodge on Village Green is Whistler's newest full-service hotel, with 96 guest rooms, two suites, saunas, an open-air whirlpool, restaurant and piano bar.

The Blackcomb Lodge on Village Square has 72 units, most with fireplaces and many with balconies, and the popular Araxi's Restaurant.

Also in the village are Whistler Village Inn, Mountainside, Tantalus, Nancy Greene's, Fitzsimmons Creek, Whistler Creek, Whistler Resort & Club, Crystal and Carleton and other luxury lodges.

There are smaller delights like Haus Heidi Lodge, Eidelweiss Pension and Chalet Louise, each with four deluxe units and a sauna.

Clock Tower has a village clock tower to guide you to its 15 guest units. There's a sauna, restaurant, bar and shops on the premises.

Whistler on the Lake is on the shore of Alta Lake, close to the golf course. Gondola Village is a mini-village of one-bedroom condominiums at the base of the gondola. Highland Vale Inn, with its highly rated dining room, has 118 guest rooms and suites next to the gondola base.

International Flavors

Some 30 area restaurants reflect an international flavor. Pascal Tiphine brought cuisine from the south of France to Sundial Restaurant in Mountainside Lodge.

Mario came from Spain to Il Caminetto di Umberto restaurant in Whistler. Toshi Saito brought sushi traditions from Tokyo to Whistler's Sushi Village. Rolf Gunter came from the Black Forest of Germany to Whistler's Creek House. The Cantina at gondola base offers Mexican food. And Isabelle's at Nancy Greene's Olympic Lodge has continental cuisine.

On one dine-around experience, we started with Tarama mousse cheese at Club 10, went on to lemon and vodka prawns at Stoney's, soup and salad specialties of the house at Araxi's, hot cheese fondue at the Sundial, and Greek souvlakia and moussaka at Nasty Jack's.

Whistler magazine is an invaluable guide to the resort community. Also look for "The Whistler Story" by Anne McMahon at village bookstores. She takes you back to 1913, when newlyweds Myrtle and Alex Phillips came to open what is still remembered as Rainbow Lodge near the base of today's gondola.

For the 90-minute drive from Vancouver, follow Highway 99 along the scenic route past Horseshoe Bay and Squamish, and the coastal grandeur of Howe Sound. Check weather forecasts first. There's daily train and bus service between Vancouver and Whistler.

Double accommodations at hotels and lodges this winter are from $80 Canadian (about $62 U.S.) to $110 (about $85 U.S.),and from $85 (about $65 U.S.) to $140 (about $108 U.S.) for condominium studio units.

The Central Reservations telephone number in Whistler is (604) 932-4222.

Check with your travel agent for winter vacation packages that include air fare to Vancouver, accommodations and lift tickets.

The combined lift ticket for both mountains is $31 Canadian (about $24 U.S.) A five-day ticket for both mountains is $135 (about $105 U.S).

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