By Mike Cohen

WHISTLER, BC – My family and I recently made our second visit to Whistler, BC (www.tourismwhistler.com) , less than a two hour drive from Vancouver and one of the host cities for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Located in the Coast Mountain Range of British Columbia, Whistler consistently offers the most reliable snow conditions, receiving an average annual snowfall of 11.9 metres (39.1 feet) based on the past 10 years. Due to Whistler’s coastal proximity, temperatures are moderate through the winter season, rarely dipping below -10°C (12°F) in the valley and -15°C (5°F) in the alpine during the coldest part of the year. Expect -5°C (22°F) average daily alpine temperatures during most of the winter months. Summer in Whistler brings temperatures ranging from highs of 21°C / 70°F to 27°C / 80°F with August being the warmest month.

Vancouver is about two hours away and has a large Jewish community, many of whom also have homes in Whistler or frequent the local hotels. Over the years there have been a number of special programs for Passover organized here. In 2017, US First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were among the guests. Kushner is Jewish and Ivanka converted.

Officials at Maple Grill kosher restaurant and catering in Vancouver understand the difficulty in finding kosher food in Whistler. They will package and label your meals the way you instruct them to. You can find out more at www.maplegrill.com. Kosher ski vacations are often offered by different travel agencies.

Jewish businessman Russell Kling and his wife Jelena recently opened the  Pangea Pod Hotel, something they expect to revolutionize the hospitality industry by bringing chic and price-conscious solo accommodation to one of North America’s top tourist destinations.

The first hotel of its kind in Canada, Pangea’s rooms will, at most, cost half the price of a conventional hotel room, and usually far less. This new style of accommodation will make the resort more accessible to solo and budget travellers wishing to experience all that Whistler has to offer. Located in the heart of Whistler Village, it is the result of three years of planning and prototype development. “Pangea combines the affordability of a hostel with the perks of a boutique hotel,” says co-founder Russell. “We wanted to cater to the type of traveller who enjoys the conviviality of shared spaces but prefers their own personal space at the end of the day.”

The hotel’s 88 independent sleeping pods are divided among eight separate “suites”. One suite is dedicated to female-only guests. Bathroom facilities are divided into individual components (more than 60 in total) to offer privacy and limit line-ups. These individual components include washrooms with vanities, showers with changing space, stand-alone vanities, and changing rooms.

Each cleverly-designed, wood-lined pod contains artwork and mirrors, as well as a comfortable double memory-foam mattress, individually controlled LED lights, a built-in fan that provides both air circulation and white noise, a lockable cabinet for valuables like iPads and phones, hanging space for clothes, and a storage area for luggage.

But Pangea isn’t only about the pods; it offers superb shared spaces too. The Living Room, a stylish combo of lounge, bar, café, and espresso bar, boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the bustle of Whistler’s Village Stroll, giving the space the feeling of an outdoor patio. The Rooftop Patio is Whistler’s only true rooftop bar, providing a bird’s eye view of Mountain Square. And The Toy Box, an open-plan secure storage area for skis, snowboards, mountain bikes, and other gear, was custom created to address the needs of equipment-laden outdoor enthusiasts.

Pods are now available for booking at pangeapod.com/bookings

ACTIVITIES: There are many things to do in the Village, the heart of Whistler. You can stay in a centrally located hotel, walk the Village Stroll, indulge yourself at one of many places to eat and browse the unique shops.  The Village is located at the base of the lifts, making access to Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains convenient for skiing, snowboarding and sightseeing.  Whistler Village is big enough to have all the amenities expected of a world-class resort, yet small enough for you to feel its unique mountain culture and distinctive hospitality.

The year-round population of Whistler Resort is almost 10,000 permanent residents. As the host Mountain resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Whistler improved accessibility throughout the Village, parks and accommodation.

