Golfing with bears in Whistler

A par three at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s course challenges with a rock face ready to throw a ball into the sand trap or water hazard. (Allan Lynch Photo)

While Whistler has a reputation as a top ski destination isn’t all downhill. In spite of co-host the Winter Olympics, residents laughingly tell you there’s more to do here in summer than winter. One of the delicious surprises for someone like me, who doesn’t ski or snowboard, is that Whistler is among the world’s top golf destinations. Every major golf magazine from Golf Digest to Score to Travel + Leisure raves about the play here.

Well they should. Whistler has three courses in the village, plus others nearby. And

Some holes on the Arnold Palmer designed Whistler Course offer a forest solitude. (Allan Lynch Photo)

they are all by name designers. Arnold Palmer designed The Whistler Golf Course. Jack Nicklaus personally designed the Nichlaus North Golf Course, and Robert Trent Jones Jr. created the Chateau Whistler Golf Club. A half hour drive away is the Big Sky Golf and Country Club designed by Robert Cupp.

It’s amazing how golf-centric this place is. I have heard of players flying up from Vancouver on a float plane, landing on Green Lake, which borders the Nicklaus North Course, and immediately getting into waiting golf carts to play 18 holes before checking in to their hotel. For an ultimate experience is heli-golf which airlifts you to the top of Mount Currie to practice your drive belting bio-degradable balls into the Pemberton Valley below.

At sunset, this Whistler mountain top turns pink. (Allan Lynch Photo)

That extravagance becomes a little more affordable since Whistler without snow is a much cheaper place to visit. On my trips to Whistler, I haven’t had a car, and relied on the shuttle service which operates between the Vancouver International Airport and the village, so I didn’t get a chance to try the highly rated Big Sky Course about 30 minutes north of Whistler and the Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, on the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Squamish. You may not know the course, but you probably recognize their signature number 14th hole that juts into Howe Sound.

The flowers offer visual appeal to players and a sometime snack for brown bears. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The first course I golfed in Whistler is the Arnold Palmer-designed Whistler Golf Course. It’s the preferred course of residents and I really like that you can walk to it from your hotel.

On my initial round my foursome was comprised of a Scot, a Newfoundlander and a Torontian. At the second hole, a short 306-yard par 4, we found a brown bear by the tee. I turned to the others and asked, “Shall we skip to the next hole?”

Oh no, they were keen to play every hole. Taking the cover off my driver I tried to remember what you do in the event of a bear attack. Do you fight back, play dead or try to get away in a speeding golf cart? The Scot said, “Ack, don’t worry, bears are vegetarian.” Just then the bear raised its head to look at us. He had a mouth full of wildflowers hanging from his jaws. He looked ridiculous. So I agreed to play the hole. As I was in my backswing I suddenly thought why am I listening to a Scotsman about a Canadian bear? And if bears are vegetarians, why do I always see pictures of them fishing? Inspired by fear, I managed to deliver one of my best drives ever, dropping the ball just in front of the green.

Having managed a good drive, I took comfort in that old adage about not having to be faster than the bear, just faster than someone else in your group. I figured I could easily outrun the woman from Toronto.

The rest of the round was less eventful. The score was respectable and the scenery

The sign doesn’t lie. Crows swooped in to our cart and ate our lunch. (Allan Lynch Photo)

of snow-capped mountains, cedar forest, lakes and flower gardens made for a perfect day.

Across the village is the Chateau Whistler Golf Club. There, a local player told me, “They say if you can get over the first four holes (which are uphill) you’re okay, but I’ve never managed it.”

Nor did I. I was 28 after four holes! Par, for those who must know, on those same holes is 17. It was a grim beginning. But again, you have great scenery. This time it was the Blackcomb Mountains, forests of Douglas Fir and crystal-clear, glacier-fed lakes and creeks. The water is so clear we had a good view of our balls being flushed away in the fast-moving current. Ironically, two of our foursome were a Korean couple anxious to see a bear. I told them they were on the wrong course.

The finish to our golf triumvirate was the Nicklaus North Course. I had to laugh at the tee markers, they were small bears. We seemed to have had a theme.

Like the other courses here, Nicklaus North has a lot of water. There are nine lakes. Most aren’t in play, unless you have a really bad shot. However, there is that dangerously seductive risk and reward aspect. Number two has worrisome water for those with a slice.

The 12th hole is totally unforgiving. It’s a par three with water. I sunk two drives into the water to end up with an eight. And the finish on the par four, number 18 is just cruel for aqua-phobes. You have to hit over a brook 88 feet from the hole. I took a nine on it. Needless to say, I didn’t cross the water. Well, I did, my ball didn’t. That’s the thing about golf, it brings out the optimist in us. I guess it’s the mixture of sunshine and scenery that makes me think I can still hit a three iron or cross a water hazard. One day.

In the meantime, Whistler is worth adding to your play list. Apres golf Whistler has all the chic, fun Alpine amenities of a great year-round resort.

Whistler offers a variety of top golf amid stunning scenery. (Allan Lynch Photo)

If you play:

You best bargain are the various golf packages offered for Whistler and area through The Sea-to-Sky Golf Trail www.seatoskygolftrail.com and Golf Whistler (www.golfwhistler.com).

