FON­DUES IN THE SNOW

The ski slopes of Bri­tish Columbia of­fer a plethora of fun eat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, finds John Lee

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Canada & Alaska -

IT is late af­ter­noon at win­try Grouse Moun­tain, a 20-minute drive via the Li­ons Gate Bridge from down­town Van­cou­ver. I’m tee­ter­ing in the snow while a guide stoops to fas­ten my hired snow­shoes. Pre­tend­ing to ig­nore the raised eye­brows of pass­ing skiers, I feel like a kid who can’t tie his shoelaces.

A favourite sea­sonal play­ground for lo­cal skiers and snow­board­ers, Grouse of­fers plenty of op­tions for those who are happy just look­ing at the snow. Restau­rant loung­ing and comfy sleigh rides are pop­u­lar here but my cho­sen ac­tiv­ity — a guided snow­shoe trek fol­lowed by a fon­due din­ner — seems to of­fer the right com­bi­na­tion of sweat pro­duc­tion and stom­ach stuff­ing.

Within min­utes of set­ting off on our trek it feels as if the guide and I are the only peo­ple on the moun­tain. Fad­ing voices are re­placed by the crunch-crunch of icy snow, along with the ever-present caw­ing of scav­eng­ing ravens. I catch the high-pitched song of a cou­ple of steller’s jays, but I don’t spot any of the ea­gles that pop­u­late the area and pick off squir­rels for lunch.

Af­ter 90 min­utes, and an oc­ca­sional burst of pace that has my snow­shoes flick­ing ice crumbs like con­fetti, we reach the chilly, tree­lined sum­mit. We’re over­look­ing the moon­lit sur­face of Capi­lano Reser­voir to the dis­tant, fad­ing crags of Van­cou­ver Is­land. Pok­ing around in the drifts and chat­ting about the city, it soon feels as if it’s time to am­ble to the lodge.

Wav­ing good­bye to my guide, I head for a hearth­side ta­ble at Grouse’s Al­ti­tudes Bistro, with a win­dow over­look­ing the twin­kling lights of Van­cou­ver. Pil­ing my gear and rub­bing sore mus­cles, I await the feast. My ideas about fon­dues are based mostly on 1970s television shows; dis­pelling the no­tion I should be sport­ing a large mous­tache and a pair of tan flares, I pe­ruse the small dishes of salmon, prawns and scal­lops along­side the pyra­mids of raw chicken, beef and pork as they ar­rive in front of me. There’s also a large plat­ter of soft, pre-cooked veg­eta­bles to keep things healthy.

The wait­ress ignites my ta­ble’s mini gas burner and I watch as the dual-sec­tion pan of cur­ried bouil­lon and hot-pot stock starts bub­bling. There’s also a sep­a­rate pan of what looks like cus­tard but turns out to be melted cheese. Slen­der forks poised, I plunge sev­eral fish and meat chunks into the main pan. The bowl is soon empty.

I make sure I save room for a bowl of warm molten choco­late, ac­com­pa­nied by chunks of fruit and sponge cake squares. Scoff­ing such morsels makes me feel as if I am not eat­ing much; then sud­denly I can’t put an­other thing in my mouth. The elas­ti­cised waist on my snow pants has be­come a li­cence to gorge.

Slow­ing to a halt and droop­ing com­fort­ably in the heat from the fire, I be­gin to make a men­tal list of Bri­tish Columbia’s other snow-re­lated din­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties; the prov- ince is drip­ping with foodie ex­pe­ri­ences for win­ter gour­mands who like com­bin­ing out­door ex­er­tion with slap-up nosh.

Whistler, for ex­am­ple — a two-hour drive away on the Sea to Sky High­way — has al­ways been a pop­u­lar re­sort with food fans. On a re­cent visit, I checked out Cor­nu­copia, one of Canada’s most pop­u­lar culi­nary fes­ti­vals. A four-day bac­cha­na­lian ex­trav­a­ganza of snow, ski­ing and stuff­ing your­self silly, it colonises restau­rants and bars around the ici­cle-cov­ered alpine vil­lage and show­cases the re­gion’s best in­gre­di­ents, creative chefs and wine­mak­ers. But even if you miss this an­nual in­dul­gence, Whistler is bulging with fin­ger-lick­ing grub through­out the sea­son. Araxi (4222 Vil­lage Square) is among the best restau­rants of any BC ski re­sort, com­bin­ing an ever-chang­ing menu of sea­sonal dishes — such as Queen Char­lotte Is­land cod and Cowichan Val­ley chicken — with the kind of friendly ser­vice that proves high-end restau­rants don’t have to be snooty.

But you don’t have to break the bank to eat well in Whistler.

The homely Beet­root Cafe (4340 Lorimer Rd) en­tices with its black­board menu of hearty treats, rang­ing from yam que­sadil­las to thick-packed turkey and brie sand­wiches. And stick around for the cof­fee and bak­ery good­ies, es­pe­cially the apri­cot cook­ies.

While high-profile Whistler at­tracts plenty of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, you’re more likely to rub shoul­ders with lo­cals at some of the prov­ince’s other ski ar­eas. But al­though Fernie, Sil­ver Star and Man­ning Park have their fans, trav­el­ling gour­mands of­ten make for Sun Peaks near Kam­loops, a two-hour flight from Van­cou­ver. Try to make it here for the mid-Jan­uary Icewine Fes­ti­val. A five-day cel­e­bra­tion of Canada’s sig­na­ture dessert wine, the fes­ti­val in­cludes laid­back work­shops on food and wine pair­ings, an in­tro­duc­tion to icewine pro­duc­tion (of­fi­cially, the grapes have to freeze on the vine) and a se­ries of in­dul­gent din­ners staged in gable-roofed lodges and ho­tels.

The fes­ti­val’s high­light is the Satur­day night pro­gres­sive tast­ing, when hun­dreds of wine quaf­fers slip and slide around the vil­lage search­ing for the sam­ple ta­bles lo­cated in var­i­ous venues.

On my last visit, I bar­relled into a cou­ple of snow banks but never spilled a drop of wine.

Back on Grouse, af­ter gamely pol­ish­ing off my fon­due ban­quet, I strap on the snow­shoes for a fi­nal wad­dle in the re­fresh­ing night air, weav­ing among the grow­ing crowds of flood­lit rev­ellers.

Af­ter a few restora­tive cir­cuits, I re­turn to the lodge, ease off my snow­shoes, and head to the up­stairs bar. A cold bot­tle of lo­cal Granville Is­land lager seems the best way to end an evening of ex­er­tion and in­dul­gence.

Check­list

Grouse Moun­tain snow­shoe-fon­due pack­ages, in­clud­ing equip­ment and din­ner, cost $C79 ($85) a per­son. More: www.grouse­moun­tain.com. Whistler’s Cor­nu­copia fes­ti­val takes place on Novem­ber 8-12 this year. More: www.whistler­cor­nu­copia.com. Sun Peaks’ Icewine Fes­ti­val takes place on Jan­uary 14-19, 2008. More: www.thewine­fes­ti­vals.com.

Ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion: Clock­wise from above, a lift car­ries snow rev­ellers up Grouse Moun­tain, near Van­cou­ver in Bri­tish Columbia; charm­ing Whistler Black­comb re­sort is pop­u­lar with food­ies; steam­ing cheese fon­due en­tices skiers

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