Christmas is barrelling down faster than the Grinch whipping into Whoville to join in a chorus of "Welcome Christmas." The Boney M. Christmas album is on a continuous loop at half the retail outlets you walk into, the scent of peppermint is pervasive and calendars are bursting with social events.
This is truly an exciting, joy-filled time for the few among us who have all our gifts wrapped, baking securely stored in freezers and homes decorated to rival anything Martha Stewart has ever whipped up. For the rest of us though, these last few days left between now and the Big Event are as anxiety-producing as in-laws visiting for the entire Christmas season. The reason? Math.
Take the number of days left before Christmas, divide by the number of gifts you have left to buy and then multiple that number by the hours you will likely spend in dazed confusion lurching from store to store in search of something perfect — or at least something that is marginally suitable — for everyone remaining on your list. And as the shopping days evaporate, it really does look like everyone is on your list. Even as you make a last-ditch effort to trim the fat on your gift list things tend to go awry. It's inevitable that every time you add up the number of people on the list, the number will be different and new names will have mysteriously appeared. Again, this is some sort of Christmas math/Voodoo thing. I don't pretend to understand it.
With too many gifts to buy, too little time to buy them and a very human tendency to overspend when feeling under pressure to purchase, a trip to the city for that last push of Christmas-induced consumer madness is not advisable. Besides, do you really want to spend your time fighting angry West Van housewives (the ones that were too mean to make the cut for The Real Housewives of Vancouver) for the last parking spots at Park Royal? You know you don't.
So how do you accumulate those last gifts on your list? Sure, you could run into the next gas station you stop at and buy fistful of gift cards, but unless you're buying for teenagers, an iTunes card is really the gift that says, "I put zero effort into this. Enjoy!" So what do you do?
First off, you make a commitment to shop local. If you can't get it here, you don't need it. Make this your mantra. Do not give in to the urge to head south — it will not increase your Christmas goodwill, it will not be any fun at all and you will likely end up eating in a food court. Besides, since the village is up late these days you can easily sneak in a little après before hitting the stores (The village also has the advantage of being familiar and pedestrian only — which in turn makes indulging in après safer).
With so many creative entrepreneurs, service providers, artists and artisans in town, you can easily find unique gifts that are locally produced. From Vincent Massey's gorgeous pottery to custom-made Prior snowboards and skis, there is no shortage of homegrown Whistler gift ideas. Of course, if you're still paying off that Turkey Sale binge-shopping fiasco, you can get crafty and make your own gifts.
It's a little late in the game for making organic, Fair Trade, cinnamon-scented soy candles, but you can still create a perfectly great gift in about an hour. All it takes is grabbing a digital camera, finding a suitable vista and taking a few pictures. Once you've printed your favourite, find the last framed photo of you and your ex, remove the offending image and replace it with the piece of Canadian Nirvana you and a borrowed Nikon managed to capture. Voila! A thoughtful, personalized gift that will not only delight the recipient(s), it will help you gain closure with your ex.
Please note: Even if you live in a basement suite without the benefit of natural light, it's important to pretend the photo was taken from your kitchen window. Scribble a note claiming that this is what you see every morning while you gulp down your morning coffee, quickly fuelling up for another amazing morning on the hill. You don't have to tell anyone that the reason you're on the hill at first daylight is to work; it's perfectly permissible to let the recipient(s) of your fabulous photo be consumed with envy as they envision you laying fresh tracks on pristine terrain before they've even completed their morning commute.
This gift is especially suitable for any relatives living in Winnipeg. Sure they've got the best cheesecake in Canada, but fabulous mountains? Not a one. The delighted recipient(s) will prop up your photo on their buffet where it will become a conversation piece. "Mountains, more than a mile high," your uncle will tell unbelieving friends about where you live. Some of these people will trade in their cross-country skis and head west. This is a gift that could do more than make a couple of distant relatives feel special, it could actually drive room nights!
For your favourite aunt in Toronto, the one whose accumulation of parking tickets is legend, show her how much money she could be saving if she chose to park illegally in Whistler instead. Take all your unpaid parking tickets and turn them into a festive wreath. Roll the offending bits of paper into cones, then glue them all together, bringing them eventually into a circle formation. Spray paint it, add sparkles, tie on a few candy canes and there you have it, a wreath that would be equally at home on a door in staff housing or a duplex on the Danforth. Don't worry about using all your resources on one wreath, chances are you'll have new versions — some with festive red ink — of those tickets in your mailbox soon enough.
