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Pemberton, British Columbia

Nine times out of ten, anyone traveling north on British Columbia's Sea to Sky Highway has one destination in mind: Whistler

And for good reason. Hailed as one of the top alpine recreation destinations on the planet, Whistler is home to two peaks - Whistler and Blackcomb. Combined, they boast over 8 thousand acres of skiable terrain, over 200 runs, 38 lifts, 5 snowboard parks, 2 super pipes and over five thousand feet of vertical drop. Add dozens of chalets and world class accommodation plus a European-style pedestrian village with over 100 nightclubs, bars and restaurants and it's easy to see why this Pacific Coast jewel won the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Even after the 7 month ski and snowboard season, Whistler is popular with hikers, naturalists, fishing enthusiast and in particular, mountain bikers. Every summer, the Kokanee Crankworx event takes over the resort as the world's best mountain bikers compete for honours ranging from downhill racing to individuals skills to big air competitions. Factor in demonstrations, exhibits and live music and you've got one of the best biking events on the planet.

But one of British Columbia's best kept secrets lies just north of this mountain paradise: the Pemberton Valley. Named after Joseph Despard Pemberton, the Hudson's Bay Company surveyor-general in the 1850's this picturesque community and its surrounding area puts the Beautiful in Beautiful British Columbia. Often referred to as Spud Valley by the locals, the Pemberton Valley is a rich cradle of agriculture thanks in part to the Lillooet River, the Green River and Pemberton Creek which all naturally irrigate the area. The town of Pemberton itself is located at the base of the beautiful Mount Currie and surrounded by a pastoral landscape of rolling farmlands. Numerous glimmering, placid mountain lakes dot the region as well, favourites including Anderson Lake, Lillooet Lake, Birkenhead Lake, Owl Lake, Green Lake, Mosquito Lake and One Mile Lake.

Naturally, outdoor recreation defines Pemberton, attracting visitors all year round. Summer's offer an array of exciting options including hiking, biking, horseback riding, off-roading, fishing, rafting, kayaking, golfing. Looking to spend your vacation on the water? Green River has some amazing rapids and rafting companies to take you down them, Lillooet River is a notorious hot-spot for jet boating enthusiasts and anglers can get their kicks fishing on Duffey Lake. More comfortable with both feet firmly planted on dry ground? Enjoy hiking trails like the One Mile Lake and Nairn Falls walking trails or the longer haul that is the Birkenhead Lake's Lakeshore Trail. Whistler isn't the only mountain biker destination, either. Everything from groomed trails to gravel roads cater to bikers of all levels. Check out the fast-paced trails around Mosquito Lake and Ivey Lake or create a family-fun day on the 8 kilometer Valley Loop Trail which runs from Pemberton Village to Pemberton Creek Dyke.

In the winter, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling dominate the area's activity roster. Joffre Recreation Area offers top-notch-country skiing and the Pemberton Ice Fields provide snowmobiling at its finest. But skiers and snowboarders won't be disappointed either. Whistler is less than an hour's drive south so all the excellence of a world-class alpine resort is just as accessible without having to sacrifice the tranquil solitude of a vacation in the valley. Whistler might be a glamorous and exciting place to stay, but once the lifts close for the day, many visitors prefer the down-home comforts of rustic, Wild West-flavoured Pemberton. Pemberton's proximity to Whistler means that the town is included in much of the activities leading up to and during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Not only will the town feature as one of the final legs of the Olympic Torch Relay but also Pemberton's Copperdome Lodge will be home to the German Olympic Youth Camp during the Games themselves. A joint venture of the German Olympic Sports Confederation and the German Olympic Academy, this camp consists of over 40 young German athletes who will embark on this cross-cultural field trip to experience the Olympic Games and the spirit and ideals that make a Games like this possible.

Physical activities aside, Pemberton also offers some of the most amazing dining in the area. Maybe Whistler Village has more selections, but Pemberton prides itself on its fantastic quality. And with so much arable land surrounding the town, it's no surprise that many of Pemberton's restaurants have menus feature locally sustainable products. Enjoy the flavours of Di Carlo's Italian Restaurant; savour something savoury at Grimms Gourmet Deli; enjoy a fine cup of joe at Mount Currie Coffee Company or The Pony Espresso. Say cheese at the Swiss Deli; enjoy a romantic evening at the Wildwood Bistro & Bar...

If you're thinking about vacationing in Whistler, remember that Pemberton is just around the corner. Do something different this year...