Mike Branscum traveled to Whistler, British Columbia during the month of May and was shocked by what he found: mountains that were still snow-capped, lakes that were warm enough to swim in, and a thriving outdoor dining scene that beckoned folks away from the splendid nature that surrounded them. It was the best of all worlds.
In this photo essay, Mike graciously shares the secret of springtime in Whistler, and recommends that we make plans to explore the beautiful resort town at a similar time of year so that we can get the most out of all that it offers, too. Check it out!
Whistler is overflowing with outdoor activities and things to do, but many people think of it as primarily a winter destination. Why is going there in the spring so unique?
It’s really no surprise that Whistler is known as a winter destination – even in the summer, snow-capped mountains come into view as you begin to near the town and, if you’re lucky enough to arrive in Whistler Village with clear skies, their immensity consumes you. The mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb – are both accessible by an extensive network of lifts and linked by the record-breaking Peak2Peak gondola. They offer up some of the best terrain for skiing and snowboarding, making the winter season undeniably awesome. But, the town has just as much to offer in the “off-season” too, and an advantage is that areas and activities aren’t quite as crowded.
Spring is an extra special time in town, particularly in the month of May. The upper half of Whistler Mountain is still open for skiing and snowboarding, but the bottom halves of both Whistler and Blackcomb, along with the surrounding areas, are transformed into a summer paradise. Endless hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as an abundance of lakes and rivers, make the area a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts. Many come for the action sports, using the trails and waterways as their playgrounds, while others simply relax and soak in all of the area’s beauty. Some visitors return year after year just to enjoy the village life: patio meals, bustling bars and great shopping all against the backdrop of endless mountains and trees.
In a single day, I was able to experience the snow at the top of Whistler, watch bikers ride down the trails mid-mountain, and enjoy a quick bike ride to the lake. To cap off the day, I indulged in a delicious dinner on one of the many patios in the village. It was a quintessential spring day in Whistler.
So people were swimming at the bottom of the mountain while the summit was covered in snow? What was it like to go between those two extremes within the span of one gondola ride?
It’s a pretty surreal experience to say the least. The gondola feels like a little time capsule of sorts. As it gains altitude, the air becomes colder and the views more expansive. You arrive at the top expecting to feel the same warmth you experienced at the bottom, only you walk out of the station onto snow – a true shock to the senses.
I think a gondola ride to the top of the mountain and back down again is a great way to orient yourself upon arriving in Whistler. It gives you a true sense of how special the place really is; it’s a place where there is something for everyone, truly.
Tell us a bit about GO Fest, which was happening while you were there.
GO Fest – the Great Outdoors Fest – is pretty new; this was only its second year. Held in May, it highlights what makes Whistler such a compelling place to be in the spring and reminds visitors and locals alike that there is much appreciate with the change in seasons.
GO Fest offers a packed schedule of events, ranging from extreme kayak and mountain bike racing to movie-viewings and dance performances. It really is a festival for everyone, with events for all ages and activity levels. In one day, I found myself enjoying fresh eats at the farmer’s market in the morning, riding some cross-country bike trails in the afternoon and attending a documentary film premier in the evening – all a part of the festival schedule.
There is an amazing amount to do during the day. Does anyone have any energy left after the sun goes down? What is the village like?
Believe it or not, yes! The amount of energy buzzing about in Whistler is truly incredible. The village is always bustling, packed with vibrant shops and quality restaurants, each one filled with happy customers at all hours of the day.
In fact, there’s a term you’ll see and hear often in Whistler, Aprés, which refers to the time in the afternoon when folks come down from the mountain, often exhausted and covered in dirt, and fill up the patios to enjoy a cold beverage and swap stories. It’s my favorite time of day; something about the last bits of energy and adrenaline coming off the mountain and spreading across the village. It is said that the first ones on the mountain are often the last ones at the bar. Whistler and its visitors never sleep.