Now that The Hairfarmers are back in full swing après mode, another exciting free gift opportunity is available to you for the price of a pint. Imagine the thrill your live acoustic music-loving cousin in St. John's, N.L. will get from a Hairfarmers' digital bootleg. All it takes is a smart phone and you can capture the true essence of après. Add a note explaining that you see the Farmers every day after work, that they have a playlist of about 10 million songs and that the guy with the bigger beard does a wicked Robert Plant. You can throw the file in Dropbox, send your cousin an invite and you're done. No line-ups at Canada Post, no shipping charges — just pure thoughtfulness. And piracy. And the possibility of annoying Guitar Doug and Grateful Great. And the fact you'll look like a dork hoisting your iPhone above your head to minimize the happy cacophony on Citta's patio. Hmm. This idea might actually be cheap in a bad way. Never mind...
Of course sometimes you don't want to risk coming off as cheap. There are plenty of options for gifts right here in Whistler. While some might stretch the budget, most won't, and they all offer incredible value. So let the purchased gift suggestions begin.
If there are kids on your list, buy them books. Risk their disappointment and bravely attempt to open their worlds. In this age of endless screen time, a book is a simple reminder that imagination once played a bigger part in stories than state-of-the-art graphics. Giving a book instead of a PS4 game will take courage, but the rewards could be vast. Chance it.
A great place to buy kid lit is the amazingly helpful and well-stocked Armchair Books. This small and tidy village bookshop has a great selection of titles for kids aged zero to 16, from cloth books designed to be gummed by pre-ambulatory literary enthusiasts to novels about some form of undead things and their tortured emotional lives aimed at the YA (Young Adult) crowd.
Armchair features the work of local writers, such as Sara Leach, who picked up this year's Red Cedar Award for Count Me In, a tale about an adolescent hiking trip gone wrong. A great 'tween adventure story with a female protagonist, Count Me In has proven popular with both girls and boys. Younger kids will love Leach's picture books, the charmingly illustrated Mountain Machines and the Chocolate Lily Award-nominated Sounds of the Ferry. These titles start at $9.95.
Buying for grown-ups? There's no shortage of local recreation guides, map books and stunning coffee table books to purchase. One of the best being Top of the Pass, featuring Stephen Vogler's elegant words with more than 200 fantastic photographs by Bonny Makarewicz and Toshi Kawano. For a mere $34.95 you can bring the splendour that is the Sea to Sky corridor to your sister who continually kvetches about her life in the concrete jungle. This is a way better way to taunt her than constantly insinuating that "Mom always liked me best" and it shows you care.
A note to those purchasing books for kids: When deciding to give the gift of print to children, you can always sweeten the deal by including a bar of Whistler Chocolate. To the under-12 set, a family-size chocolate bar is the equivalent of a nice Meritage. Throw a bear in Ray-bans skiing across the label and you've got one cool confection. Not only is Whistler Chocolate really good, it is reasonably priced, organic and it comes in an array of dark and milk varieties. Delicious. A bargain at less than $5 a bar.
There is no shortage of tasty artisanal food being produced at home; a trip to Whistler's Farmers' Market will confirm that. Many of the products featured at the summer/fall market, such as Nonna Pia's rich and vicious balsamic reductions, are now available year-round at area grocery stores. Flavoured with fresh herbs and fruits, these delicious condiments can be used as glazes for meats, drizzle for vegetables and dips for bread. The reductions are sold individually, in gift sampler sets and in full cases of all six flavours. Prices start at $10. Any Nonna Pia product would be an essential component for a basket of Whistler's gourmet fare. Throw a bottle alongside some Whistler Coffee, Namaste tea, some sauces and nut butters from the Paleo-diet friendly online Caveman Grocer's, top it off with a selection of decadent desserts items from Purebread and you've got a great gift for your uncle the gourmand (and don't forget the Whistler Chocolate — everyone loves it. And if you can find a way of shipping Lucia's Gelato, I'd throw that in, too).
What goes well with food? Anything from the Whistler Brewing Company! From their Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale to their Winter Dunkel, there's a brew for every palate at Whistler's favourite craft brewery. Whistler Brewing Company's variety pack is the perfect gift for your brother-in-law who can never decide which kind he likes when he's sampling from your fridge. While it's illegal to send alcohol by post and most courier companies won't touch it, where there's a will there's a way. Get creative. Get plenty of Styrofoam packing peanuts. Get prepared to lie. Or you can just buy a case of Pineapple Express Wheat Ale, take it home, pop one open, toast your brother-in-law and send him an iTunes card.
