WHISTLER, B.C. — No creature expresses more joy than a winter-loving trail dog who gets to bound, unleashed, through a forest full of snow. For humans, few things preserve sanity like that same kind of playful day.
I’d long wanted to try cross-country skiing at Whistler Olympic Park, so when I heard the park has dog-friendly trails, I thought, why not bring along Jones, our 9-year-old shepherd-retriever mix?
Like many ski towns, Whistler is thoroughly dog-friendly. Along with designated cross-country and snowshoe trails nearby, there are miles of walking paths in town.
First, you have to get your dog into Canada. This is easier than you might think. Given the porous border between the two countries, it makes sense that transporting a dog from the States is pretty routine.
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All you need, going either direction, is a certificate from your veterinarian noting that your dog has been vaccinated. You likely won’t even be asked for that.
When we went into Canada at Peace Arch, we asked the immigration officer if it would have been OK to bring a dog through the NEXUS lane. He said, “Yes, but everyone in the car has to have the NEXUS pass.” He paused for a half second. “Including the dog.”
“Really?” my husband, Bill, and I asked in unison.
“Nah,” he said, breaking into a smile and waving us along.
When we returned, the U.S. officer was more concerned with lecturing us about duty-free restrictions than he was about the dog.
A surprising number of hotels and other accommodations are pet-friendly. That includes many of Whistler’s most luxurious resorts. I asked the Four Seasons about its dog-size restriction, for example, and found that there isn’t one. When we walked our 85-pounder into its swanky lobby, all anyone wanted to know was our dog’s name and whether he’d be interested in a treat.
If you hit the slopes for some downhill skiing, you won’t be able to leave your dog in a hotel room. Never fear: Pet-sitting companies in town cater specifically to visitors and will either take your dog for a jaunt or hang out in the room with your pooch (now there’s a tough job).
A handful of dog-friendly recreation trails circle through Whistler itself, including the multiuse trail at Green Lake and the Valley Trail from Meadow Park to Rainbow Park.
Although dogs technically should be on leashes on most of these trails, local dogs rarely are. In areas with large numbers of dogs, it might be safer to let your dog off the leash, too. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it: If your dog isn’t under voice control or doesn’t have a good track record of playing well with others, leave him home.
The most glorious off-leash experiences are just down Highway 99 from Whistler Blackcomb, at Whistler Olympic Park and nearby Callaghan Country resort. They’ve joined to form Ski Callaghan, where one pass gets you access to both areas. Both humans and dogs require a pass, although the dog pass is only $3.
While you’ll find dogs on trails just about everywhere there are trails, getting to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at an Olympic park is something special. Not all the park’s trails are dog friendly, but its well-designed maps (downloadable before you arrive or available at the entrance gate) make it easy to tell which is which.
The park’s cross-country trails are wide and well-groomed, with plenty of space for dogs and skiers. Even small dogs that might be overwhelmed by snowdrifts on a snowshoe-only trail can join in the fun. Along with the labs and huskies you’d expect, we saw everything from pugs to poodles.
Just up the hill from the Olympic Park is Callaghan Country ski resort. Its cross-country trails have a bit more of a mountain-wilderness feel. Its “ski with the pooch” program means that almost all its trails are open to dogs with Ski Callaghan passes. One option is to combine the Real Life multiuse trail with Sigge’s Old School wilderness route for a 10K loop.
If you didn’t bring a dog with you but would like company while you’re in town, never fear: The local shelter, WAG, depends on volunteers to socialize and exercise resident dogs. Its “drop-in dog walking” program allows anyone to stop in (call first to ensure that dogs are available) and “borrow” a shelter dog for an outdoor jaunt.
You’ll have to follow certain rules — keep the dog on a leash and away from young children and other dogs, for example — but you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping a good cause.
The one big downside of taking the dog to Canada is that he probably thinks this is what we humans do every time we leave the house. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Christy Karras is a Seattle-based freelance writer.