 

 

Rolling thru the Rockies

Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer provides an elegant way to explore the continent’s last frontiers.

The Rocky Mountaineer provides a luxury experience in a Canadian frontier of glacier-fed rivers, forests and mountains. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The crisp fall morning air is interrupted by the ding, ding, ding, ding of the train engine, followed by the echoing blurrrrrrrrph blasting from the train horn. Then there is the growing gentle scream of brakes as the clacking wheels come to an orderly halt in front of us. This is the entrance that the Rocky Mountaineer makes at the picturesque Banff train station.

Telling a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer starts with a red carpet for passengers. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The train is painted in crisp white, blue and gold colors. Its windows function like a type of long mural, reflecting the forests and snow-capped mountains surrounding us. As we walk the length of this train, hands and fingers point, accompanied by a dozen languages and even more accents of the giggling crowd of excited passengers.

This is my second trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, which rolls through the spectacular mountain landscape between Vancouver and Calgary. This day the train from Calgary is stopping in Banff to pick us up for the trip to the coast. My previous trip was the reverse: Vancouver to Calgary.

The Mountaineer is an adjective-depleting experience that is almost unfair because of how it spoils passengers. This service has thought about every aspect of the travel experience. The staff are well-hired and well-trained. You can’t fake the kind of people skills that Rocky Mountaineer attendants posses. They’re considerate, efficient and happy. Rather than asking, they anticipate needs. The service is as grand as the landscape. It’s a level of retro elegance reminiscent of days when well-dressed people travelled with retinues and steamer trucks.

There is a great historic connection to taking a train from Banff. The Canadian federation was saved by American railroad executive Sir William Van Horne. In 1871 the federal government made a commitment to British Columbia that if it joined the Canadian federation, rather than becoming part of the United States, the new province would be connected to the rest of Canada via a railway. That was key for commerce. However, the project was bogged down by incompetence and corruption. Enter the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Illinois-born Van Horne, who pushed the railway through the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. When Van Horne saw the view of the Bow Valley from Banff he famously said, “Since we can’t export the scenery, we have to import the tourists.” And he made it so. He ordered what is now the iconic castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel built so that tourists arriving by rail had a place to stay.

This is the light-filled top level of the Gold Leaf Dome Car. Windows are washed daily so passenger views are clear. (Allan Lynch Photo)

On this morning most of us have come from the hotel to the train. My fellow passengers range from a group of British train enthusiasts, Americans celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, honeymooners, Germans, Dutch, Spanish and Canadians discovering their backyard. I chuckle at the Brits who are thrilled both with our train and with the massive, freight trains that share our tracks. A retired British transportation executive, counting 100 freight cars on one train, exclaimed, “That train is as long as the track from London to Brighton!”

Some of the wildlife seen from the train. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Riding these rails is like being part of a great nature documentary. Other than when the rails were laid, much of this landscape is as untouched as it has been for millennium. This is a view denied to all but extreme adventurists and those, like us, privileged enough to take this train. We pass prairies, foothills, wetlands, flatlands, forests, snow-capped mountains and glacier-fed rivers, lakes and gorges. We see beaver dams, elk, deer, bear, osprey and gravity-defying big-horned sheep who jump from one improbable perch to the next, somewhat like nature’s ultimate circus act. In one river we see the red schools of what my seatmate said are Kokanee salmon.

The sightseeing is accompanied by meals worthy of any good restaurant. In our

Breakfast on the Rocky Mountaineer. (Allan Lynch Photo)

dining room tables are set with white linens and fresh cut flowers. The five-item breakfast menu offers fresh omelettes of mozzarella, asparagus and smoked ham; scrambled eggs with steelhead salmon, kelp caviar and chive crème fraîche; eggs benedict with Montreal smoked meat; buttermilk pancakes; and a granola Parfait. Lunch, which changes daily, ranges from vegetarian and light options to wild BC Sockeye Salmon, Alberta pork tenderloin, short ribs and Black Tiger Prawns. The wine list features the best of BC’s vineyards: Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlot, Shiraz and a sparkling wine. It all fortifies the message that life is good.

Aaron, our seat attendant, draws gales of laughter from passengers as he does his impression of a moose. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I consider the Rocky Mountaineer as being like a rolling resort. I’m in the Gold Leaf Service, which is the highest of their three passenger categories (Red, Silver and Gold). Each has its own style of rail car. Any level on this train is above what you will have experienced on another service. In Gold Leaf 68 of us share a dome car staffed by three seat attendants, two chefs, plus dining room servers. We sit in sunshine enjoying the vast panorama outside. The car’s lower level has a foyer/gift display, washrooms with fresh cut flowers and flagstone floors, dining room and is connected to the upper level via a spiral staircase and, for those with mobility challenges, an elevator. The real bonus is the balcony. Each dome car has a substantially-sized open-air balcony with room for 12-15 passengers to inhale the crisp, fresh, invigorating, seasonal aroma of forests and mountain lakes, and snap spectacular photos without any glass glare.

