Rain can't dampen family fun in Whistler

Weekend getaway leaves kids craving for more

WHISTLER, B.C.-We packed for winter, spring and summer. It's what you do when you plan a weekend getaway in June within reasonable driving distance of Vancouver. You just can't trust the weather. But West Coasters know not to let Mother Nature entirely dictate their fun if she's in a foul mood.

The sun shone hopefully Friday afternoon as I loaded up the minivan with kids, suitcases and a husband and headed up the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler for the first time in eight years. It was a glorious drive north as my husband and I marvelled at the highway improvements, especially around Lion's Bay, and made our grand return to Whistler Village. It was new territory for the kids and their excitement was palpable. (Knowing our hotel had a pool and a hot tub might have had something to do with it.)

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Last weekend marked the opening of the summer-long Adventure Zone at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, but we were there to pack in as much fun as you can while taking into account the differing energy levels of a four and seven year old.

Although I was hesitant to stay right in the Village, remembering the loud drunken voices of skiers in the BK era (Before Kids) punctuating the nighttime air and worrying about my now precious sleep, I'm glad we did. We didn't have to drive anywhere. We stayed in a one-bedroom suite at Mountainside Lodge, which is a minute from the lifts and gondola in Skiers Plaza that whisk skiers and boarders up Blackcomb and Whistler mountains and a five-minute walk from an excellent playground. At this time of year, however, skiers are replaced by mud-splattered mountain bikers who are a huge reason why summer in Whistler is even busier than in winter. Everywhere you turn, there goes a geared-up rider. As a bulldozer manipulated mounds of dirt around to convert the base of Whistler into ramp central in preparation for Crankworx in August, I looked around slack-jawed at all the expensive bikes. Sure makes my 15-year-old Giant mountain bike look like an historical artifact.

The resort morphs effortlessly from a skiing mecca into a serious mountain bike destination, attracting riders from around the globe. (About 20,000 people show up for Crankworx.) Even the chairlifts are reworked to accommodate bikes (every second chair carries four bikes). It's impressive-as are the daredevils flying down the trails and over heart-stopping jumps.

As fascinating as the mountain bikers were, we had more family-oriented action plans: forest canopy walk, gondola ride, tobogganing, mini golf, village strolling, playground and pool time_ is it beer o'clock yet? I'm parched.

We had an agenda and we stuck to it. Friday night we ate out at 21 Steps Kitchen and Bar (www.21steps.ca), which offers kids meals for under $9 and three-course meals for $35. I had a tasty Thai curry stir fry, which strangely came with no tofu option. Tofu seemed to be anathema to the chef. There was none to be had. So for an extra $5, I got a goodly amount of chicken. After some time digesting dinner, we headed straight for the pool and hot tub. The powerful jets gave me my first night sleeping without lower back pain in ages. Thank you, Mountainside Lodge (www.mountainsidelodge.ca).

The plan Saturday morning was to head to the top of the mountain and take in the glory of Whistler and Blackcomb on the Peak2Peak. Mother Nature, with her fondness for soupy skies, rain and strong alpine winds in June said, "Not today." It was a disappointment to be sure, but we spent a fantastic hour to ourselves racing down a toboggan run on a couple of speedy inner tubes provided by the mountain.

After lunch, we slipped on our raincoats for ZipTrek's Treetrek Tour (www.ziptrek.com), which takes visitors along a forest canopy walk about 200 feet above Fitzsimmons Creek and runs 12 months of the year. (Mental note: Bring Mom here on her next visit. She can easily do this.) While walking the suspension bridges and stopping at the platforms to marvel at the zip line adventurists flying over the river, our guide detailed the different types of trees, Whistler's pro-green initiatives and what lichen is. Did you know that lichen, which hangs off trees like thick cobwebs, is an indication of a healthy forest? I didn't. The presence of lichen means the air in that area is as pure as it gets. I sucked in a lot.

Nearing 4 p.m., we bee lined to the Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC) where we met another couple and their two kids for beer and appies. (The kids had hot chocolates.) The liquor laws in the resort have been altered since my last time hoisting a beer at the GLC so that moms and dads can go for drinks and take their kids into such establishments. One small step forward in B.C.'s restrictive attitude to alcohol consumption. But don't fret, party animals. Kids have to be gone by 8 p.m.

By this point, the kids were anxious to hit the pool and hot tub so back to the hotel we went. My son wasn't feeling well that night so we ate in. (I grabbed a rotisserie chicken, baguette and can of sweet peas from the IGA.)

Wet weather returned Sunday, but off we went anyway to the farmer's market (fairly standard, but larger than I expected-www.whistlerfarmersmarket.org) and Adventure Zone at the base of Blackcomb where the kids played their first game of mini golf, rode go karts and were catapulted into the air on the bungy trampoline. The Westcoaster Luge, which we were all excited about, was closed due to the weather. The zone is a bit pricey ($9 for a five minute go kart ride, $8 for 10 minutes in a bouncy castle) so it's best to buy a five, 10 or 15 activity pass for maximum value. We bought the five adventure pass for $41. Rainy days have their advantages. We never had to wait in line for anything and we were the first on the 18-hole mini golf course.

Not part of the Adventure Zone, but in the same area were pony rides, but at $70 we declined.

The rain was starting to come down more heavily, which made it a perfect time to visit the beautiful and airy Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (www.slcc.ca). I would have stayed a lot longer than half an hour, but after my four-year-old banged on some drums and started moaning about being tired, we decided to head home, but not before my daughter asked excitedly, "When can we come back?"

A lot sooner than eight years, that's for sure.

To plot out your stay, visit www.whistler.com. The hotel listings are well organized from the budget to the expensive and include photos. You'll also find information on upcoming summer events, including the Children's Art Festival. (I was on the website a lot-for every aspect of our weekend. It's very user friendly.)

fhughes@vancourier.com

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