Whistler, Canada: Why this is the number one destination for Aussies

 I'm standing at the edge of British Columbia's greatest abyss and as I close my eyes and take a deep breath I realise there is only one thing left to do.


Suddenly I'm airborne and descending a steep mountain peak at 120 km/h. The speed and force of the world against me literally takes my breath away, the wind whipping the cold sweat of fear from my forehead. My feet dangle precariously over the tips of fir trees and as I slowly open my eyes I watch as they pass me in a blur, like a giant green carpet below, way below. Suddenly I'm ejected high above a valley, slowing down long enough to enjoy the view over the pine-covered valley, curving around an icy blue river sparkling in the brilliant sunlight – arguably the greatest view in Whistler.

And just as I am beginning to enjoy it, it all comes to an abrupt end. I take my first steps on the platform of Whistler Blackcomb's infamous peak, legs shaking, heart beating fast. What a thrill.

Welcome to the Sasquatch zip line, one of the most notorious in the world. It's the fastest and the longest in North America, at two kilometres long, and 2130 metres high. At that length and height, it falls slightly below the Peak 2 Peak Gondola – Whistler's top tourist attraction.

The surge from the 2½ minute ride has made me lust for more, so the next day I try a circuit of four on Superfly's lines, the longest in Canada, reaching up to speeds of about 102km/h. There's only one problem – the weather's taken a turn for the worse and it's foggy. A jump off the landing platform takes you directly into a cloud – I'm not sure that this is any less terrifying than the Sasquatch. Here, on Cougar Mountain, the chances of bears snapping jowls at your feet are much higher. It was just yesterday attendants had to scare some passing bears and their cubs off the tour trail.


My speed lust satiated, it's time to take to the roads to try another Whistler favourite: RZR tours. Like a cross between an ATV and a jeep, these little hardcore buggys are designed for serious offroading, traversing pathways over Cougar Mountain.

It's been raining, so the paths that curl up and around the mountain are all rock and mud. Under these conditions, you're wise to dress from head to toe in rainproof gear.

I'm also the only female, in our group of 10, who opts to take the wheel. I'm also the only person who struggles to get the thing started, and then once it does, it zooms down the path at an alarming speed, and for a split second I'm terrified it's going to roll. As we get higher up the foggy mountain, I'm concerned that rolling is going to happen down the mountain side.

Ten minutes into the trip the heavens open and the cold makes my hands ache, but the concentration required to keep the vehicle on the road keeps my mind off the rain. Our guide guides us through the largest puddles, over the biggest, sharpest rocks and the steepest hills imaginable which gives you an idea of what these tough little vehicles are capable of. One "slingshot" or "fish" and I'm sure I would have taken the world's fastest shortcut to the bottom of the mountain. Every trick we pull today makes the four-wheel driving course I did earlier in the year seem like child's play. I emerge from the vehicle two hours later, cold hands, sopping wet arse, and completely buzzed.

My attempt to take it down a notch the next day with a humble bike ride is shot when I'm handed one of the world's most blinged-up mountain bikes, required for the hilly dirt road circuit to Whistler's two lakes.

Mountain biking is an important part of the culture in Whistler now – some may say even as important as skiing, with tracks throughout the mountainside and the village a key mode of transport.

I straddle something that looks like the bike equivalent of a monster truck, and fly lightning fast across trails leading to Emerald Lake and Green Lake and back into the village, where it's easy to get lost among the thick web of interconnected bike paths that can quickly transform from rocky open tracks to tree-covered tunnels.

A perfect antithesis to this active lifestyle is the Scandinavian Spa, where a few hours can be whiled away dipping into the spa, sauna and cold-water pools and then relaxing in Whistler sunshine. But even this, or so I am told gaspingly by a Whistler local, can thrill visitors if a Whistler bear happens to pass through with cubs in tow.

There's only one thing left to do as part of my last tour of duty at Whistler – catch the gondola to the top of Blackcomb Mountain. On this crisp, sunny, bright autumn day, I watch as the tall pines fall away below; most have already changed from green to red and gold as winter approaches and the first snowfall for the year is only a few weeks away. It's absolutely freezing at the summit; there's barely a soul around. It's a Saturday morning, so the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is gearing up for operations.

According to TripAdvisor, it's Whistler's number one tourist attraction, allowing skiers to ski from one peak to the other in a day.

Right now, however, the gondolas and chairlifts are the exclusive domain of hikers, sightseers and mountainbikers – and their bikes – where, incredibly, bike tracks allow them to ride from the very top of the mountain to the bottom.

Soon it will be skiers and snowboarders that dominate this mountain, and for the first time in my life I feel a sudden longing to give snowsports a try, if only to see what keeps so many visitors returning to this adventure-laden mountain which turns fairytale-like during winter, capturing the hearts of so many Australians.

Kylie McLaughlin was a guest of Destination Canada.