Whistler, British Columbia, Canada: a brilliantly famous village known for it’s world class skiing, astronomically expensive real estate, and beautiful mountain views. Oh, and it was also the host to most of the snow events for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics! But is that all there is to do in Whistler? Can you spend three days in Whistler without skiing, or worse yet, snowboarding? As a matter of fact, there is a ton to do in Whistler that doesn’t involve athleticism, balance, or even going outdoors! Welcome to my Guide to Things to do in the Whistler Arts and Culture scene, for the anti-skiier!
(Disclaimer: The last time I was on a snowboard I was 17 and I dislocated my shoulder. The last time I was on skis I was 8 and I skied straight into the side of a building. My father thought it was hilarious. I am clearly still bitter towards snow sports in general).
Every year, thousands of tourists and locals alike flock to Whistler to hurl themselves down snow covered mountains in a variety of ways. But what if, like me, the idea of being uncomfortably cold and constantly on the razor’s edge of mortal injury doesn’t sit so well. What is there to do in Whistler off the slopes? To find out, my Mom, who is even less likely to get on a pair of skis than me, and I took a few days out of our busy lives to revisit Whistler, an easy trip from our home in the Lower Mainland.
Attractions Between Vancouver and Whistler
The Sea to Sky Gondola
The Sea to Sky Gondola is a relatively new addition to the fleet of British Columbia tourist attractions. Opening in 2015, the gondola is located near Squamish, B.C. about half way between Vancouver and Whistler. The entry sits right off the Sea to Sky highway, so you truly can not miss it.
The Sea to Sky Gondola takes you from practically sea level to literal sky elevations, climbing 885 meters in around 10 minutes. Scared of heights? This might not be for you, but the ride up is surprisingly smooth with very little swing of the gondolas, and once you are at the top the views are phenomenal!
Once at the top of the gondola you are at Summit lodge, a classic tourist venue with fine dining, gift shops, and some olden day photographs on the walls. What shines about Summit Lodge are the views. The surrounding Coastal mountains and the front seat view out to Howe Sound are out of this world.
From Summit lodge there is a plethora of hikes around the area, leading out with varying levels of difficulty to even more lookouts. If you haven’t had enough heights for one day, you can walk across the suspension bridge that gives even more of a perspective on how high you are.
Not into the Gondola? You can also hike up to Summit Lodge, following a trail underneath the gondola. We saw a few people on the trail, and even to me who enjoys putting my body through needless physical exertion it looked bonkers.
Britannia Mine Museum
The Britannia Mine was a working mine through a good portion of the 20th century, only closing it’s operation of extracting ores, as well as gold and silver, as late as 1974. Over 50 million tonnes of ores have come out of Britannia’s 210km of underground tunnels, making this one kind of incredible National Historic Site.
The Britannia Mine is now a museum, where visitors can take a 45 minute underground tour in the mine train, visit the museum exhibits, and even try their hand at mining themselves in the gold panning pavilion. Most notably for those passing by, is Mill 3, the massive roadside mill that processed so many tonnes of ore and serves as an excellent landmark to this day. Many credit this impressive structure for securing the National Historic site badge of honour!
Best Places to Stay in Squamish BC
Sandman Hotel and Suites Squamish
Sea to Sky Hotel
Mountain Retreat Hotel
Squamish Adventure Inn
Whistler, British Columbia – Best Things to Do in the Summer
After an enjoyable time exploring the gondola, Mom and I made way for Whistler, where we were going to stay with our lovely friend Bridgit. Bridgit is originally from Ontario, and though she says she likes Ontario, she has clearly chosen the light side of the force and joined the ranks of proud British Columbians. Like many Whistler dwellers, Bridgit was drawn to Whistler by it’s many outdoors adventures: skiing, snowboarding, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, canoeing, and who knows what else. Seriously, Whistler is full of cool people from other less fun places. Bridgit and her friends take advantage of all of the great outdoors possibilities that Whistler has to offer. Mom and I were there to do the opposite, to check out all of the indoor activities in Whistler!
Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre
First up was the Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre. The cultural centre is a gorgeous building housing a fine tribute to the two cultures of the two separate but peaceful Aboriginal bands in the Whistler area. These two First Nations communities, the Squamish and the Lil’wat, have lived in the Whistler area for centuries, and though very different in their cultures, share a deep love and connection with the land and the beautiful mountains they call home.
Not large, but with great quality and depth, the Cultural Centre hosts guided tours every hour. Mom and I definitely recommend a tour. You can wander on your own, but with the free tour, you see a short video, you get a more thorough explanation of the arts and exhibits, plus at the end you go into the long house and make a cedar bracelet! Who doesn’t love leaving a Whistler tourist attraction with some cedar swag!
Audain Art Museum
Another must see in Whistler is the newly opened Audain Art Museum. Now, I’m not normally much into art museums, I tend to get bored and my back starts to hurt and I get hungry and then I start to whine. Clearly, Mom made me go, but I was glad she did. The Audain Art Museum kept my interest, so that is really saying something.
