February 05, 1999 Features & Images » Feature Story


How do I wed thee? Let me count the ways… Whistler tops for tying the knot By Velvet Jones and Amy Fendley Some people have an innate fear of flying. Others fear water, or large circular configurations mysteriously cut into crop fields in Saskatchewan. Most people, with the exception of a few desperately-seeking-anybody types, suffer from tietheknotaphobia — the inherent fear of weddings. What is there to be scared of, you ask? Think about it. Planning. Reams of impatient relatives. A skyrocketing credit account. Planning. That annoying guy who insists on playing his new mix tape at your reception. An obnoxious best man. Planning. However tedious staging this event may be, it has not been a negative for Whistler. In fact, if there is one noticeable constant in Whistler it’s that weddings are in. According to "Vital Link," the official newsletter of the province’s vital statistics agency, there were more marriages performed in Whistler in 1997 than there were births. In a town of great performers, this one-night-only, performance-for-a-lifetime gig is booming business. It’s trés chic, and it’s on the verge of becoming an art form. Linda Marshall is part of that art form. She has been living the "Whistler dream" for the past 10 years, relying on couples to finance that dream, so to speak. Marshall is the resort’s resident magic moment maker, and has planned weddings for everyone from international jetsetters, right on down to those off-the-cuff couples who just happen to fall under the romantic spell of Whistler and want to remember it for a lifetime. "Nature is what we’re all about here," says Marshall. "You don’t have to spend much on decor when you have all this as your background." These days Marshall is fielding more requests through her wedding planning business from the Brits, Japanese and those wanting to elope, wherever they may hail from. On average, she’ll help orchestrate upward of 359 weddings a year. That’s a lot of love to be around in one year. "Being near the river and mountaintops is what it’s all about," she says. "There is a move toward smaller weddings, more unique and intimate, but much of the planning depends on the couple and their priorities." So what does it take to put on a typical Whistler wedding? That’s just it, there is no typical Whistler wedding. There is a loose formula to work from, usually involving wildflowers, a good location with strong lighting, a handful of witnesses, someone to make it official, and an emergency backup plan in case of bad weather. Oh, yeah. Don’t forget the lovebirds. "Anything over 125 people we have to do in a venue like the Chateau or the conference centre. Everybody dreams of getting married in a castle," says Marshall. "People want locations that are unique, so we’ll put a tent anywhere." When it comes to making it official, there is an obvious cost. It’s a cost capable of choking the life out of someone’s wallet, most likely that of the bride’s father who traditionally gets stuck with the bill. For instance, if you’re thinking of reserving one of the municipality’s parks, you will be charged a minimum of $33 per hour to a maximum of 8 hours. If you’d prefer to host 120 guests at Joel’s Restaurant at Nicklaus North you’re looking at about $75-80 per person, which includes dinner and wine. Let’s say you’d rather stage a jazzy mountaintop wedding at Christine’s. For one, you’ll have to jockey for positioning as the restaurant is nearly sold out for this summer. Once booked, you’ll have to consider the expense of getting your Aunt Trudy and cousin Tito up there, and whether you’re comfortable with charging them a $20 lift ticket if you can’t absorb the cost yourself. If you are considering the wedding on the mount ceremony and using Whistler-Blackcomb facilities, they insist you consult a wedding planner first. Then there’s the dinner. McDonald’s just doesn’t cut it. Wedding folk like to eat, and they like to eat well. Think La Rúa, Les Deux Gros, The Edgewater, Quattro, or a conference-size dinner at the Chateau Whistler Resort, to name a few. If the purse-strings are really tight, you might get away with a catered meal. "More couples are requesting big, formal vacation style weddings," says Marshall. "Come with a few friends, have a wedding, incorporate a honeymoon, have a good trip, then go home and have a big party." Does this mean Whistler is rivalling Las Vegas as the capital of holy matrimonial commitment? Not yet, but we’re on our way. "Disneyland, San Francisco, P.E.I., Banff and Whistler are now en route holiday stops for destination weddings and here they are a quarter of the cost what they are in Japan," says marriage commissioner Florence Petersen. "It’s becoming quite a big business here." Last year, Petersen herself performed 60 weddings, and her dance card is already starting to look full for 1999. Petersen, one of Whistler’s post-fishing resort, pre-extreme ski resort pioneers, says the Japanese are among the top trend-setters. According to Petersen, tying the knot in the old country can generate the average Japanese couple a tab of upwards of $40,000. In Whistler, that bill can be reduced to about $10,000 for a white wedding, and they’ll still have plenty of cash left over to tip the limo driver. Right behind the Japanese are the Brits, and the "what’re-yer-packin’-unda-that-kilt-laddy?" Scots. For the Brits Whistler is viewed as