The community of Pemberton, home to 2,300 year-round residents, has become known largely for two things in recent years: potatoes and the one-hit wonder that rolled into town in the summer of 2008, also known as Pemberton Festival.
But there's much more to this town than meets the eye. While it's neighbour less than 30 minutes south on Highway 99 may be a lot ritzier, Pemberton offers up a more rugged, real version of the great outdoors, with plenty of activities for thrill-seekers.
Now that the sun is shining and the temperature has finally started creeping upwards, it's time to hit the road and find out what lies in store just half an hour outside Whistler's comfortable little bubble. Here are a few suggestions on how to divide your time:
Making a weekend trip to Pemberton without stocking up on some locally-grown goodies is just foolish. So, roll out of bed at a semi-decent hour and time the drive so you arrive around noon, just in time to peruse the new General Store Farm Market at North Arm Farm (1888 Sea to Sky Highway 99) and grab a delicious lunch in their new outdoor dining room.
The FoodLovers (Maxim Ridorossi and Jenna Dashney) will be creating fresh sheets each week, sourcing as many ingredients as possible from the 60-acre farm for their menus. Don't forget to grab a pie, some preserves or fresh produce on your way out! (www.thefoodlovers.ca)
If you're more into sipping spirits, check out the Schramm Vodka factory, located in the industrial park (1954 Venture Place). Tyler Schramm travelled to Europe to earn his Masters in distillery and last year began distilling and bottling his distinct sipping vodka, made from organic, local potatoes. So far, the spirit has proven to be enormously successful, earning the honours of Spirit of the Year and Double-Gold at the World Spirits Awards, as well as loads of media attention.
For just $6, the distillery offers up a guided tour, which takes you through the three-week process that has transformed over 200,000 pounds of potatoes into bottles of the triple-distilled premium spirit. The best part: at the end, you have a chance to sample the unique sipping vodka and get a nifty little gift to take home. (www.pembertondistillery.ca).
After a few shots of liquid courage, make your way to the Pemberton Airport. Yep, that's right. Whistler doesn't have one, but there are plenty of small aircraft soaring through the skies over Pemberton.
One such operator, Whistler Skydiving (1850 Airport Road), is just entering its third season of business in the community. Owned and operated by a team of brothers, an accountant and a pilot, the team has thousands of dives under their belts already. They offer tandem dives to the uninitiated and service to licensed jumpers. A tandem jump will run you around $270. Add another $75 to videotape the experience - because you know you'll want to relive the experience over and over again. (www.whistlerskydiving.ca).
If skydiving seems a bit extreme, a flight with the Pemberton Soaring Centre may be more up your alley. The husband and wife team of Rudy and Tracey Rozsypalek have operated the centre since 1993. Rudy has been flying since he was just 14 years old. Over the past 17 years in operation, the Rozsypaleks have developed an impressive roster of scenic and aerobatic glider flight offerings for people aged seven to 70.
Not sure what a glider flight is? Neither was I. Here's the deal: all their passenger flights are made in one of their two-seat all-metal gliders, with the pilot flying from the rear seat and the passenger perched in the front - the best seat in the house.
The non-motorized glider (also known as a sailplane) is towed up into the skies by a small plane. When you reach the right height the tow-line is detached, and your pilot navigates you through the air; a spectacular, eerily-silent experience.
Each trip is customized for the guest's comfort level - from gentle and relaxing to exhilarating aerobatic tricks like loops, wingovers, spins, stalls and chandales. Prices range from $94 for a 15-minute soar over the Pemberton Valley to $237 for the awe-inspiring Glacier Flight, a 50+ minute trip to snow-capped mountain peaks and glaciers. (www.pembertonsoaring.com).
Make a splash
While your adrenaline is still surging from the high-flying fun had in Pemberton skies, don't forget to check out the incredible river system. Eric Pehota, a legendary big-mountain skier and owner of Whistler Jet Boating, has more than 16 years of jet boat piloting experience under his belt. Crowds clamber on-board his custom-built whitewater jet boat and make their way up the Lillooet and Green Rivers towards five and 15 $99. (www.whistlerjetboating.comNairn Falls, navigating an intricate system of braided channels, canyons and class three and three-plus rapids along the way.
The first part of the journey through the waterways of the Coast Mountains is a bit calmer, offering an up-close-and-personal view of the local wildlife (bear, osprey, deer, eagles and more) and guided tour. Things get a little more "edge-of-your-seat" as Pehota takes the boat further up-river through the brilliant green waters towards the stunning falls.
Fasten your lifejacket and don't be afraid to get a little wet on the ride back; it's one hell of a trip! The "Green River Thriller" tour will run adults $109 and kids between the ages of ).