As my partner Dennis and I walked through the lobby of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler we got more than one look, a few grins and a giggle or two.
Dennis looked as if he'd had been dragged through a dirt storm, his face smeared in dusty camouflage. Although I wasn't as bad, my lips and chin were smeared in grime and my once blue jeans were somewhere closer to a beige tone.
We had just returned from a three-hour backcountry adventure on a four-wheel drive ATV (or quad) through the Callaghan Valley.
What a rush - it was both challenging and exhilarating. Early Sunday morning, we had set out by bus with Canadian Snowmobile Adventures' guide Barney. After a 10-minute safety briefing and a short ride to assess Dennis' ability, he took us on a wild two-hour ride into some pretty rugged terrain, which saw us weaving along zigzagged trails, climbing hills and narrowly avoiding trees and branches.
I hadn't ridden on an ATV before and I trusted Dennis on that four-wheeled monster. I was a bit daunted at first, but somehow with the donning of a safety helmet and goggles, I didn't feel so vulnerable wrapping my arms on his waist and holding on for dear life!
We accelerated up the trails through streams to the snowline of the old growth forests. A short stop and we were back on the machines to outrun the hordes of mosquitoes determined to feast on new blood.
After a much-needed shower in our luxurious room overlooking the pool and mountains at the Chateau, we headed for dinner to Trattoria Di Umberto in the Sundial Place Hotel - the heart of Whistler village.
This Italian restaurant, owned by renowned restaurateur Umberto Menghi, is one of my favourites. The rustic cuisine transports you to a villa in Tuscany where Mama creates handmade pasta and sauces with tomatoes ripened off her vines. While Dennis was savouring the beef tenderloin carpaccio, I was indulging in a mozzarella di bufala salad with heirloom tomatoes. While we sipped on a fine red from the Okanagan, our entrÃ©es came. When in Rome - well, you know. You can't go to an Umberto's restaurant and not have pasta. To me, that's sacrilegious.
Anyway, I digress. I had the taglierini di mare, a medley of seafood in a mouthwatering red sauce. A word of caution, this is a busy restaurant brimming with the sounds of chatter and if you are looking for a more romantic atmosphere, go to Umberto's Il Caminetto, which is only a minute away.
We had started our journey the day before. The Sea to Sky highway is a stunning start to a Whistler getaway. The road hugs the mountains on the east side as the west opens up to Howe Sound and a myriad of islands.
Our destination that morning was the Sunwolf Whitewater rafting, just outside the town of Squamish in Brackendale. Brackendale is world-renowned for the largest collection of eagles in the world as they gather in the fall to gorge themselves with salmon. Sunwolf also offers special eagle sighting trips during the migration of the salmon.
This town is often overlooked as a travellers' destination as drivers head to Whistler. It's a shame because it has a lot to offer the outdoorsy type. We met our rafting group on the deck outside Fergie's CafÃ©. After a 30-minute safety talk, we were broken into two groups of eight. Our guide Andrew Slater led us to our raft and another 10 minutes was spent going over what to do should the raft tip or someone falls out.
Initially, we meandered slowly down the river, which gave us time to get to know our fellow paddlers and drink in the impressive views of the surrounding Mount Alpha peaks and ancient forests of spruce, fir and pine trees.
Our first break from the river was at a back edie where a rock face gave way to a climbing wall complete with handholds. A small rock platform was the launching pad for brave jumpers. With my knees shaking, but too proud to be the only one not to jump, I quickly leaped from the rock cliff into the glacial blue water. Man, it was cold.
After a leisurely lunch hour on a private beach, we hit the rearing rapids. The excitement was palpable as we made it through yet another powerful, ice cold rapid, such a rush!
We put in our raft at mile 39 on the Elaho River and travelled a total of 18 kilometres to the take out point at mile 27 on the Squamish River. The float down the two rivers took us about 3 Â½ hours. The two rivers have First Nations meanings - Elaho, Land of Good Hunters, and Squamish, Mother of the Wind.
A short half hour drive later and we were checking into the luxurious Chateau Whistler. We had just enough time to clean up and head to dinner at the award-winning Bearfoot Bistro.
We were quickly invited down to the wine cellar where I had the chance to saber the wine. There's something about taking a sword and striking an expensive bottle of wine that doesn't get old. No one enters the cellar without being a little awestruck by the impressive 20,000+ bottles of wine.
Back at our table, we were in a culinary adventure - a five-course tasting dinner and wine paring selected by the chef herself. The owner even invited us to done a fur lined jacket to enter the -115 degree ice room to sample fine vodkas from around the world.
Does it get any better than this?
IF YOU GO
- Fairmont Chateau Whistler, 4599 Chateau Blvd., 1-800-938-2064: Special summer rates for B.C. and Washington residents at 25 per cent off. Children and pet friendly (www.fairmont.com/whistler).
- For a special treat, both of these rate very high. Great people watching, great ambience and fabulous cuisine: Bearfoot Bistro, 4121 Village Green (604-932-3433, or www.bearfootbistro.com). Trattoria Di Umberto Restaurant, 4417 Sundial Pl. (604-932-5858, or http://www.hotelvilladelia.com/restaurants.cfm).
- White Water Rafting at Sunwolf, 700002 Squamish Valley Rd., Brackendale (6048978-1537, or www.sunwolf.net). Sunwolf also offers fabulous locally inspired, organic cuisine at Fergie's. There are 10 waterfront cabins and lots of outdoor activities to take part in.
- Canadian Snowmobile Adventures for ATV tours, inside the Carleton Lodge (1877-938-1616, or www.canadian01.com).
To book your next Whistler adventure, visit http://EnjoyWhistler.com