Ski season in Whistler typically begins around the third weekend in November, coinciding with American Thanksgiving. From there, both mountains are open daily for winter operations until late April. Blackcomb Mountain stays open for spring skiing and snowboarding until mid-May. Summer glacier skiing and riding on Blackcomb Mountain starts the third week of June. In summer Whistler Mountain Bike Park opens as a haven for riders of all levels and the Village Gondola, Peak 2 Peak Gondola and Peak Chair are open for sightseeing.  

Many people don’t realize Whistler has a huge range of free services and activities. Year-round you will find some amazing freebies in and around the Village, such as the free shuttle bus throughout the Village, free internet access and Storytime at the Library, free weekly local papers with all your entertainment listing, and numerous free art displays.

OLYMPIC HOSTS: Eight years have passed since Whistler hosted the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, but the spirit is alive.  In the winter you can strap on the skinny skis in the Callaghan Valley at the Whistler Olympic Park, home to all Nordic events in 2010. Whistler Olympic Park also offers biathlon, snowshoeing, tobogganing for those after a unique adventure in an incredible setting. Slide down Whistler Mountain’s DaveMurray Downhill and emulate the athletes who competed there eight years ago in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-combined and super G races. Speed things up at the Whistler Sliding Centre home to bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitions during the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games. Set out on the world’s fastest ice track and try the exhilarating sport of bobsled or skeleton. Visit the Whistler Museum to learn Whistler’s story of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games at the Hosting the World exhibit. Check out the gear of 13 of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the Sea-to-Sky corridor, grasp the glory of the torch, try on a ski bib or sport the volunteer “smurf” uniform.

 PEAK 2 PEAK: There is no better experience than the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. You first take the Whistler Express Gondola from the Village, which takes 25 minutes. You’ll arrive at the Roundhouse, a lodge where you can have lunch or a snack, and take in the spectacular view of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. We took advantage of that opportunity. The view as I enjoyed my Miso soup was nothing short than spectacular.

Our next move would have been to hop on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for a thrilling 11-minute ride over to Blackcomb Mountain.  Unfortunately for us, there was some maintenance work the day we visited and the Peak to Peak was closed. 

Besides the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which still holds the Guinness World Record for longest and highest lift, The Peak Cloudraker Suspension Skybridge is the latest attraction and it was part of our 360 package. It is 130 metres long and goes from Whistler Peak to the West Ridge, which crosses the Whistler Bowl. Upon completion it will have a viewing platform on the West Ridge side. This literally saved the day for us.  From the Roundhouse Lodge we walked the Peak Express Traverse to the Peak Express Chair for a thrilling open air ride to the suspension bridge at the Top of the World Summit. Even on a warm summer day be sure to bring a sweatshirt or a light jacket as it can get cool up there. The view from up here is exceptional and you will want to take a lot of photos.  I look forward to coming back when the lookout is completed. 

It takes approximately 10  to  20 minutes to hike the Peak Express Traverse from the Roundhouse down to the base of the Peak Chair. Blogger Megan Wilson lists two options for your return, and they both require some hiking. You can either take one of the alpine hiking trails for additional views, or download via the Peak Chair. If you choose to download the Peak Chair, it is important to note you will still have to walk back up the Peak Express Traverse from the base of the Peak Chair to the Roundhouse to get home.

At 0.6 km it is not a great distance, but it is uphill all the way with an elevation gain of 63 m. Depending on the fitness levels and age of people in your group, this may be challenging after a day of adventuring. Make sure to take water and snacks, leave plenty of time and energy to walk back, and take lots of breaks on your way out.

We also saw many people biking their way down the mountain.

 WHERE TO STAY:  Following a wonderful stay at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco in the summer of 2017, we were so pleased to spend some time at The Hilton Whistler (www.hiltonwhistler.com), a popular spot for Jewish guests. Our family thoroughly enjoyed a day at the outdoor pool area, which has plenty of very comfortable lounge chairs and umbrella coverage. The water was the perfect temperature and the pool itself a nice size. There are two Jacuzzis, one outside the other in the fitness center. You can also soothe your sore muscles in the sauna. The pool area is completely handicapped accessible, with a level walkway from the elevators and lobby to the deck.

