Twenty years ago, at the height of my ski-bunny days, I could not ignore the fact that I enjoyed snow more watching it fall from inside a cozy cabin. Over the years, this truth has taken over that part of my adventurous spirit that governs icy recreation. With visions of the Winter Olympics (Vancouver 2010, Calgary 1988) dancing in my head, I had ruled out much of Canada as a destination for future vacations.
Until I was assured by some trustworthy Canucks that four seasons happen across the Great White North, and right now, the days there are much warmer and longer than what San Francisco can muster during any given summer. I recently journeyed to Whistler to stockpile Vitamin D (at an elevation of 2,200 feet, pure, unadulterated, no-smog sunshine is inescapable), a preventative measure against the cold, gray skies of home.
The private dock at Nita Lake Lodge offers kayaks, canoes, and standup paddle boards for guests.(Courtesy Nita Lake Lodge)
Since ski-in/ski-out privileges were not required, I opted for the only hotel in Whistler where the peaks meet the shore for maximum outdoor enjoyment. Located at the base of Whistler Mountain, Nita Lake Lodge (a 2016 Travel + Leisure World's Best award winner) is a modern chalet with oversized studios and suites overlooking a glacier-fed lake. The sun rises around 4:30am this time of year, so be sure to close the black-out curtains fully if you want to sleep past dawn—the big, downy beds are worth the extra shut-eye. For better or worse, I awoke with the sun, marveling at how many other people are up and at 'em at this time of day. Insomniacs? Sunshine hoarders? Vacation overachievers? Whatever their reasons, they picked a good spot to reach the fullest expression of their personality profile (I happen to identify with all three).
One of seven derailed boxcars on the Train Wreck hike.(Courtesy Tourism Whistler)
Two months ago, Nita Lake was frozen, but now that it's thawed, the calm, glassy waters and petite surface area make it a great spot for squeezing in a quick kayak, canoe, or SUP sesh between your other activities. Even novices can trace the circumference of the lake in their transport of choice (rentals are free for hotel guests) within 45 minutes. Don't be fooled by the high-70s temps—a freeze warning is in full effect for anyone that falls into the drink. // For the balance-challenged, Nita Lake Lodge's onsite Loka Studio, offers yoga classes ranging from relaxing restorative to athletic ashtanga. Got back issues? Try a Yoga Wall class, where spinal alignment is facilitated by ropes and hooks securely anchored into a wall. Think medieval torture without the medieval or the torture. // Two popular summer hikes in Whistler are worth venturing off property for: At the turn-around point of the 3.1-mile roundtrip Train Wreck hike, you'll find a forest graveyard of old Canadian Pacific boxcars that derailed decades ago. In that time, graffiti artists have made the rusty cars their canvases. Once difficult to access, a new suspension bridge across the Cheakamus River makes for a safe and easy stroll to the colorful wreckage. // The Peak 2 Peak 360 Experience is a summer pass that allows access to two mountains' worth of gondolas, chair lifts, and hiking trails, including Pika's Traverse, a five-mile round-trip hike between towering walls made of snow (yes, even in summer). // When in lumberjack country, do as the lumberjacks do: Throw axes for fun. At Forged Axe in Whistler's industrial area, Function Junction, you'll learn to safely hurl a fresh blade into a wooden bullseye, a skill that can be finessed inside of an hour and come in handy in situations where precision focus and effortless daredevilry go hand in hand. Cirque du Soleil, here you come. // Soak sore muscles at Scandinave Spa, a hydrotherapy oasis amid wildflowers and alpine trees. For total relaxation, follow their mantra, "Hot, Cold, Relax," for a few rounds, making your way through various eucalyptus steam rooms, dry cedar saunas, Nordic plunges, warm whirlpools, and sunbaked hammock enclaves.
Gourmet shoreline eats at Nita Lake Lodge.(Courtesy Nita Lake Lodge)
In Function Junction, the Green Moustache offers tasty vegan bowls veggies and grains—your chompers are in for a workout. Get the Buddha Bowl with brown rice, quinoa, kale, raw shaved beets and an umami-tastic dressing made with nutritional yeast—add creamy avocado and you'll have reached your weekly quota for roughage in one sitting. // At Alta Bistro in Whistler Village, the hearty and sophisticated Canadian cuisine is thoughtfully crafted from locally sourced provisions. Don't miss the elk tartare-and-foie gras parfait, a rich and savory dish with unexpected add-ins (hello, cocoa nibs) that only deepen the flavor. The cauliflower pakoras, lightly fried and served on a bed of fresh nettle-and-cilantro hummus, taste indulgent but pass for healthy. // For a pinch-me experience, dine on the lakeside patio at Nita Lake Lodge's Cure Lounge. There, the veggie burger—a crisp, Indian-spiced chickpea patty—is as satisfying as the beef version, especially if you top it with thick onion rings. The cocktails—namely the Hemingway's Daughter, a refreshing grapefruit juice-and-rosé concoction served over sorbet and sprinkled with flower petals—are as stunning as the sunsets, which light up the sky behind Sproatt Mountain in pink and orange hues around, oh, 9:30pm. Paging Annie Lennox—this is what sweet dreams are made of.
Getting There: United Airlines operates multiple nonstop flights daily from SFO to Vancouver (YVR). From there, grab a seat on Pacific Coach Lines for a 2.5-hour bus ride on the Sea-to-Sky Highway into Whistler. Nita Lake Lodge offers an eight-night wellness package (from $2,475 plus tax, double occupancy, subject to exchange-rate fluctuations) that includes accommodation, three spa treatments, and a five-class pass to Loka Yoga Studio. Available all year.