Stories by David Burke | Images by Joern Rohde
On the Farm in Whistler
Whistler was one of the first communities in the world to adopt a commitment to long-term economic, social, and environmental sustainability — and that extends to food production. In recent years many Whistler chefs have formed close associations with farmers in the nearby, fertile Pemberton Valley, who supply restaurants with high-quality, locally produced fruits, vegetables, and meats.
And it gets even more “locavore” than that. Some Whistler hotels and restaurants boast their own rooftop or patio gardens, producing everything from the herbs used in various dishes to the lettuce and kale in salads to the fruit in those delectable desserts.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Woodland Rooftop gardens cover some 2,500 square feet in seven boxes, growing lettuce, kale, cauliflower, peppers, raspberries, and strawberries, as well as oregano, parsley, and mint, said Head Gardener Kelly Rooney.
“No herbicides or pesticides are used,” Rooney said. “Weeding is all done by hand. The only fertilizer that is used is organic liquid sea kelp which helps the plants take up nutrients from the soil.”
The garden beds at Nita Lake Lodge in Creekside cover a large portion of the roof, said Darren Brown, the lodge’s food and beverage manager. The “farmers” on staff help produce lavender, mint and herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries — all used in many delicious dishes and drinks served to guests.
“It’s… provided a great passion project for the staff who can help maintain it and harvest for us,” Brown said.
Many Whistler residents have green thumbs and soiled hands during the growing season. Since 2007, GROW Whistler has provided garden boxes to those lacking the outdoor space to grow their own food. For a fee, some 200 planter boxes, soil and seeds are provided to residents in four greenhouses (two at Spruce Grove Park and one each at Myrtle Philip School and Alpha Lake Park) and outdoor space at Bayly Park in Cheakamus Crossing. The growing season is generally from mid-May to late September.
It's a popular program. “We are oversubscribed every year,” said Claire Ruddy, president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), which has operated the program since 2017.
The benefits of growing food locally extend to all three legs (economic, social, and environmental) of the sustainability stool, Ruddy said. In addition to reducing waste and costs, “it also brings people together. Gardening has so many benefits from a societal and mental health perspective,” she said.
Rainbow Park Undergoing ‘Rejuvenation’
For 35 years, Rainbow Park has been one of Whistler’s best-loved summer hangouts — the place to enjoy a cool breeze, swim in Alta Lake, or play volleyball with Whistler and Blackcomb mountains as a majestic backdrop. But much of the park is slated to be closed this summer for a $4.1 million “rejuvenation.”
The upgrade “recognizes and responds to the impacts of climate change and increasing visitor demands on our parks,” Martin Pardoe, manager of parks planning for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), said in a presentation to Council.
In 2021, Phase 1 improved the parking and public access areas. Phase 2 will result in a larger beach, the addition of a beach promenade, widening of the Valley Trail, relocation of the volleyball and seating areas, and improved drainage.
There will be access to the dog off-leash area and event lawn at the park’s southern end while work is ongoing, Parks Planner Annie Oja said.
The project, being paid for with Resort Municipality Initiative funds from the B.C. government, is part of a plan to ensure the long-term resiliency of Whistler’s parks system, Pardoe said. Rainbow Park is expected to reopen in June 2024.
Summertime Fun in the WB Alpine
Summer is a great time to explore “our mountains,” as Whistler Blackcomb (WB) features world-class attractions, including the record-shattering Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the renowned Whistler Mountain Bike Park, and the leg-burning Blackcomb Ascent Trails.
“There’s so much to look forward to, from the magic of our sightseeing experiences to the excitement of our world-class Whistler Mountain Bike Park and the many events and activities that make this season so special,” said Doug Macfarlane, WB vice president of mountain operations.
This summer, guests will see changes to the access points for various activities because of construction to replace the Fitzsimmons Express four-person chairlift with an eight-person, high-speed chairlift. Bike Park access is via the Whistler Village and Creekside gondolas, while sightseers will ascend via the Blackcomb Gondola in the Upper Village. From there, sightseers can access popular Whistler Mountain attractions such as the Cloudraker Skybridge and Raven’s Eye lookout by riding the Peak 2 Peak across to Whistler Mountain and its Peak Zone attractions.
The Blackcomb Ascent Trails rise 1,200 metres (3,937 feet) from the base of Blackcomb to the Rendezvous Lodge, a 6.2-kilometre (3.85-mile) uphill hike divided into three sections: Little Burn, Big Burn, and Heart Burn. Trails are well-marked, and hikers ascend through the lush coastal rainforest, occasionally emerging for stunning views. Those looking for a 1 ½- to two-hour hike can download from the Blackcomb Gondola Midstation (pre-purchased ticket required) or carry on to the Rendezvous, from which you can buy a download ticket and descend in comfort. whistlerblackcomb.com