We were provided with a menu of items we could conveniently order right from our chairs. Three of us opted for the club house, featuring seven grain bread, perfectly grilled chicken, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, smoked cheddar, guacamole and mayonnaise with side salads and an order of crispy chicken tenders and yam fries. They also have a nice selection of drinks. We asked our server to recommend something sweet and she brought us some cool glasses of spiked strawberry lemonade. If you are at this Hilton on a Sunday, do be sure to take advantage of the popular Bubbles, Beats and Brunch.

The hotel is ideally located in the heart of Whistler Village, host mountain resort of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games. Named the Luxury Resort & Spa of the Year for British Columbia in 2016 and2017 by Luxury Travel Guide, the hotel is steps away from the chairlifts of the legendary Whistler & Blackcomb Mountains, and offers an array of world-class restaurants, stylish boutiques and buzzing nightlife at its doorstep.

Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa’s spacious and newly renovated guest rooms are designed with mountain style elegance and incorporate many natural elements into its design, including indigenous art from the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Many of the rooms offer jetted soaker tubs and fully equipped kitchens with full-size fridges, microwaves, and stove tops.

There are 24-hour fitness and business centres here. The Hilton Fitness Centre by Precor features the finest cardiovascular equipment with personal viewing screens, elliptical cross-trainers, a stationary bike, free-weight station, and stretching area. 

Rejuvenate your senses at Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa, and soothe away tension whilst treating mind, body and soul to essential nourishment. Tempt your palette with savoury Pacific Northwest Cuisine at Cinnamon Bear Grille, the hotel’s signature restaurant. For a livelier atmosphere, enjoy a cool cocktail at the hottest après ski bar in Whistler, Cinnamon Bear Bar.

All of the spacious and richly appointed guestrooms feature the Hilton Serenity® bed with elegantly striped 250 thread count sheets and luxurious down comforters and pillows; all layered on top of a mattress set custom designed for added support and comfort.

Additional amenities for a comfortable Whistler getaway include lavish Peter Thomas Roth bath and body products, specialty Brew Selector by Cuisinart coffee maker, alarm clock radio, and 37” flat screen television. Wireless internet and local calls are included in each guestroom. Kitchens include a microwave, cook-top (no oven), refrigerator, dishwasher, and are fully equipped with cutlery, crockery, cookware, as well as a toaster and a kettle.

Sales and Marketing Director Allison Brown was kind enough to give me a tour of the property, noting that when it debuted in 1982 it was the first large hotel to open in Whistler. As she walked me through the beautiful 287 room facility, its age did not show. One good reason for that is the recent renovation of all rooms and hallways. Next on the agenda will be a revamp of the large reception area. The rooms I saw were lovely. The chalet style Premier Studio, for instance, boasts 600 plus square feet and is ideal for families or those desiring more room. This self-contained studio features a well equipped kitchen, breakfast bar, wood burning fireplace, sitting area and balcony. The oversized bathroom includes a deep soaker tub, some equipped with air jets. Many of these studios can be connected to a Hilton Room with two double beds for additional space and comfort.  The spacious and luxuriously appointed two bedroom Alpine Suite features a wood burning fireplace, well equipped kitchen, in-suite laundry, balcony, and even a steam room or sauna to relax those tired muscles after a day of adventure. The stylish living room has a double sized sofa bed, and three 37 inch flat screen televisions, featuring HD programming complete the suite. The master bedroom includes a king sized bed while the second bedroom contains a queen. Alpine Two Bedroom Suites can connect to a Signature Spa Room to create a three bedroom suite.

