Hitting The High Life in British Columbia

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Hitting The High Life in British Columbia

Golf or skiing? Why not both? Whether scoring a high from watching your golf ball soar through the air for extra yardage at higher elevations or feeling the adrenaline rush while spraying waves of fresh white powder through virgin ski tracks, both adventures epitomize a perfect pairing at many premier mountain resorts where either physical activity can induce elevated levels of exhilaration.

During winter months, many snow-covered fairways are perfectly suited for cross-country skiing and from late spring to early fall the gondolas and chairlifts can transport mountain bikers and hikers up to the mountain trails. And depending upon when the white stuff melts to make fairways accessible there may be a transitional weather window of opportunity for the two-sport athlete to double-dip.

If venturing across the USA border to the western Canadian province of British Columbia, there are no two better qualified – and contrasted – representations of high-altitude resort getaways satisfying both interests than what exists northeast of Vancouver.

Flanked by skyscraping mountains, one of the world’s most scenic drives known as the Sea to Sky Highway leads directly to the village of Whistler in two hours. As host to the alpine, Nordic and sliding events for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Whistler is consistently ranked as North America’s top-rated ski resorts on the strength of having the largest area of skiing terrain in North America at 8,171 acres (over fifty percent larger than the second largest at Vail, CO).

On the flip side, once the snow evaporates, Whistler transforms into a summertime recreational arena highlighted by mountain bikers shooting across single tracks and not one, not two, but four diverse golf course experiences from four of the world’s top designers to validate the resort as Canada’s No. 1 golf destination.

Regardless of season or sport of choice, Whistler’s popularity is strengthened by its central hub offering a variety of accommodations, dining options and trendy boutique shops to ensure visitors are treated to a carefree party atmosphere all year-round.

The first 18-hole entry at Whistler was established in 1983, when Arnold Palmer stamped his first Canadian design at the base of the village’s valley floor where Whistler GC’s fairways meander through strands of ancient cedars, nine lakes, two creeks and snow-capped mountain views on both sides.

This walkable 6,722-yard layout challenge typically, hosts the most rounds per season of Whistler’s four courses but one look at the scorecard cover photo of a playful black bear toying with a pin flag is a stark reminder the course, as well as the entire region, is also their playground.

A five-minute drive from the village lies the course that generally receives the most attention – Nicklaus North. Opened in 1995, the 6,961-yard, exquisitely manicured layout hosted the Telus Skins Game (1997) and Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf (1998) and remains one – and the first – of a handful of the 300-plus courses designed by the Golden Bear that he agreed to attach his name. Deservedly so.

Adjacent to the glacier-fed Green Lake, Nicklaus deliberately designed the 18 holes to be fun, with roomy fairways and enormous undulating greens, yet, beware of the course’s 50 bunkers and water on 15 holes. The five par 3s are solid, especially the signature 17th guarded by Green Lake and the 12th that resembles No. 12 at Augusta National, including a replica of the famed Hogan Bridge.

The 19th hole, aka, Table Nineteen, is a primo patio venue overlooking Green Lake and for watching float planes land and take off from the Harbour Air dock. 

If you want to take your game up the slopes, Fairmont Chateau Whistler GC, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, is the ticket to Whistler’s only true mountain course. The 6,635 yards, highlighted by tight fairways, doglegs, and plenty of uneven lies, can be deceiving with the opening holes traversing 400 feet up Blackcomb Mountain. On the bright side, any misfired shots are offset by the majestic views of Whistler Valley.

Rounding out Whistler’s course quartet is Big Sky GC, approximately 20 minutes north of the resort village in Pemberton. Designed by Robert Cupp at the base of snow-capped Mount Currie, the links-like design built on rolling terrain is the destination’s longest at 7,001 yards and features seven lakes with a creek winding through.

While it would be tough to argue that Whistler is the reigning king of British Columbia’s mountain resorts, approximately 4.5 hours northwest near Kamloops lies the queen – Sun Peaks Resort. Relatively unknown outside Canada, the European-inspired pedestrian village with a stellar variety of locally-owned shops, restaurants and accommodations is a scaled-down mountain experience of BC’s more reputable resort, yet offers all the same outdoor four-season activities.

In winter, it lays claim to the second-largest ski area in Canada with 4,270 acres of skiable terrain, including cross-country on the back nine of Canada’s highest elevated golf course situated at 3,938 feet.

Adjacent the village hub golfers will cross a quaint wooden covered bridge to the first tee of an 18-hole course under the shadows of three mountains—Tod, Sundance, and Morrisey – with numerous ski trails in sight. Designed by noted Canadian golf architect, Graham Cooke, the layout that winds through the forested valley floor is a tale of two courses.

The front nine (constructed in 1996) requires delicate accuracy to handle the narrow fairways with thick trees on both sides that will encourage the smart player to keep the driver in the bag. Too many hooks and slices will, undoubtedly, require the more aggressive player to call the pro shop to deliver some extra golf balls.

With far more forgiving fairways and better scoring opportunities, the back nine, completed in late 2005, is a welcome complement to the challenges of the front. The only exception could be the course’s most difficult hole at the dogleg right 430-yard, par 4, No. 12. Hit the ball too far off the tee and watch it find the lake but if it stays dry, you’ll then be faced with a daunting approach shot to the green.

The back nine also treats golfers to the signature hole at No. 16 with Mt. Morrisey facing you along with terrific views of homes and the village below. Being a relatively short par 4 situated at 4,353 feet elevation, this 364-yard will tempt long hitters to drive the putting surface.

Sun Peaks can easily be classified as a hidden gem compared to the notoriety of Whistler but with the resort continuing to expand to strengthen its bid of joining Whistler as a host for the 2030 Winter Olympics, the secret is being revealed. Whichever resort you choose to experience, there are just not enough ‘O’s in OMG.

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