It is Canada’s top ski resort, but the gable-roofed village of Whistler – 122km north of Vancouver in mountain-studded British Columbia – is not just for goggle-eyed powder nuts. While thousands roll in every winter to hit the slopes, an even larger proportion of visitors – 56% – drop by in between June and September.
With no snow to play with, Whistler in summer forgets all about its ski season credentials and transforms into Canada’s coolest outdoor activity playground. From adrenaline-pumping action to fresh air wilderness rambles, there is something for everyone.
Whistler’s signature heart rate-raiser is ziplining through forested, creek-striped wilderness with Ziptrek Ecotours. The company expanded its coverage area in recent years, but the original run of five ziplines joined by suspension bridges, boardwalks and trails – called the Bear Tour – is still hugely popular. Attached to overhead wires, you zoom along as high as 55m and as long as 600m, screaming like a tickled banshee as you go.
Since adrenaline is addictive, your next Whistler fix might be with the Adventure Group, known locally as TAG. Along with its own backcountry ziplines, TAG serves up bungee jumping over a roiling river plus white-knuckle jet boating through a network of mountain-shadowed local waterways.
But perhaps the best way to wrestle the region’s rapids is via a muscle-straining rafting trip along the area’s Green, Cheakamus or Elaho-Squamish Rivers. Operating from its headquarters in the heart of the village, Wedge Rafting offers adrenaline-rushing runs ranging from first-time-friendly paddles to full-on elbow-poppers. An eight-hour excursion could involve rapids in the morning followed by gentle runs and a well-deserved lunch in the afternoon.
For those who prefer pedalling to paddling, there are also several reasons to pack your cycling shorts. In summer, local ski runs transform into the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, one of North America’s largest and highest bike terrains with more than 200km of descending, lift-serviced trails. Rentals are available throughout the village, so you can hurtle down the trails at your chosen calf-hardening pace.
The lift-accessed jumps and drops satisfy most skill levels and include route names like Freight Train and No Joke (you have been warned). But advanced pedal-pushers often aim straight for the tough Top of the World Trail. With a vertical drop of 333m, the terrain starts with craggy-peaked summit vistas before plunging into the gnarly-rooted forest below, giving riders access to a run of almost 1,500m.
Visitors can also dive head first into the regional bike scene at Whistler’s giant annual Crankworx festival, running 9 to 18 August 2013. A nine-day, mud-crusted celebration of mountain biking, it is a highlight of British Columbia’s outdoor calendar with its daredevil contests, thrilling races and a large slice of party-hard live music.
But Whistler is also a good destination for more leisurely bike riders, and is crisscrossed with gentle village and backcountry routes where burning your muscles to the bone is not required. The Whistler Valley Trail, a network of more than 40km of paved and boardwalk pathways, provides mountain-framed lakeside views that will have you regularly hopping off for photos.
In addition to the Whistler Valley Trail, there are many off-the-beaten-path routes for walkers or joggers. Ambling alongside dense woodland, mirror-calm glacial lakes and expansive meadows studded with alpine flowers is an ideal way for nature lovers to explore the region.
Maps and trail advice – plus suggestions for additional activities throughout the region – are available from Tourism Whistler’s village Information Centre. And since this is bear country, they also have suggestions for what to do if you spot one on your stroll.
Alternatively, if your blisters need a rest, sit down and take in the breathtaking scenery. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola takes 11 minutes to travel the 4.4km between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains in its high-tech little red cars. En route, British Columbia’s best nature panoramas unfurl below, from distant snow-capped jags to vast, broccoli-green forests – and maybe a bear or two snuffling for wild berries.
Whistler is not the area’s only summer activity hotspot, however. Drive 32km north on scenic Highway 99 – also known as the Sea to Sky Highway – and the valley village of Pemberton offers horseback riding excursions via Pemberton Stables and Adventures on Horseback. If you prefer being higher off the ground, the Pemberton Soaring Centre can take you up in a glider. Towed into position by a small plane, you sit in the cockpit with the pilot behind you for an exhilarating, bird-calm weave over ice-streaked peaks and verdant valleys. It is the perfect combination of ttranquility and excitement.
Alternatively, 58km south of Whistler, also via the Sea to Sky, Squamish is British Columbia’s rock-climbing capital. Throughout summer, the sheer, looming face of the Chief – the 700m granite monolith that dominates the town – is studded with climbers. Whistler Alpine Guides offers fully equipped climbing tours throughout the area.
Back in the village, take a day off from all that activity with more laid-back pursuits. Sunday’s Whistler Farmers' Market, running 16 June to 13 October this year, showcases local produce (try the blueberries) plus artisan goodies ranging from honey to creative T-shirts.
Time your visit well and you can also hit 17 August’s quirky Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival, a downhill chase to catch a 5kg wheel of cheese near the base of Blackcomb Mountain. The event includes side dishes of live entertainment and tastings of top cheeses from across the country.
But when you need to build up your strength for another sinew-stretching activity, consider the Canadian National Barbecue Championships. Staged from 2 to 4 August 2013 in and around Dusty’s Bar & BBQ in the village’s Creekside neighbourhood, this finger-licking community event includes pork ribs and beef brisket grilling contests, foot stomping live music and a chance to ride a mechanical bull – the perfect way to get your adrenaline pumping again.