At Home In the World - Canada

Whistler, British Columbia

Olympic Heights
Robert Carey lets the games begin

After landing in Vancouver from New York City last autumn, I was not exactly jazzed for the impending two-hour drive that would complete the journey to the resort village of Whistler, British Columbia. But come the end of the first hour, I realized that it was turning out to be the most scenic airport transfer I'd ever taken.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway first took us through the Cascade Mountain range. These are among the youngest mountains in North America, belonging to the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt, which are also the most active. (Currently, none of the Canadian Cascades are active, but you may have heard of their U.S. cousin, Mount St. Helens.) Such is the natural beauty of the these lush mountains abutting the west coast, which rise steeply from countless deep-blue inlets of the Pacific Ocean, that a two-hour drive can be mesmerizing.

By the time our group of writers arrived at the Fairmont Whistler Resort at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain—which will be a focal point of the 2010 Winter Olympics—I was almost sorry to have to give up my window seat. But thanks to Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, in conjunction with the consortium of golf courses collectively operating as Golf Whistler (Chateau Whistler, Whistler Golf Club, Nicklaus North, and Big Sky) we writers had nothing but panoramic mountain and valley views awaiting us over the next four days of play.

First, though, we explored the 28,000 square feet of meeting space at the 550-room Fairmont Chateau Whistler, next to which lies not only a charming, upscale, family-friendly village but also the many lifts that take skiers to what are often regarded as the best ski runs in North America. And at the top of the main lift is the 50,000-square-foot Roundhouse Lodge that accommodates 1,200 for cocktail receptions with incredible views.

With the business end complete, it was time for golf. Chateau Whistler, Whistler Golf Club, and Nicklaus North are all within a 10-minute drive of the Fairmont, while Big Sky is about 40 minutes. As for the experience, let's just say that watching each shot fly towards the green—against an all-consuming mountain backdrop—is a special treat for a city boy.

The second-most-memorable highlight of the trip was the 10-minute helicopter ride that took us from the 18th green of Chateau Whistler, over the mountain range, and right to the first tee of Big Sky. The most memorable highlight: The return trip, where the pilot brought us over the massive blue-hued glacier atop Blackcomb Mountain.

But with the Winter Olympics now just five years down the road, things are heating up at the Whistler ski resorts. Construction on the Whistler Sliding and Nordic centers has already begun, with construction of the Athletes Village to begin soon. The new, 82-suite Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre may be opening as we speak, and the Crystal Lodge has added 22 rooms in a new wing. The Whistler Village Resort will complete its upgrades this summer, and maybe get a new flag. Next year, the 77-unit Nita Lake Lodge will open with 4,000 square feet of meeting space and 22 luxury villas nearby. All of this is a short distance away from Whistler's dedicated conference center, the Telus Centre.

Needless to say, Whistler is a sports paradise, where year-round activities include whitewater rafting, hiking, bike and horseback riding; and for the truly adventurous, ziplining at Cougar Mountain this summer. In ziplining, individuals can glide 200 feet over the trees and freefall at 50 mph—all perfectly safe, of course. Sounds like a teambuilding event to me.

On the road back to Vancouver, I looking forward to a rewind of the beautiful scenery, but instead, we left in the evening, surrounded by velvety darkness. Before departing for New York, however, I had the opportunity to stay at the 393-room Fairmont Vancouver Airport, a beautiful year-old property with 7,000 square feet of meeting space, a concierge level (Fairmont Gold) and, of all things, a fish valet to help sportfishers store the ones that didn't get away.

So that was my trip to Whistler. Try it, and if any in your group grumble that it's a long way to go, tell them that might be—and that they can thank you later.