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Gluten Free Travel: Gluten Free in Whistler, BC -- By Way of Seattle and Vancouver

Our family had the good fortune to travel to Whistler, British Columbia last month for our kids' Spring Break. It had been four years since Easter had fallen early enough to make a ski trip possible. Since their vacation was the last week in March this year, we knew that skiing out West -- especially as far north as British Columbia -- would be reliable. 

IMG_0468What a surprise it was to encounter temperatures in the 50's most of the week -- and in the 60's the last couple days! "No worries," as the many Aussies and Kiwis that work in and travel to Whistler would say...the skiing was still great. At least on the top two-thirds of the mountain (admittedly, the snow got a bit slushy at the base by the  time the afternoon rolled around). 

Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, adjacent to each other and surrounding the quaint, European style Whistler Village, provide the largest amount of skiable terrain in North America. Several friends had recommended we try it out, and we were glad we did. We're big fans of Park City/Deer Valley, but it was nice to try skiing "north of the border" in Canada. The locals, seasonal workers, and tourists are all very friendly, and dining gluten free in Whistler turned out to be quite a good experience.

Months before the trip, I began researching "gluten free friendly" restaurants in Whistler -- places that had been reviewed on our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite, and elsewhere. I found some places plotted on a map on the Celiac Scene, a Canadian website, although they don't include reviews...just addresses. After investigating many options, we decided to make reservations for four nights -- and cook dinner in our condo the other three nights. Frankly, even without a special diet to work around, sometimes it's just night to relax in your condo after a long day skiing -- and not be in a rush to get ready for a dinner out. With kids, this is even more true! 

I wanted to experience a variety of dining in Whistler, from fancy to casual, sophisticated to family-oriented, Japanese to Italian. I made reservations at Earl's, Old Spaghetti Factory, Teppan Village, and Quattro at Whistler

First up was Earl's. It's a restaurant with locations all over Canada, as well as in Bellevue, Washington and Denver, Colorado. Cool atmosphere, great bar area, and good food, including a somewhat limited but workable Gluten Free Menu. Next up, a couple nights later, was Old Spaghetti Factory, a U.S.-based chain with locations all over -- but none near where we live. Thus, we wanted to try their Gluten Free Menu. Again, it's limited, but the range of offerings is nice (chicken, pasta with a choice of several wonderful sauces, a baked pasta, an Indian-inspired dish, and steak). The place was packed with groups large and small. We had to wait, even with a reservations -- probably because it's one of the more affordable family-oriented restaurants in Whistler. 

Teppan villageLater in the week we dined at Teppan Village, a traditional Japanese steak house that uses gluten free tamari instead of traditional soy sauce for their gluten free guests. The atmosphere was fun, with the chefs putting on their show while they cook the meal in front of you. Always a big hit for the kids. The food was great -- and quick. We were in and out of the restaurant within an hour. 

We certainly saved the best for last, however, with a visit to Quattro at Whistler on our last evening. This is perhaps the best -- or at least one of the best -- gluten free meals we've ever enjoyed.

Quattro Their Gluten Free Menu different little from the "regular" menu. Imported Italian gluten free pasta made you feel like you were eating the real thing, and there were at least 6 different preparations for it -- unique sauces that literally made you want to lick your plate clean. I swear it's worth another trip to Whistler just to dine there again!

Dining on the mountain was somewhat workable as well, if you know where to go. Fortunately, we'd researched this ahead of time, too, and I had my list of slopeside lodges that had gluten free options. It was a bit hit or miss, however, wtih some places having gluten free buns when even the burgers weren't gluten free! (We ordered a grilled chicken, cheese, and bacon sandwich on a gluten free bun for our son in this case.) We had the best luck at Dusty's Bar & BBQ at the Creekside base of Whistler mountain and at Glacier Creek Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain. Several lodges also stock gluten free grab-and-go items like chips, muffins, and cookies. I'd advise checkng out the Whistler Blackcomb dining page for available options or you may end up making a meal out of chips and an apple like our son had to do one day (supplemented with a high-protein KIND snack bar, which we'd brought ourselves). In fact, we all typically stashed snack bars in our ski jacket pockets to eat throughout the day. 

Since Whistler is about a 2+ hour drive north of Vancouver, you can either fly into Vancouver or fly to Seattle. We chose to fly in and out of Seattle for several reasons: 1.) We could fly direct from the DC area, whereas flying to Vancouver involved a connection, 2.) Either way we had to rent a car, and the longer drive from Seattle didn't make much of a difference considering we saved time with a direct flight, and 3.) We were looking for an excuse to see friends and family in Seattle. 

IMG_0392Seattle is such a great city, and on the day we arrived, we strolled around various neighborhoods with our cousin and enjoyed gluten free burgers and onion rings at Blue Moon Burger for lunch. We ended the day with the perfect dinner at Sky City restaurant atop Seattle's Space Needle. We lucked out with a clear, SUNNY, and warm day (rare for March!) and enjoyed magnificent views from atop the Space Needle both before and after sunset. Their menu, including their gluten free offerings, was varied and sophisticated. Pricey, but worth it for the experience (although my opinion may have been different had we had a cloudy day with limited visibility!). The next morning we made our pilgrimage to the original Starbucks at Pike's Place Market, where we also discovered a gluten free pasta vendor

Then it was time for a shopping trip to a local Seattle Whole Foods Market to stock up on groceries for the week, followed a few hours later with lunch at the very gluten-free friendly Wallflower Modern Diner in Vancouver en route to Whistler. If you've never done the drive from Vancouver to Whistler on the breathtaking Sea to Sky Highway, that in itself is worth the trip! 

All in all, our experience in the Pacific Northwest was wonderful: fresh air, incredible views, top-notch skiing, and delicious and varied gluten free dining. Be sure to read my more detailed reviews on GlutenFreeTravelSite, linked above. 

I used a terrific travel agent to help me plan this trip back in September 2012. Her name is Lesley Hayden, and she's with Travel Leaders agency in Boston. No need to worry if you're not located in Boston. She works with clients all over the country and has developed quite a specialty serving gluten free travelers. She loves working with her gluten free clients to find appropriate accommodations and dining options and will handle all your bookings and even call ahead to speak with the chefs wherever you will be dining. She also works with resorts and cruise lines known for their attention to gluten free guests. Her services cost you nothing, and through her relationships and connections, she can typically find you deals you wouldn't be able to find on your own. If you'd like to give Lesley a call, she can be reached at 800-487-6110 or via email at [email protected]