Spring Skiing in British Columbia

Majestic beauty and a graceful city await you in a Canadian gay wedding haven

I kept expecting that a big face full of snow was going to snap me out of my reverie. Day after glorious day—both snowy and sunny—I tripped into my boots and lugged myself onto the mountain to learn to ski. But, everyday both the instructors and my fellow resort guests—a crowd that was fit, friendly, beautiful and hip—kept insisting, “No worries. We’ve all been beginners, so no worries, just have fun.”

And so I did.

Over and over, I hopped into the gondolas and chair lifts and rode all the way into heaven.

I was in British Columbia—and given the exceptionally long spring ski season there, that lasts well into May, or later—you can be too.

We were enjoying the twin ski resorts of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, a two-hour drive north of Vancouver, accessible by rental car—or conveniently, shuttle bus—along a rugged Pacific coast road. There was a bevy of us traveling together, so each evening we had stories ranging from novice to expert ski experiences.

A resort settlement is nestled between the two mountains and there are a wide array of hotels, motels and condos to choose from. Rent a big place and fill it with friends, make fires at night, cook big breakfasts in the morning, ski all day and gorge on great food at night. Or flop in a tiny motel, eat fast food and free up more of your time for the slopes. The choices are vast. During the day while you are high in the mountains, stoke your fires with hot beaver tail pastries or chili dogs and french fries Canadian-style, with hot gravy.

When you are up on the trails, it seems that wherever you look you can’t help but gasp. Those mountains create wonder and solace, balanced as ever on a ski trip by the endorphin the exercise and thrill generate.

Whistler Mountain hosts a daily trek called “Fresh Tracks.” Take the gondola up to Round House Lodge at 7:30 a.m., gulp down a hot breakfast and join about 200 skiers who pay a mere $15 Canadian to capture first light on the untouched mountain.

Another run not to be missed is the glacier trail on Blackcomb. This site never loses the snow and is therefore deep and glorious. To reach it you have to grab onto a T-bar that drags you to the very top of the mountain. From there it is about a 75-yard hike to access the glacier. Once you get up there, it is a vast, wide-open, treeless bowl that feels like moonscape. You can ski quickly the six miles to the bottom for 25 minutes, which is unheard of with downhill mountains, but my bet is that you will stop to absorb the scenery—and stabilize your heart rate.

For diversions from skiing—beyond, of course, munching and shopping for hip ski togs—check out the custom snowboards and skis at a factory called Prior. They are well beyond what you might normally zoom around on and they are all hand-made in Whistler by local guys. Buzz by their shop with your own artwork and in a matter of weeks you are riding your own creation.

Or brave the Ziptrek, a really scary metal “zip-line” that runs a linked course all across the valley. You don a harness, clip to the line and zip over trees and across glaciers. This is not for the faint of heart and take care, the wind is whipping and very cold. Unlike the case when you are skiing, you make no heat riding a wild metal clothesline.

British Columbia—the area Whistler area in particular—has become a haven for gay weddings since the province legalized equal marriage rights. Some couples choose from among an array of tiny chapels; others opt for the top of the slopes to declare their love. The place literally vibrates with romance, so even if you arrive single, perhaps you’ll find the mate of your dreams schussing downhill.

After your torso and calves have had the workout you can handle, remember there is more to see in British Columbia beyond the impressive mountains. On the drive back to Vancouver, stop in the hamlet of Brackendale, home to the world’s largest bald eagle colony. Descending from Whistler on Highway 99, you will see a turn off for Brackendale and a hand carved wooden sign pointing to the eagles’ nests. The colony is thought to include close to 2,000 soaring, swooping birds along the Squamish River. Also make time for a stop at the Brackendale Bistro for its spinach and roasted garlic soup that will warm your soul.

Vancouver, which is ocean-wrapped and snow-capped, is home to Western Canada’s largest gay and lesbian community, not to mention what one friend described as the world’s biggest metrosexual population. The gay community is centered around two distinctly different neighborhoods—the West End, home to many gay men, and Commercial Drive, which is a center of lesbian life in the city. Xtra West, a free gay and lesbian newspaper readily available, particularly in the West End, contains community and event listings as well as a complete bar roundup.

Yaletown, a former warehouse district, is now filled with great shopping, chic bistros and a luscious spa. Skoah bills itself as a facials-only spa, but hands, feet and neck rubs are also thrown in and combine to rally your skin back from windburn.

Other highlights of the city include Granville Island, the Vancouver Museum, Stanley Park, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the aquarium, all accessible by the city’s impressive trolley system. Vancouver is also known for its fine seafood restaurants, its sophisticated wine palette and a vibrant live-jazz scene.

BRITISH COLUMBIA: THE ESSENTIALS

For resources specific to the Whistler/Blackcomb ski region, visit myWHISTLER.com.

Information on rentals, from motel and hotel rooms to condos, consult ResortQuest Whistler at resortquestwhistler.com or 604-938-6699. High-end accommodations are available at whistlerpremier.com or 604-93206826.

Information on the Prior custom boards and skis factory is available at priorsnowboards.com or 877-93-PRIOR. Factory tours are conducted Tuesday and Saturday at 5 p.m. For more information on the Ziptrek or other local ecotours, visit ziptrek.com or call 604-938-6392.

Dining highlights in Whistler include Sachi Sushi at 604-935-5649 and Umberto’s Italian Restaurant at 604-932-5858 or 604-932-4442.

For general information on the province and on the city of Vancouver, visit:

helloBC.com

gayvancouver.net

vancouver.hm/gay.html

gayvan.com

Vancouver dining highlights include:

Bin 941 Modern Tapas, for inspired, if tiny courses, at 941 Davie Street, 604-683-1246;

Rain City Grill, with Pacific coast specialties, at 1193 Denman Street, 604-685-7337;

Urban Thai, at 1119 Hanover Street, 604-408-7788

La Gavroche, for fab and friendly French, at 1616 Alberni Street, 604-685-3924.

Skoah, where you will receive personal training for your windburnt skin, at 1011 Hamilton Street, 604-642-0200 or skoah.com.

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