For guests of Shangri-La Vancouver, blending into bustling city life and descending into frozen ice caves, reachable only by helicopter, is all in a day’s work.
Shangri-La Vancouver guests can embark on a special subterranean ice cave adventure.
British Columbia is a multihyphenate destination. At once chic and approachable, with equal opportunities for cosmopolitan experiences and rugg ed adventures alike, the Canadian province is a one-two punch of surprises. For starters, its crown jewel city of Vancouver is not as bitterly cold as I assumed before my visit this past winter. Th e seaport’s coastal location 150 miles north of Seattle affords it more mild temperatures, on average, than most of the country—though it’s definitely a good idea to pack a sturdy umbrella and rain jacket. Another surprise: Visitors can travel from the bustling metropolis of Vancouver to the treetop-covered rainforest just north of the city (Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a must-visit) to the icy, adventure-filled mountains and ice caps of Whistler in a matter of hours. British Columbia is beautiful and versatile, and, as I discovered, Shangri-La Vancouver has mastered the art of highlighting both.
Adventurous pursuits are accompanied by local, seasonal cuisine prepared by a private chef in the ice cave or on the ice cap, highlighting a five-course menu that can include caviar, oysters, halibut and A5 wagyu beef, as well as dessert.
Discreetly camouflaged within the first 15 floors of a glass-and-steel building (downtown Vancouver’s tallest) sits Shangri-La Vancouver, with 119 guest rooms and suites, and the chic yet cozy Italian spot Carlino, which opened last December. Located near luxury shopping destination Robson Street and the 1,000-acre Stanley Park, it’s an ideal location for a variety of quintessential Vancouver experiences. During my stay, I benefit from the hotel’s partnership with long-standing Canadian luxury department store Holt Renfrew during an exclusive personal shopping experience—which for guests includes transportation to and from the store, expedited alterations and complimentary delivery of purchases to the hotel—all in a gorgeous private suite overlooking Vancouver’s busy streets.
Head-Line Mountain Holidays partners with Blackcomb Helicopters to transport guests to and from the ice caps and ice caves in style.
After a day of retail therapy, relaxation can be found at Chi, The Spa, its range of treatments highlighting local and international products, as well as a tea service worth sinking into after one (or more) of its noteworthy holistic offerings or longer journeys—three- to four-hour treatments. I partake in the Sangre de Fruta treatment, 60 minutes of blissful massage by way of luxe cream-to-oil Sangre de Fruta botanical body cream, and reap the benefits of the hotel’s partnership with the local skincare purveyor. Th e fireplaces, private baths and relaxation lounge in each treatment suite are an added bonus.
A one-bedroom balcony suite at Shangri-La Vancouver
Exclusive high-end experiences are plentiful at Shangri-La Vancouver, but I discover that the standout is its special collaboration with Head-Line Mountain Holidays, which has offered hotel guests the opportunity to explore incredible ice caps and ice caves year-round since the partnership launched in summer 2021. “The relationship with the Shangri-La has been in place for a few years now,” says Doug Washer, president and CEO of the adventure company, “but was born out of mutual interest in catering to a broader audience and making Vancouver the departure point, rather than just Whistler.” Head-Line transports adventure seekers from its base near Whistler to top-secret locations, accompanied by a professional guide, via helicopter. “We never actually reveal our locations,” Washer shares. “They are highly guarded to protect the integrity of our products and services, and to maintain a level of exclusivity for our guests.”
A well-appointed Chi, The Spa treatment room
Head-Line frequently works with Shangri-La Vancouver guests to upgrade and customize their adventure experience to make it even more exclusive. Washer says the company can coordinate dedicated aircraft for the day, flying guests “from the ice cap to some of the most beautiful fjords along the coast, then onward to private beaches or islands for an oceanside barbecue, or to meet up with a luxury yacht to cruise the area before returning to Whistler,” he shares. “More elaborate experiences include eight-day holidays… with a custom ice cap camp, riverside glamping, private yachts and oceanside luxury accommodations. Each trip is accompanied by a private chef, and all food and wine pairings are focused on the distinct climates we visit.”
The hotel occupies the first 15 floors of downtown Vancouver’s tallest building.
There are few words to describe the feeling of soaring over an endless frozen sea of white before landing on the largest southernmost temperate latitude ice cap in the world. For me, it’s both breathtaking and nerve-wracking—it being my first time in a helicopter—but my nerves settle as I inhale the natural beauty surrounding me. Once safely on the ground (and after plenty of truly exceptional glacier photo-ops), Washer leads our group to an underground ice cave, a lesson both in walking in deep snow and attempting to gracefully descend deep into the aqua blue cave, a stunningly cold, cathedral-like display of nature unlike anything I’ve seen before. Washer leads us into the labyrinth of chambers, discussing the history of this natural wonder, but in all honesty, it’s difficult to stay focused as I’m mesmerized by the gorgeous frozen setting. After exploring (and more photos), we climb back out of the cave, and our group is rewarded with lunch and Champagne— perfectly chilled in the frozen ground—and we toast to adventure.
ECO-TOURISM IN WHISTLER
From Vancouver, a less than two-hour drive is the only thing between winter sports enthusiasts and prime skiing and snowboarding on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Visitors will also find snowmobiling, snowshoeing, zip lining, bungee jumping and heli-skiing, among other more laid-back pursuits, including an incredible Nordic relaxation experience at Scandinave Spa.
As impressive as the destination’s list of offerings is its commitment to sustainability. Whistler Blackcomb partnered with Vail Resorts to create the EpicPromise initiative, committing to zero net emissions by 2030, zero landfill waste by 2030 and zero net operating impact to forests and the habitat, efforts that have led to Whistler Blackcomb being named one of Canada’s greenest employers.
Additional campaigns include Protect Our Winters Canada, launched by Whistler filmmaker and freeskier Mike Douglas and backed by a community of enthusiasts, professional athletes and industry brands advocating for climate change; and the Fitzsimmons Creek Renewable Energy Project, which aims to harness the power of the Fitzsimmons river, which runs between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, as a renewable energy source.