When the ancient Greeks felt they needed help, they would climb a mountain, pour out some wine and offer the libation to the gods. So it's altogether appropriate that Steven Olson's wine-education and consulting company is called libations (with an egalitarian lowercase l): This self-confessed wine geek and ski freak also goes up mountains in search of the divine. One place where he knows he'll find it is Whistler, British Columbia. "It's rare and wonderful when I get to combine my two loves, wine and skiing," Olson says. The wines come from British Columbia's up-and-coming wineries, around 65 at last count, most of them in the Okanagan Valley about 300 miles away; the skiing is courtesy of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area.
Nestled in the Coast Mountain Range about 75 miles north of Vancouver, Whistler has transformed itself over the past 10 years from a sleepy village to an international destination. Cranes jut into the sky as hotel construction tries to keep pace with the avalanche of skiers, snowboarders and other visitorsmore than 2 million in 1999. With 7,000 acres of skiable terrain (Aspen Mountain has only 675), the two greatest vertical drops on the continent (5,280 feet on Blackcomb Mountain and 5,020 feet on Whistler) and food and lodging that range from rustic to five-star, Whistler can handle a variety of tastes. Lately, it has become a place for the rich and famous to see and be seen; the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Princes Charles, William and Harry have joined Whistler's VIP list, helping send prices up to the snowcapped peaks.
But for all the buzz about the snow and the celebrities, it's British Columbia's wines that lured Olson across the border this time. Olson is a 41-year-old Manhattan-based wine educator who teaches with the dramatic style of the actor he once was; he loves to say "I don't drink for a living, I spit for a living." That might be the only thing about his current life that would please his family of teetotaler Lutherans back in Iowa. Even today, his grandmother knows only that he's in the "restaurant business," Olson says. "She would disown me if she knew that I traveled around like this, teaching people about alcohol."