IF IT'S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE SNOWING IN SASKATCHEWAN
CANADA’S TOP WINTER DESTINATIONS
From Whistler to Banff to Montreal, this winter’s best places to ski, snowboard—and even surf—in Canada.
Winter is Canada’s longest season, and growing up on the Canadian prairie gave me plenty of time to perfect all outdoor activities. Skating rinks froze naturally. Ice forts and cross-country ski tracks stayed in place for months. Toboggans launched like rocket ships down frozen riverbanks. Sleigh rides took place right on the streets. One of my first jobs was with Travel Manitoba. After that, I spent my career as a tour operator for Canadian-based Butterfield & Robinson until I left a few years ago to start my own private tour business, Gray & Co.
Through my work in active travel I’ve winter surfed near Tofino, gone ice canyoning near Banff, even snow golfed at Sun Peaks. What follows is my carefully curated list of favorites culled from more than 80 noteworthy Canadian winter destinations, crossing the continent from west to east.
Whistler and Blackcomb
North of Vancouver
The new and panoramic PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, a mind-blowing 2.7-mile-long, 11-minute ride, connects Whistler, where this year’s Winter Olympic Games were held, to Blackcomb. Whistler is the largest ski area in North America, with more than 8,100 acres of tree and glacier skiing, 200-plus marked trails, and 37 chair lifts. The runs off the Crystal chair are not to be missed. For snowboarders, any of the four terrain parks are a must. Blackcomb’s Whistler Sliding Centre offers bobsled and skeleton rides on the world’s fastest and most technical course. Outside town, Whistler Olympic Park grooms 43 miles for classic and skate skiing as well as snowshoeing. The guides to get, who know the mountains inside out, are at Extremely Canadian. For personal instruction, world ski champion Lauralee Bowie has opened a ski school (lessons, from $240; 888-263-6666; skiadventures.net), and expert instructors Suzie Black and Matt Mohr can be booked through WhistlerBlackcomb.com.
Après-ski, the very well planned pedestrian village has fun shops, among them Canadian-based Roots, lululemon athletica, and local Rogers chocolates. CAN-SKI carries all the best gear and luxe brands like Prada. Top restaurants worth a visit are Araxi, Barefoot Bistro, Sushi Village, and the Rim Rock Café, which is in nearby Creekside. The Fairmont Château Whistler (rooms, from $215; 4599 Chateau Blvd.; 800-606-8244; fairmont.com), at the base of Blackcomb, is a favorite among families. Nearby lies the sophisticated yet low-key Four Seasons Whistler (pictured; rooms, from $255; 4591 Blackcomb Way; 604-935-3400; fourseasons.com), where ski concierges gather at the bottom of the runs to store your equipment. Concierge Hana Lynn can make anything happen, from reserving the best table to booking excursions like zip-line trekking and snowcat touring.
Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island and part of the Pacific Rim National Park (a UNESCO biosphere), Tofino redefines the traditional notion of Canada in winter with temperate old-growth rain forests, horizontal rain showers, and no snow. Windswept beaches stretching one and a half miles, with towering ocean waves, enable it to host the O’Neill Coldwater Classic professional surfing championship, which takes place right in front of the romantic Wickaninnish Inn (rooms, from $325; Osprey Ln. at Chesterman Beach; 800-333-4604; wickinn.com). The Wick, as it’s often called, offers rooms with fireplaces and double soaking tubs with a view. It’s also where the Ancient Cedars Spa and Pointe restaurant are located. Director Charles McDiarmid recommends “chocolate croissants with a large latte in front of a roaring fire in the Driftwood Lounge, which looks down Chesterman Beach.”