Among the company’s attention to detail is how they handle luggage. At the Fairmont Banff Springs my bag was placed in the coach taking me to the train station, from which it was delivered to my hotel room in Kamloops. This is a two-day trip. The train stops at night so passengers never miss the scenery and crews can restock and thoroughly clean the train. The next morning, my suitcase was picked up from my Kamloops hotel room and delivered to my room at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. This is really spoiling the traveler.

We rolled past pioneering communities with rustic names and identities, like Skuzzy Creek, Boston Bar, Jackass Mountain, Cisco Crossings, Avalanche Alley, Jaws of Death Gorge, and the Three Sisters Mountains. As we passed Sicamous, our attendants, who double as tour guides delivering local history and directing us to best upcoming angles for pictures, told us this is houseboat capital of Canada, where pizzas are delivered to the middle of the lake. Further on we experienced the engineering miracles of the “Spiral Tunnels”. The Cathedral Mountain tunnel turns 250 degrees in 993 meters/3,255 feet, while the Mount Ogden tunnel turns 230 degrees in 912 meters/2,922 feet.

Approaching Vancouver we pass vast vegetable and flower gardens, see log booms

Passengers are encircled by a large landscape of rivers, forests and mountains. (Allan Lynch Photo)

on the Fraser River and learn that at the narrowest part of that river, Hell’s Gate, 200 million gallons of water (909,218,000 liters) per minute pass through! This whole experience is about nature unhindered.

The experience caters to those who appreciate nature, a culinary experience, a glimpse into the discovery of the continent as well as engineering wizardry. At the very least it’s one elegant way to go from A to B.

A choice of experiences

Rocky Mountaineer (http://www.rockymountaineer.com) offers four services: First Passage to the West (Vancouver, Kamloops, Lake Louise, Banff), Journey through the Clouds (Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper), Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver, Whistler, Quesnel, Jasper) and the Coastal Passage (Seattle, Vancouver, Rockies).

Paddling Pumpkins

This cluster of solo-propelled pumpkins were sponsored by a cluster of pubs. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Peanuts’ fans are familiar with the concept of The Great Pumpkin.

Well, great and giant pumpkins are the norm in Nova Scotia. Our pumpkins are so big we hollow them out and paddle them across a lake as part of the Giant Pumpkin Regatta.

Pumpkinhead paddled in his 16th regatta. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The 19th Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor had over 50 entries, one of the largest turnouts in several years. We’re expecting even more for the 20th regatta in 2018.

The Giant Pumpkin weekend has a pumpkin painting party the night before the regatta. Regatta day there is a parade through Windsor of the entries and supporters. The parade ends on the far side of Lake Pisiquid where a team of forklifts remove them from their floats and transfer them to the lake. Then participants make any final adjustments to their pumpkin (like removing seeds they missed before) and are assisted into the craft.

Dressed as a hot dog and relish these participants were raising funds for the Children’s Wish Foundation. (Allan Lynch Photo)

And then the regatta begins!

It is great fun. The town of Windsor has a resident population of 3,500. Over 5,000 people come to the lakeside to watch the regatta.

Not only is the regatta fun, it illustrates the decency and good sportsmanship of people. For example, in 2016 two sight-impaired women participated. It was a bucket-list experience for them. However, as they were about to board their pumpkin they realized it had a crack and was taking on water. Two young men, students at Kings-Edgehill School, stepped forward and exchanged pumpkins with these women. A kayaker followed the women across the lake shouting directions to them so they could finish.

Early in the regatta one pumpkin sank. That didn’t deter its rower. He swam across the lake. It was probably less work than trying to paddle a giant pumpkin. (Allan Lynch Photo)
The spirit of Canada. (Allan Lynch Photo)

At the 2017 regatta one pumpkin was painted with the Canadian and Bolivian flags. A student from each country paddled the pumpkin. They were a living example of the real acceptance and diversity of Canada.

The Giant Pumpkin Regatta is an offshoot of the passion Windsor farmer Howard Dill had for growing giant pumpkins. In the 1970s Dill perfected the giant pumpkin. Dill was known to spend cold nights in his pumpkin patch, wrapping blankets around his early Atlantic Giant Pumpkins to protect them from the frost. Many people wondered why anyone would want a 500-pound pumpkin. Now giant pumpkins hit almost three times that size.

This pumpkin represents a craft rum distiller. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Guinness-Record- Holder Dill was crazy like a fox. He knew it would fire the imagination of competitive gardeners and launch a fun business around his quirky creation. His wife Hilda bought into his passion and wrote a pumpkin cookbook. Howard died in 2008, but his passion and humour lives on in every giant pumpkin in every pumpkin patch around the world and though Windsor’s annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta.

It’s a natural progression. Once you’ve weighted your pumpkin, then hollowed it out to make the couple of hundred pies a humongous gourd will yield, what else is left but to race the shells?

Windsor’s Giant Pumpkin Regatta is the coolest way to play with our food.

 

To track future pumpkin events, click on: https://www.town.windsor.ns.ca/events.html

Post-paddle pumpkins are pulled aside in a holding area. (Allan Lynch Photo)