The brand new building is gorgeous, and surrounded by forest, giving the feeling of modern seclusion. Inside, the galleries play host to the vast collection that the Audain family has collected over the years, ranging from exquisite Emily Carrs to E.J. Hughes classics to an absolutely stunning collection of Pacific Northwest First Nations art. There is a massive cedar welcome wall, carved to tell a tale, as well as fantastic masks jewelry, sculptures, and smaller carvings, all showing the great diversity of First Nations art from British Columbia. There are also travelling exhibits that go through the gallery, when we were there we saw some Mexican modernists and urban photography.
In our down time, we wandered the cutesy Whistler Village and sat by Green Lake with wine and our books. Whistler might be the land of adventure, but it is also wonderfully tranquil and serene, somewhere to just unwind.
Best Places to Stay in Whistler BC
Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Pemberton Valley Lodge
* Note: Accommodation in Whistler is famous for being expensive, especially in high season. I recommend you also check out AirBnB for deals, as well as checking out Squamish and Pemberton accommodation options.
Canoeing in Whistler: The River of Golden Dreams
Now, I know that this post is all about the non-athletic things to do in Whistler, but we did do one active activity, and maybe that was our downfall. On our last evening in town, Bridgit said that we were going to go and paddle the River of Golden Dreams with a few of her friends. Ok, that sounds simple and peaceful. Now, disclaimer. I have paddled a canoe before, but always on open patches of water, never navigating any kinds of turns, or depth. Teaser…
We all arrived at Alta Lake and got into the water around 7:30, a little late, our first mistake. We should have been there a bit earlier, but there were still a few folks out there in their fishing kayaks and what have you.
Bridgit and I were going to paddle the canoe while Mom sat like Cleopatra. Bridgit’s boyfriend and two other friends were going to be on paddleboards and a kayak. We all cruised across the lake, heading north for the start of the River of Golden Dreams, which I know, gives the illusion of urine floating through streams of clouds.
Once we got into the ‘river’, which is more of a well flowing creek, we realized that with some interesting weather the height and the speed of the river had changed demonstrably since the last time anyone from the crew had done this adventure.
With the increasing speeds of the river, Bridgit gave me a quick How-To of following her canoeing commands, which I promptly forgot when push came to shove. I do love a rush, and I did enjoy hopping some rapids and taking some corners in that canoe. But then we came to a turn that was…unyielding.
The paddleboards went through first, while we in the canoe and the solo kayaker, an 8.5-month pregnant woman, gathered our nerve. We were tucked into a pull out in the river, and knew we were in trouble when we found how difficult it was to work against the current to head downstream.
Once into the current, we were pushing trying to steer clear of a felled tree, but with those currents and my inexperience, we were done for! Over that canoe went, into the freezing water we tumbled! Bridgit was in the back and was able to hop out pretty quick, but Mom and I were in the middle of the river and pretty stunned this was happening.
Let’s bear in mind that my Mom is in her mid-60’s and only learned to swim 4 years ago. Unexpectedly being in freezing cold water is not really her forte, nor is it anyone’s really!
We held onto the canoe until it took us to a small bank where we grabbed onto some brush on the edge. I was holding onto Mom, trying not to drown her, while we were both working to gain footing against that current. After what seemed like ages (it was probably 15 seconds) Bridgit’s boyfriend Brian reached us and was able to heave Mom onto the edge. I then crawled up myself and took some deep breaths of waterless air.
Next up was finding everything that had been in and around the canoe: paddles, lifejackets (which we were not wearing but sitting on), and the cooler. Also missing was the canoe itself, as it had sunk and pinned itself neatly on the bottom of the River of Golden Dreams. Oh, and by this time, it was around 8:30pm and totally dark. This is why Mom and I don’t do adventurous things together and instead go to book themed hotels overlooking the ocean…
Soaking wet and freezing cold, Mom and I were invited into the home of a kindly family who live right on that turn of the river. We sat in their lovely kitchen warming up and drinking tea while the Whistler’ites did some a duty canoe rescue mission. Did I feel guilty about not helping? Yes. But I had my elderly mother to care for… right? We were told by the family who took us in for an hour that we won the prize of being the first people they had pulled out of the river that year. Yay us!
Huge shout out to Sue Kydd, who was a total trooper through the entire episode. I’m lucky to have a mother that does not go hysterical and calms quickly, once she can breathe normally again.
Thankfully, the canoe, the lifejacket and the paddles were all recovered, all that was lost was the beer, the lid to the cooler, and the left sandal off both me and Bridgit. Which means we no longer had a full set between the two of us. Did we perhaps lose a bit of dignity too? Maybe, but the experience has now turned into a legend, with Brian’s nickname becoming Gilbert. Anybody know Anne of Green Gables when Gilbert rescued Anne from the Lake of Shining Waters after her boat sprung a leak? That is basically what happened, just less romantic. If you don’t know Anne of Green Gables, well, I just don’t know about you…
3 Days in Whistler, British Columbia
Spend a few days in Whistler and you will not regret it! Unless you drown, but that probably won’t happen to you. There is so much to do in Whistler, you don’t need to be a ski jumper or even into snow at all. There are so many beautiful views to be had and things to do in Whistler that any person with any interest can easily be amazed. Check out the arts and culture scene, explore the First Nations culture, and share new experiences with your favourite people.