Whistler, BC

Time to hit the slopes in Whistler

The dark-and-gnarly form of Black Tusk pokes high out of the spread of mountains that surround Whistler Blackcomb. Photo by Barb Sligl

On a bluebird day at Whistler Blackcomb (the ski resort opens on November 28 this season…get ready!), there are no bad runs. But if that sun is shining, take a ride all the way up the Peak Chair to 2,182 metres.

From here, there’s Whistler Bowl (hello, moguls) back under the lift, but the easier way down is around the backside of Whistler Peak, stopping for selfies by the inukshuk with Black Tusk in the background, a gnarly finger pointing into that blue. Glide past the spread of Garibaldi Provincial Park (peak after peak after peak) and zip alongside Little Whistler Peak and into the opening of The Saddle (a Whistler-level “blue” run) next to Glacier Bowl. The steep drop will get your blood pumping. Yee-haw!

Next up: 1,925 hectares of skiable area, 1,530 metres of vertical, more than 200 runs, 37 lifts, almost 12 metres of snow…and a wow traverse of the valley between Whistler and Blackcomb via the Peak 2 Peak gondola, the longest and highest such lift in the world (with Guinness World Records).

Whew. Take a break from the downhill action and recoup with après-ski in the village (from a chilled vodka in the ice room at Bearfoot Bistro to a well-deserved bottle of Whistler Brewing’s Lost Lake IPA) and then some cultural reflection at the Audain Art Museum (home to a beautiful collection of First Nations masks and works by artists like Emily Carr). And when the stars come out, go just beyond the buzz of the village to Cougar Mountain, where the award-winning multimedia forest walk Vallea Lumina is now open throughout the winter season.

Get “lost” in the beauty of Lost Lake, a short walk from the Upper Village. Photo by Barb Sligl

In the morning, if your legs are still burning, stretch them a slower way: a walk in the Upper Village to Lost Lake (the inspiration for that IPA—or two—last night). The body of water is a serene spot best taken in via the trail around its shores with pretty vistas framed by stoic trees. In late fall, you’ll get the last glimpses of bright-yellow leaves, another sunny counterpoint to the snowy white of the ski hill, which rises high above. Stay awhile and, yes, get lost in the Whistler vibe. — Barb Sligl

[GO] Hit the slopes: whistlerblackcomb.com

More info: whistler.com

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Seattle, Washington

OFF TO THE EMERALD CITY Take a spin in Seattle

Nature and industry and stellar views of downtown Seattle at Gas Works Park, where an old coal gasification plant is now an art-like relic on the shores of Lake Union. Photo by Barb Sligl

The Emerald City is a fitting name for this shimmering—and, yes, green—metropolis of the Pacific Northwest. Trees and water temper its high-tech, corporate side (behemoths Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and Boeing are all based here) for a very west coast vibe; locals bike on single speeds and public e-bikes in a network of dedicated bike lanes, and there’s such a high concentration of microbreweries (each with its version of IPA, of course) that Seattle vies for beer capital of the US.

Set up base downtown, near the Rem Koolhaas-designed glass prism that’s Seattle’s Central Library. A few blocks from this futuristic glass edifice is the Alexis (alexishotel.com), an old-school building that harks back to the city’s Gold Rush days, when it was a treasurer’s office. Today, the Kimpton property is a hip hideaway close to Pioneer Square and the Seattle Art Museum and its outdoor sculpture park on the shores of Elliott Bay, just below the famous Pike Place Market.

Biking through Seattle Art Museum’s outdoor sculpture park on the Elliott Bay Trail. Photo by Barb Sligl

Hop on one of the Alexis’ complimentary bikes (a cool Public bike, inspired by classic Dutch two-wheel design) and pedal up the city’s new Second Avenue Bike Lane (complete with footrests and handrails for cyclists at intersections) through Belltown (past funky bars and shops) to Seattle Center (seattlecenter.com), where there’s a Chihuly garden (the famous glass artist is a Seattle native), the Museum of Pop Culture (the Gehry-designed steel structure is said to resemble a melting guitar; an appropriate symbol for the home of grunge music, perhaps) and the iconic Space Needle.