the undiscovered country because until recently the most they’ve ever been allowed are nuptials in a church or solicitor’s office. And unless you’re a member of the Royal Family, those venues can be a bit stifling. Petersen recently completed her 741st wedding on Blackcomb Mountain. Sounds conventional, but this wedding was particularly "out there" — at about 6,000 feet above sea level in the yurts. In this case, it was the marriage of Mountain FM news-hound Scott Roberts and his partner Christine Yanisiw. Their date at the top involved a snowcat ride for about 20 guests, a luxurious dinner prepped by chef Tony Weyland, a delicate mix of pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles tunes, and a bit of rug cutting. It was the first yurt wedding of its kind. The cost of producing your own private affair of this sort for you and 18 guests would fetch in the range of $200 an hour for the yurt, depending on the menu you choose and what you're drinking. A sleepover will fetch $245 per person for a minimum of eight people. This does not include transportation up and down the mountain. Petersen loves her work. Unlike most folks, who tend to whine about their livelihoods, Petersen is thrilled to talk about hers, especially some of the more close-to-home nuptials she has performed. "A lot of youngsters who’ve grown up here have a few of their own favourite spots," she says. Like the couple who chose to get married at the South-end of Alta Lake. The wedding party drifted in silently. Boats were tied up to a large wharf on three sides. "Very much a ‘yahoo’ situation," says Petersen. "It was the most mystic late afternoon. Beautiful and calm, people arrived by canoe, kayak, raft, sail and paddle boat. It was the calm of the outdoors, floating on water on a lovely sunny afternoon in August." However, getting a bride and her dress elegantly and safely out of a canoe onto the shores of The River of Golden Dreams can be logistical nightmare. Petersen has been marrying couples for 11 years, and in the past three years has shared the duties with Fran Charlebois, and more recently, Tina Sinclair. "Increasingly, couples have shown a preference to personalized wedding celebrations," says Charlebois. "A celebration that offers something very personal in a special place, over the mechanics of a big wedding." Another take on Whistler’s ever-growing popularity as a destination resort for weddings is that it’s really about ancient cedars, green lakes, rivers of golden dreams, peaked mountain tops and a ride in a topless ’57 Studebaker down Easy Street. It’s about adventurous couples, and even not so adventurous ones, seeking to trek or heli-ski to the far side of a mountain — Whistler or Mount Currie, the latter steadily gaining popularity — or choosing to elope atop a glacier, snowflakes precipitously encircling overhead. If that isn’t romantic enough for you, there’s always Vegas. Pique’s "Best of Weddings" Planner The "Over-The-Top, Go Big or Go Home" Who: Monti Samuel and Allan Beaulieu Where or When: Atop Blackcomb Mountain, summer wedding. Serves: Up to 150 people. Appetizer: Major salon and spa pampering of bride and bridesmaids prior to event. A "Monti and Allan" web page. After paying to get up the mountain, guests are greeted by a medium-sized tent positioned outside Christine’s in full view of sightseers. Light jazz accompaniment courtesy David Johanns Trio. Lots of fresh sunflowers. Professional photographer to capture the moment. Post wedding reception inside restaurant. Champagne. Add 50 guests with lots of jewellery and platinum cards, and a special reading of Bob Dylan by the MC. Main Course: Upscale reception at the Chateau Whistler Resort for around 150 guests, which includes a few locals, a host of dignitaries and sorority-folk from around the globe. Also featuring a more formal and expanded jazz set by Johanns, individual video tributes to the bride and groom, and a tongue-in-chic "how they came together" clip, all carefully choreographed to selections from Grease. Cash bar. Dessert: Classic 80s pop spun by professional DJ. Nightcap: At a home rented on the Benchlands. Total Bill: Roughly the same cost of a suite in the Vale Inn. Whistler Traditional Who: Eli and Kate Milenkoff When or Where: Joel’s Restaurante at Nicklaus North summer. Serves: Roughly 100 guests from Ontario, B.C. and Australia quite comfortably. Appetizer: Salon and spa treatments for both bride and groom. Pre-marriage stags and stagettes, plus an "Eli and Kate" stag and doe at the Boot Pub. Main Course: The lovely bride is whisked to her show by golf cart from a friend’s home in Nicklaus North. Groom, looking surprisingly calm, stands at the patio alter with relatives, guests and marriage commissioner Fran Charlebois. Local songstress Karen Thirlwall provides the soundtrack. Lots of flowers add to decor. Champagne toast follows nuptials. Dinner, wine and lots of humorous anecdotes about Eli. Dessert: Humorous anecdotes about Eli. Nightcap: DJ’d dancing til the sun comes up. Total Bill: More than the cost of a few hundred jars of vegemite. Notes: Joel Thibault, Nicklaus North’s resident romantic, says he’s already booked three dozen weddings for this spring and summer, which indicates Joel’s is one of the hottest spots in Whistler to make it official. "We do weddings by the dozen," says Thibault. On average, a reservation for a wedding party of 120, plus the choice of a buffet-style or