Cold Chisel rules in a small, chilly part of British Columbia, writes Dylan Cleaver.

In the late afternoon gloom you could hear it before you saw its source, and instinct told you to turn and walk the other way.

But Khe Sanh is a powerful magnet.

"And their legs were often open/ But their minds were always closed/ And their hearts were held in fast suburban chains."


He's a poet, is Jimmy Barnes.

Less so, some of his intoxicated, tuneless compatriots, dressed in a selection of hi-vis ski outfits, belting out this jukebox classic in a geographically confused bar called Amsterdam. At least I now knew why this iconic ski resort of Whistler Blackcomb was sometimes affectionately referred to as Whistralia.

I never did enter the Amsterdam, but I did ski off the base of Blackcomb — Whistler is two mountains connected by a vertigo-inducing Peak2Peak gondola — on a Friday afternoon and find myself a spot at the bar of Marlin's for a taste of apres.

"You've hit the jackpot," said a friendly local, "this is where it happens on a Friday."

And happen it did. The Hairfarmers, a local covers duo who have been faithfully drawing crowds in Whistler and its surrounds since the turn of the century, came on stage and the atmosphere turned on its head from snow talk to party within the first few bars of Margaritaville.

As I slip out the door an hour later, most of the bar's flat surfaces are covered with ski-booted patrons dancing the evening away. It could be a long one but as famed as the town's apres action is, it is the two giant shadows hovering above me that are the main attraction and I'm conscious that I'm not good enough to get the best out of the slopes with a thudding headache and a churning stomach.

Whistler Blackcomb — 3300ha of marked terrain — is the largest ski resort in Canada. Although the peaks are linked most people choose a mountain and spend the day on one side. With a similar number of trails and restaurants on each mountain, it usually comes down to personal preference, but the general rule of thumb is that Blackcomb is a little less crowded and has a little more advanced terrain.

I was there in March and although they'd endured a brutally cold winter, we were in spring-ski conditions. Being part of a coastal mountain chains, this means a heavier, wetter snow than you find in the interior at that time. The best time to ski was the morning; by the afternoon the lactic acid started eating into the quads.

If it's your first time there, get yourself on one of the mountain host tours that cover
both peaks. They're free and they're invaluable. You're divided up by ability and it is a wonderful way of getting your orientation because the trail maps can look confusing, daunting even just because of the sheer number of lifts and trails.

After three full days of skiing, two on Whistler, one on Blackcomb, I had barely scratched the surface of what was possible, either on the slopes or in the restaurants.

After three nights in town, the same could be said of the apres.

Having hosted the alpine events at the 2010 Winter Olympics, the accommodation infrastructure is bountiful. One thing you can never be denied of in Whistler is choice.

Nor will you be wanting for songs to sing and drinks to drink. And as long as you don't mind being served by young folk with a twang right out of Bondi Beach, you'll want to keep coming back for more.

Five things to do in Whistler

1 SKI:

Well of course. With more than 200 marked trails, there's something for every ability whether you prefer two planks or one. On the Whistler side, spend some time on the Harmony and Symphony slopes and come down the mountain via the Dave Murray Downhill at the end of the day. On the Blackcomb side, it felt as if I had blue and groomed black runs to myself off the Solar Coaster Express. There are no shortage of hire shops.

2 PARTY: Like it's 1999. There are few feelings quite as satisfying as skiing to the bottom of a slope, slipping out of your bindings, putting your skis in a rack and have a pint in front of you before you can say, "Meet the new Jean-Claude Killy." Merlin's, Garibaldi's and Dusty's are three classic apres bars at the bottom of Blackcomb, Whistler and the Creekside Gondolas respectively and none will disappoint. The craft beer craze is booming in British Columbia.

3 EAT: So many options, both up the slopes and at the base. There's the Green Moustache (village) and Raven's Nest (slopeside) if you want healthy vegetarian and vegan options, and Pizzeria Antico is a great spot too.

4 SHOP: There are more ski and clothing shops to shake a ski pole at and there's usually a sale on somewhere although real bargains are fairly hard to come by.

5 SUMMER: We may think of the Canadian resorts as ski destinations but their visitor numbers are higher in summer, when biking and golf are two drivers of the local economy.