The Hilton Whistler is a popular spot for weddings and honeymoons.  With special touches like chilled sparkling wine upon arrival, a fireplace in your room, a soothing massage, sumptuous breakfast in bed, guest parking and late check-out, this is bound to be a trip to remember.   Weddings in Whistler are said to be stunningly beautiful, no matter what the season. Whether you’re exchanging vows among the alpine wildflowers or “skiing” down the aisle, ceremonies can be held inside or in the outdoor courtyard (depending on the weather).  Just email sales@hiltonwhistler.com for more.

Call Reservations at 1-800-515-4050 to inquire about the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa Romance Package.

 VALLEA LUMINA: When you talk about Montreal-based organizations to be proud about, then Moment Factory (www.momentfactory.com) certainly stands out. Established in 2001, Moment Factory is a multimedia entertainment studio specializing in the conception and production of immersive environments combining video, lighting, architecture, sound and special effects to create remarkable visitor experiences.

Going from 15 to 250 employees and opening new offices around the world, Moment Factory has been pushing the boundaries of excellence in multimedia and emerging art forms to create some of the most imaginative public experiences the world has ever seen.

Vallea Lumina in Whistler, BC, represents the latest in their signature series of immersive multimedia night walks. The project was developed in collaboration with The Adventure Group in Whistler to add a unique evening experience to their diverse line-up of outdoor entertainment activities.

Vallea Lumina takes visitors on a mythic journey through the forests on Cougar and Rainbow mountains, where video projections, lighting, sound, and special effects add a layer of mystery and enchantment to the mountain’s natural beauty. Along an accessible 1.5 km pathway, visitors follow clues left by two hikers toward a secret valley filled with wonders.

This was a remarkable experience for our family as we literally got to explore new frontiers of storytelling. Visitors are transported through time to a forest rangers’ basecamp steeped in nostalgia, where they set out on a mission to find a legendary hidden valley. Hints tucked into song lyrics and posters, cryptic radio signals and ephemeral messages in stardust and campfire sparks lead them toward an unforgettable supernatural spectacle.

We very much enjoyed the experience and watched some of the projections, which play on a loop, several times. They were so realistic. 

It is recommended you bring with you closed-toe shoes, comfortable clothing and insect repellant. The experience will run daily until October 2018. It begins at sundown and takes place every 20 minutes (exact times vary depending on time of year). The illuminated trail takes approximately 60 minutes to complete, and a complimentary shuttle service is provided from Whistler Village at the Gondola Transit Exchange, and outside Blackcomb Day Lodge in the Upper Village. Show-goers cannot drive to Vallea Lumina, you must take the shuttle from a designated pick-up spot. Tickets cost $29 for adults (16 plus), $24 for youth (six to 15 years) and children five years and under receive free admission. For more information or to book, visit tagwhistler.com/lumina.

Moment Factory already launched its first two night walks in Asia, Rainforest Lumina in Singapore and Island Lumina in Japan earlier this year.  “After our success debuting the Lumina experience abroad, it felt great to cross back over the Pacific to bring the series to Canada’s West Coast for the first time,” a Moment Factory statement says.

Moment Factory now has eight international night walks. Each one uses a seamless blend of creative lighting, sound design, interactive elements, and projection mapping to shape a narrative environment that’s tailor-made to enhance the natural beauty of its site.

This new storytelling format was pioneered in 2014 with the creation of Foresta Lumina in Coaticook, Quebec. 

Closer to home  Moment Factory and Tremblant—have been pairing their savoir-faire for the past two years by creating an immersive, interactive and illuminated night walk that begins with a ride on the Flying Mile lift. From its midway station, the adventure darts into the wilderness, and concludes back in the pedestrian village. It is called Tonga Lumina (www.tongolumina.com) and it runs through Thanksgiving Day Weekend.

 THE ULTIMATE ESCAPE ROOM: Escape Whistler (http://escapewhistler.com) was a lot of fun. There are four escape rooms to try: Pirate ship, Pinball Machine, Buried Cabin or Rabbit Hole. Each room is very different in terms of game, difficulty and style! If you are an escape room veteran, you could be confident to try any of the rooms straight off the bat.

