As one of the world’s premiere ski resorts, Whistler has long been mobbed by crowds throughout the winter. For many years, that left the town an hour and a half north of Vancouver, Canada, quiet and peaceful in the summers—a slower paced but equally lovely place.
With the advent of the similarly world-class downhill mountain biking resort, the last decade of summers have been as swamped—if not more so—with visitors than the winter. Which leaves the blessed shoulder seasons—from September to late November, and April to June—as the prime times to explore the town without the crowds.
Around the valley, the often evergreen-lined paths pop with trees pluming yellows and reds that would make a New England hillside envious, and inside fireplaces get lit and cozy scarves unpacked. Whistler made its name on its natural beauty, and that stays the same in off-season, while everything else—the plentiful lodging, world-class cuisine, and exciting activities—comes at a steep discount.
In early September, the Whistler Village gondola closes. But the rest of the sprawling, lift-served bike park actually remains open until mid-October, which makes it a great opportunity to give the booming, exciting sport of downhill mountain biking a try without quite as massive crowds of experts flying past you. It’s the same riding as you’d do in the summer, but gentler and calmer—like so much around the town this time of year.
The mountains stay open for alpine hiking and sightseeing—one of the summer’s main draws—though the likelihood of getting a clear view across the valley floor falls a bit as the clouds roll in for the season.
But you can also skip the mountain entirely and hike for free on trails like the short but stunning Cirque Lake, or the arduous but rewarding Panorama Ridge that ends overlooking the impressive Garibaldi Lake. Even places that are often mobbed in summer, like the Lost Lake trails, make for peaceful walking come fall.
Alternatively, you can admire whatever view the clouds allow from the comfortable surrounds of the Scandinave Spa. The secluded Scandinavian-style baths—hot tubs, cold pools, saunas, and more—are designed to give soakers the cozy feeling of relaxing in a forest while looking up at the towering mountains above. Entrance buys you a warm robe and access for as long as you want to alternate between the eucalyptus steam baths, chilly waterfall, cozy solarium, and hot pools.
And, like so much in Whistler in September, there’s a deal to be had: This month, you can buy a $100 gift card for $80. The off-season entrance fee is only $75 CAD ($57 U.S.), but you’ll want to use that gift card to tack on a massage.
Complete your full day of fall pampering with a culinary deal so good that it’s almost guilt-inducing to take advantage of what the restaurant needs to do to stay open (a great way to assuage that guilt is to spend the cash on a nice bottle of wine): the $39 CAD ($30 U.S.) fall menu at Alta Bistro. Offered each evening besides Saturdays, the three-course prix fixe menu offers dishes combining local, seasonal produce with innovative techniques and global flavors, like the starter of butternut squash soup with coconut cream, curry oil, and garam masala popcorn. Perennial stars like the elk tartare with chocolate and chicken liver parfait meet seasonal specialties such as Walla Walla onion carbonara with mushrooms and chili through the three savory courses (the menu does not include dessert).
While Alta Bistro leads the pack as the town’s best restaurant at any price, you’ll find similar deals at Aura in the Nita Lake Lodge ($39) and various seasonal specials at Bearfoot Bistro (where the oyster happy hour is always a strong move).
But while the deals are good, one of the best parts of enjoying Whistler in the fall is doing it quietly. Grabbing pastries at Purebread without a line out the door, sitting down to an impromptu dinner at Sushi Village without factoring in an extra hour or two to wait for a table. Slowly sipping coffee and breaking bread at Bred, the new plant-based bakery from Alta Bistro’s former baker, without needing to vacate for the next folks.
It’s the few weeks each year that Whistler returns, briefly, to its small-town roots and remembers what it’s like to take a few deep breaths of that fresh mountain air before the crowds return.
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