From here, go north and cross the canal at the Chittenden Locks (linger for some mega-yacht watching) to the historic ’hood of Ballard, where fishing and Nordic roots are strong (check out the swish new Nordic Museum). Ride along the much-beloved Burke-Gilman Trail, a bicycle path that’s one of the original rail-to-trail conversions and now used by thousands of commuters and day-trippers—everyday.

Mandatory beer sampling at Fremont Brewing, in the “centre of the universe”(left), along the Burke-Gilman Trail; (right). Photo by Barb Sligl

Go west to Golden Gardens Park for some beaching and then back east into Fremont, known as the centre of the universe…really (there’s even a proclamation that’s been ratified by the city council).

The Fremont Troll. Photo by Barb Sligl

Visit the Fremont Troll, who lives under the Aurora Bridge (a legendary public art installation), have an IPA at Fremont Brewery’s (fremontbrewing.com) hopping beer garden and then continue towards the University District, home of the University of Washington (or U-Dub, as locals call it). En route, Gas Works Park, where a rusting coal gasification factory is being reclaimed by the greenery, is a prime picnic spot overlooking Lake Union and the skyscrapers of downtown Seattle on the far shore, where you started.

Sir Mix-a-Lot at the Graduate Hotel in the University District. Photo by Barb Sligl

Or, even better, join the Mountaineering Club at the U District’s Graduate hotel (where rooms pay homage to another local legend: rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot; graduatehotels.com/seattle), a rooftop bar where the views include yet another Seattle behemoth: Mount Rainier. Order an IPA, sip, stare, repeat. -Barb Sligl

[GO] More info: visitseattle.org

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Beijing, China

BIG IN BEIJING Explore China’s colossal capital of culture + cool

Skewered fried scorpion on Wangfujing Snack Street in Beijing’s Dongcheng district. Photo by Janet Gyenes

There’s a touch of sweetness to the fried scorpion I’m crunching on while strolling Wangfujing Snack Street in Beijing’s Dongcheng district.

It’s one of the delicacies hawked in this ravenous megalopolis of 21.5 million that’s brimming with thousands more when I visit during Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. But crowds converge here year round, many of them domestic tourists. I find fewer people and less-daunting items like tanghulu, sweet-tart candied hawthorns threaded on bamboo skewers in the lacework of lively hutongs like Dazhalan Xijie near Tian’anmen Square. Heady aromas emanate from these traditional alleyways that are steadily disappearing as this behemoth capital trains its focus on the future. Case in point: the new Beijing Daxing International Airport (designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and ADP Ingénierie) will become the world’s largest when it opens in September. Dubbed the “starfish” by Chinese media for its sci-fi shape, it will welcome 72 million people annually, well in advance of Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Earlier this year, China’s expanded 144-hour visa-free transit policy came into effect, making it even easier for international travellers to explore this cultural nexus that’s home to seven of the country’s 53 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Tian’anmen Gate, formerly the front gate of the Forbidden City; Flowers in Tian’anmen Square commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Photos by Janet Gyenes

Local life, however, still plays out among the centuries-old cypresses and lush gardens surrounding the ancient architecture at the Temple of Heaven, or Tian Tan, first constructed in 1420. I wander by seniors bent over decks of cards and dominos and stop to watch a group of men play a spirited ring-tossing game before visiting the 273-hectare complex’s temples and sacrificial altars where emperors prayed for rain and a good harvest during the Ming and Qing dynasties. There’s a regal vibe to the Imperial Vault of Heaven, an ornate three-tiered circular structure ringed by an Echo Wall. Its hermetically sealed bricks send the sound of even a whisper to the other end of the round structure. A different kind of grandeur greets me a day later when I disembark the train at Bādálǐng for my first foray on the Great Wall.

Ornate detail from the roof of the Temple of Heaven; The Temple of Heaven looms high. Photos by Janet Gyenes
Holiday crowds on the Great Wall at Bādálǐng. Photo by Janet Gyenes

Located just 70 km north of the city core, in 1957 this section of the Wall was the first opened to tourists and it remains the busiest and best preserved. I spend hours in awe walking this vast stone snake coiling across the scrubby winter landscape. Although it’s slow-going being wedged shoulder to shoulder with thousands who have also made the trek to explore the Ming dynasty-era towers and crenellated battlements there’s something about being in the crush that feels comforting and quintessentially Beijing. — Janet Gyenes

[GO] More info: travelchina.gov.cn/en

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