The Pinball Machine was our choice. Here is the concept. One night, you and your friends decide to sneak into the old, run down 1980‘s video game arcade across town. While poking around and exploring the arcade, you notice a vintage video Pinball Machine in the back corner and happen to stumble across a notebook with various cheat codes for old video games. Suddenly, something happens, and you and your friends become transported inside the Pinball Machine. Now you must play the game to Escape the machine and make it home within 45 minutes. This was no easy task. We liked the fact one group or family can book a room for themselves. You are asked to come 15 minutes early to sign your waivers. Upon entering the room you will be given a timer and a walkie talkie. The latter can be used to call the central desk for some clues. We came close, but did not manage to escape in time.

The games are suitable for all ages and this is fantastic team building or family outing activity for everyone to enjoy.

The cost is $30 plus GST per player. Children four and under are free. There are two to six players allowed per room. Kids 12 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian (19 years or older).

They are open seven days a week. Info: 604-962-1117. 

DINING: We were very excited to return to the Brewhouse Restaurant (http://www.markjamesgroup.com/brewhouse.html). This is one of the busiest spots in the Whistler Village all year round. With a separate restaurant, bar and mezzanine, the Whistler Brewhouse is capable of accommodating groups large and small. The pub has a cozy two-sided fireplace and lots of TVs, making it the perfect place to watch the game when you’re tired from playing all day. The restaurant is warm and family friendly with a great kids’ menu and a huge patio for Whistler’s long, hot summers. The cuisine is an inspired and appetizing mix of barbeque and rotisserie classics, with exceptional pizza and pasta options. These flavours are complemented by their range of handcrafted ales and lagers, brewed onsite. There are even four kinds of poutine.

I started off with a huge bowl of Matzo Ball Soup – rich chicken broth, matzo ball, spit roasted chicken, celery, carrots and onions. Our party of  five adults shared some starters, the fish taco, Szechuan chicken lettuce wraps and the tempura tuna maki roll and decided upon a few different main courses: the wild mushroom and Johnny Mac (spicy capicola and mushrooms) brick oven pizzas and the three beef sliders (pulled beef, pretzel bun and horseradish cream). The food and atmosphere was great. We particularly liked the cute model train which made its way through the restaurant on miniature tracks above us.

This is part of the Mark James Group Brewery Restaurant, with others in Vancouver (Yaletown and The Distillery Bar + Kitchen), Richmond (Flying Beaver) and Surrey (Big Ridge). James is a member of the Jewish community and has been supportive of a number of charitable events. This includes the annual Sports Celebrity Dinner. 

One of our favorite and more unique spots we recalled from our last visit to Whistler was the Mongolie Grill (www.mongoliegrill.com).  This is the ultimate “fun” dining experience with fresh and tasty ingredients grilled to perfection in front of your eyes! Independently owned and operated since 1996, the Mongolie Grill has developed into a world famous dining experience. Management prides itself on serving only the freshest selection of vegetables, meats, seafood and sauces to ensure the tastiest of experiences. Mongolie Grill allows you to get creative and cater to your own taste-buds by choosing your own stir-fry combination! Select your favourite ingredients and flavour with your chosen sauce combinations. We recommend you take a small bowl. It will be more than sufficient. Your meal will be weighed by the chefs then theatrically grilled to perfection. You will also get some complimentary Jasmin or Brown Rice that will be waiting at your table when you return from the grill! We also ordered a litre of the Mongolini Blended –strawberry, peach and vodka, topped with sangria. They offer a walk-in service only for all guests and groups. Reserved seating is not available. This restaurant has about 150 seats. Inquire about their Mongolie bucks, a nice gift for someone who might be headed to the area. For customers in wheelchairs or with mobility issues, there is an elevator. Info: 604-938-9416

The last time I dined at Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar (www.hyssteakhouse.com) was a number of years ago at the iconic Parliament Hill location in Ottawa, which has since closed. The present-day spots are in Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Whistler.