sit-down dinner and wine usually nets $75-80 per person. The location, overlooking Green Lake, is especially popular for Washington State couples, says Thibault. Runner-up in the "Whistler Traditional" is The Edgewater Lodge, which can host up to 40 people, but on the condition that the wedding party books the lodge’s 12 rooms. The rough cost on a Edgewater booking, complete with reception, dinner, wine and breakfast for 40, is $4,000. You can "Yurt" Yourself at that Altitude Who: Scott Roberts (of Mountain FM) and Christine Yanisiw Where or When: At the Yurts on Blackcomb Mountain, mid-winter, 6,000 feet above sea level Serves: Up to 16 people staying overnight; about 20 if dining only, couple overnight. Appetizer: A 70 minute snowcat trip up the mountains courtesy Canadian Snowmobile. Pre-wedding appetizers and wine in the "dinner" yurt, a plethora of photo-taking of bride and groom in the "sleep over" yurt. Wedding anecdotes from Florence Petersen. Music by boombox. Occasional carbon dioxide alarm warnings. Main Course: Very intimate ceremony. Bride looks stunning, some confusion on how to pronounce her last name, though. Touching speech by burger boy Tom Horler. Lots of laughter and goofing around post-ceremony. Anecdotes about couple’s early beginnings. Dessert: Dinner prepared by Chef Tony "The Wizard" Weyland. Nightcap: Guests are returned to village via snowcat, providing overnight solace for two in the sleeper yurt. Total Bill: If you were to do this yourself this spring, you’d be looking at around $245 per person based on a minimum eight person overnight stay. Yurts sleep sixteen people, with futons separated by curtains. The rate for a summer wedding sleep-over is $395 per person. Transportation up and down the mountain usually runs about $79 per person. Another alternative is to hold the ceremony at the Crystal Hut, the newly wedded later retiring to the yurts for some post-nuptial privacy. Why Don’t We Do It On the Beach? Who: Barb and Bob Mares Where or When: Rainbow Park, late-summer. Serves: As many people as you think you need. Appetizer: Gather at the house, then head on down the highway to Rainbow Park to meet up with rest of wedding cast. Sunny day (you hope), perhaps a tent in case of rain. Wedding ceremony performed on the Rainbow bridge, photos on or near the beach. Simple, affordable and fairly grassroots. Main Course: Post-ceremony photos of main wedding party participants at the Chateau Whistler. A private, relaxed champagne toast in the Mallard Bar, while guests sip martinis on the patio of Ristorante Araxi. Dessert: Reception at the Val d’Isere, with DJ David Branigan on the mike, and partying well past midnight. Nightcap: A guaranteed hangover. Post-wedding brunch cocktails and present unveiling at couple’s house in Alpine. Drink of the day: Bloody Caesar. Total Bill: Roughly the same cost of five months rent in Whistler. Shared accommodation rate, of course. There’s No Place Like Home Who: Ronni Anderson and Kirk Lovely Where or When: At own home, late summer. Serves: Up to 50 guests, more if you have a large patio or front yard. Appetizer: We’re talking a very low-key, grassroots affair boasting true romance rather than glitzy pretentiousness. Hair by Marj, music by Sanyo, Justice of the Peace duties by Fran, and catering by professional chef Dave. Pre-ceremony beer keg puts everyone in the right mood. Main Course: Early evening ceremony, under a small tent erected on the front yard. Kirk looks nervous yet confident. Ronni is stellar, and occasionally weepy. Dessert: Wedding reception held in-doors and on balcony facing Armchair. B.Y.O.B. recommended. Amateur video recording by friends/relatives. Cake that looks like Eiffel Tower. No single women. Ronni throws bouquet from loft to men below. Caught by car salesman from Vancouver. Nightcap: More friends from the restaurant scene arrive for reception. Party continues into the late evening until bride and groom finally whisked away to awaiting room at Chateau Whistler. Total Bill: Three to four mortgage payments. Notes: For those on the cheap, this is the real meal wedding deal. Eliminates cash flow stresses of renting space and providing a sit-down dinner. Think catered, or cut a deal through some friends. Also B.Y.O.B. Possible drawbacks include overcrowding and the pain of cleanup, but you won’t have to worry about that until the next day because you’ve already booked yourself the honeymoon suite at the Chateau. Linda Marshall’s California Crystal Wedding Who: California dreamers Where or When: Bright, clear, starry night on the balcony of the Crystal Hut. Serves: Two anxious lovers and at least two witnesses. Appetizer: Hair by helmet-head, music by Disney and catering by Crystal Hut’s fondue kings. Main Course: Great intimacy and emotion from the couple. Lots of romance. A mardi-gras mask would make this party a little like hide-and-seek. That’s why nothing is hidden here, except for torsos, arms and legs in black fleece and feet in Sorels. Dessert: A night-time snowmobile ride to a cozy first yurt stay. Night Cap: Mickey Mouse lingerie. Total Bill: Considerably less than the cost of the rings but a tad more than a new iMac. Whistler/Blackcomb will throw in two days of guiding and instruction, gourmet lunches at Christine's, toys from Mountain Adventure Centre and dinner and overnight in the yurts starting at $999 per person.

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