Of course, clever Whistlerites create more than food and drink. Instead of feeding bodies, why not feed souls with the gift of art? Whistler is an inspiring place and it shows in the work that's produced here. An artist who has grabbed onto this inspiration to create a wholly original style is painter Chili Thom. His takes on rock-filled riverbeds and snow-covered evergreens capture a joy and enthusiasm that is of the adventure-loving community of Whistler. Lovely, rounded, organic imagery expertly executed in acrylics.
An original Chili Thom starts at about $750, Giclee prints at $200 and paper prints at $55. Your parents, who still don't understand why you live here, are the ideal recipients for this gift. It will not only make them feel hipper than their neighbours still sporting a Joe Average print over their fireplace, it will make them understand a little about why you choose to live somewhere where having two jobs is the norm. Of course there are several other excellent local artists as well, so peruse the Art Council's website for more inspiration.
Another kind of print that speaks to Whistler's bucolic natural environment can be found on the website for Twig Prints, a Whistler textile design and printing studio. Using non-toxic printing material and natural fibres, designer Abby Finestone has developed a line of storage tubs and totes that will have your slovenly roommate organized in no time. These handmade originals start at an affordable $32.25.
And keeping with the theme of handmade originals, there's probably at least a couple of people on your list that would squeal with unrestrained glee at finding a pair of Garywayne Skis under the tree. These custom-made skis take a while to manufacture, so this year you may have to slip an IOU under the tree instead. For powder enthusiasts these skis are the ultimate. Plus they have blunt ends, a convex base and look just plain cool. Prices start at $799.
The village also boasts some incredible outdoor stores to get all the equipment you need to go along with those skis. Who doesn't need a new toque, after all?
These are a few of the unique gifts that you can give that really say Whistler. Look around at the independent stores throughout the village, Creekside and Function and you'll find a vast array of locally made items that exemplify the creative spirit of this place. And in a turn of phrase sure to appear in a future municipal report, there is something special about giving "a gift of place."
Perhaps the best gift of place is the gift of Whistler itself. You still have time to make a last-minute invitation to someone special to come visit you over the holidays. You can send a plane ticket, offer to pay their Greyhound fare or write them a rideshare ad they can throw on Craigslist. A lot of people prefer experiences to tangible goods, and there are few better experiences than spending the Christmas season in a place that actually looks like Christmas — snow, twinkling lights, outdoor ice-skating and sleigh rides. Throw in a snowball fight and a game of shinny and it's Christmas card Canada.
But wait, this gift gets better. There are two mountains that consistently put Whistler at the top of the list of best ski resorts in North America. A friend who has been skiing or snowboarding in Ontario will lose his or her mind surveying Whistler-Blackcomb's massive terrain and jaw-dropping vertical. Pick up the price of his or her lift ticket and you're guaranteed a kidney when/if you need one.
You can just as easily impress non-skiers with other snow-independent activities. After a leisurely breakfast (looking out your kitchen window at the marvellous Alpine landscape as you sip your coffee, of course) take your guest winter sightseeing on the Peak 2 Peak. While holders of a season's pass might consider this miracle of modern engineering to be merely efficient transportation between Whistler and Blackcomb, for a first-timer floating between the mountains on a glass-bottom gondola will be an amazing experience. However, if your guest is more of a thrill-seeker, you can head out to Superfly Ziplines. Soaring 183 metres above the ground attached to a zipline that's more than a kilometre, travelling at speeds up to 100km/h, that's pretty much the gift of flight. And that makes a pretty terrific Christmas memory.
And of course, no matter what you do, stop in for a few hours at Scandinave for a very relaxing après. Scandinave's steam and dry heat saunas, toasty resting rooms and multiple hot tubs will warm winter-cooled bones. The 20,000 square-foot Scandinavian spa's design and secluded location makes it truly Whistler unique. And best of all, Scandinave is a talk-free zone, which will make this an ideal excursion midway through your guest's visit.
The resort also boasts a host of wonderful day spas all worth considering if pampering your guest is on the to-do list.
That's just a few ideas about how you can make your last few forays into the world of Christmas commerce easier. So grab your list, throw on your cozy coat and head out to the local shops in search of gifts as original as this special place we call home. Have a very Merry Christmas, Whistler style.