When legendary Jewish restaurateur  Hy Aisenstat opened the first Hy’s Steakhouse in Calgary in 1955, his boundless energy and ambition meant that he would always have his eyes on growing to new cities and locations.

We were fortunate to get a reservation at Hy’s in Whistler, where Michael Kyle serves as general manager. This is a beautiful restaurant located just near the entrance to the village. Dimly lit, the dining room can seat about 175 people. There is also a seasonal terrace.

Dining at Hy’s is above all an authentic experience. Every ingredient is chosen to highlight the top quality of perfectly grilled steaks and the freshest fish and seafood. A wide range of classic and modern appetizers and accompaniments make choosing difficult, but satisfaction guaranteed.

Hy’s menu has evolved over the years, but its timeless steakhouse essence remains. These are the finest beef and seafood entrées, the most beloved appetizers and decadent sides, all prepared with classic technique and modern interpretation.

From specially selected Prime Grade beef, aged a minimum of 28 days and grilled to order, your steak is accompanied by a choice of baked potato, hand-cut French fries or mashed potatoes.

Hy’s serves Prime Grade steaks, the top one percent of beef in the market. From Filet Mignon to New York, and bone–in rib to Porterhouse, each steak served at Hy’s becomes the perfectly prepared centerpiece for the unforgettable Hy’s experience.

With a hungry four year old in our party, we ordered some delicious bread cheese toast to fill his empty tummy. The adults liked it as well. For appetizers we shared the Ahi Tuna and a nice Caesar salad while our little man requested and received a bowl of kids macaroni and cheese. Three of the adults toasted the evening with some French martinis while another had a glass of red wine with his meal.

For the main courses, two of us selected the eight ounce filet mignon, it was perfectly grilled and cut like butter.  The 20 ounce bone in rib was more than enough for two others to share while the remaining order consisted of prawns and scallops. While we were all quite full, the six of us happily split a piece of chocolate bourbon cake.

Share the gift of exceptional taste. Hy’s gift cards are available in any denomination from $25 and may be redeemed at any of our five locations across Canada. Gift cards may be ordered online or in person.

For reservations call 604-905-5555.

If you are looking for the best sushi in Whistler, consider Harajuku Izakaya (https://www.harajuku.ca), 205-4000 Whistler Way. It opened in 2011 and is located in the Royal Bank Building in Whistler Village. “Izakayas” are informal Japanese gastropubs popular throughout Japan known for quick, tapas-style food. Harajuku’s interior is inspired by a Japanese village in the early 1900s. The cozy nooks and large booths make it suitable for locals and visitors alike. 

We were extremely delighted with the selection. At home in Montreal we eat sushi frequently. Harajuku has a very original menu. Here is what we recommend. The Tuna Avocado Yukke includes diced Albacore tuna sashimi, avocado, marinated in sweet sesame soy sauce; the popcorn calamari is made with seaweed salted battered calamari; the Brie Cheese is breaded and deep-fried and served with mango sauce;  and the black cod is a fantastic miso marinated grilled black cod, with sautéed corn and bell pepper.  We continued with three kinds of assorted sashimi (Albacore tuna, Sockeye salmon and Yellowtail). Next came  Avocado Oshi Sushi (Avocado, shiso herb, ginger, teriyaki mayo, seared);Salmon Avocado Poke (Atlantic salmon and avocado marinated with sweet sesame soy sauce and wasabi mayo); crispy tuna roll (Albacore tuna, avocado, green onion, tempura bits and spicy mayo) and Rock n’ roll ( tempura yam, avocado, cucumber, carrot, beats, shitake, soba and kabayaki sauce). Reservations are recommended. Call 604- 962-7222.