One lesson learned from spending more than two years in a pandemic: don’t leave your bucket list for your later years. It’s time to embark on that big adventure.
According to an American Express Travel survey, 70 percent of respondents want to visit destinations on their wish list in 2023, and 81 percent said they want to feel a sense of adventure on their next trip. We found a once-in-a-lifetime journey that ticks all the boxes on anyone’s wanderlust checklist: Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver’s heli adventure to ice caves hidden inside the Coast Mountains.
Though you’ll venture to Canada’s southernmost ice fields, you won’t be roughing it, as the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel has curated the trip, which can be taken year-round. After a two-hour drive by private car from Vancouver to Whistler, your guides from Head-Line Mountain Holiday will outfit you in the appropriate gear and send you off on your own cherry-red Blackcomb helicopter. During the scenic 20-minute flight, you’ll soar above ancient volcanic peaks and thick forests sprinkled with snow. But all this doesn’t prepare you for landing on ice caps surrounded by almost 80,000 acres of untouched snow high among the clouds. The contrast of the azure skies make the white powder almost blindingly bright, and the air is crisp and fresh.
It might be what you’d imagine Antarctica or the Arctic to look like, and the area has subbed for those regions in films like The X-Files and television shows like Stargate SG-1. The isolated, tranquil landscape could be Canada’s snowy version of Shangri-La, the mythical land tucked in the Himalayas in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon (which, coincidentally, inspired the name of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts).
Next, ready yourself for spelunking. Your guides take you down a shoveled path to the caves’ entrance and snow-constructed stairs leading to the cave floor — but it’s steep and can be slippery, requiring careful treading. Thankfully, the seasoned guides will swoop in if you have trouble finding your footing. The slow-but-steady effort pays off when you reach the bottom and get up close to rippling ice arches that gleam like blue-tinged alabaster. The cave walls could be mistaken for avant-garde interior design, but the snowy ground and patches of large icicles betray that you’re surrounded by ice. Run your hand down one of the icy walls, and it glides smoothly as if it were on marble.
The guides will take you through a chilly underground labyrinth while sharing background on the ice caves, nearby volcanic peaks and area wildlife, like bears, cougars, wolves and ice worms. A big perk: you can just focus on enjoying the experience since the excursion includes a photographer documenting every moment for your Instagram feed.
The trip is customizable, so after spelunking, thrill seekers can opt to zip across the above-ground terrain in snowmobiles or buggies, golfers can hit biodegradable balls into the endless blanket of snow and those looking to relax can simply settle down with a drink and admire the stunning setting.
Amid the ice caps, a chef will present a five-course meal of gourmet favorites from Canada’s West Coast like oysters and caviar. A tip for those on a romantic holiday: to set the mood, the hotel can arrange for musicians to come and perform on site. Then you’ll head off to another stunning location nearby, where you will find desserts and already-chilled champagne bottles plunged into the snow. It’s one last opportunity to soak up a breathtaking destination that few ever see in person.
The excursion returns you to Vancouver’s tallest building, where you will spend three nights in Shangri-La’s spacious one-bedroom suite with floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony overlooking the city. The night of the ice cave expedition, you’ll head to the golden seats at the black-topped bar in Carlino to partake in a private mixology class with ice gathered from a 12,000-year-old glacier back in the cave. It’s a memorable way to toast this ultimate adventure.
Afterward, while you might be tempted to sink into the plush bed or slip into the spacious tub in the white-marble-filled bathroom for a soak, we recommend relaxing at CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver.
At this Asian-inspired refuge in the city, every ounce of tension will melt away. Each of the spa’s wood-filled treatment suites comes with a roomy infinity tub abutting a latticed screen on one end and a sitting area and a fireplace on the other. Shoji doors open to reveal a eucalyptus steam room, bathroom and changing area. Before and after your 2.5-hour treatment — we had an aromatic massage using locally made Sangre de Fruita whipped body cream (pick your preferred botanical scent; we liked the delicate Rose No. 1) — be sure to soak up your soothing surroundings.
The trip also comes with a host of culinary perks to enjoy at the 13-year-old hotel, the Hong Kong-based brand’s first foray into North America. You’ll have daily breakfast, an ice-inspired afternoon tea and a $500 credit at the hotel’s new Northern Italian restaurant Carlino, where you can savor comforting made-from-scratch pasta like the squash tortelli with brown butter and sage; the pillowy potato gnocchi and wild boar with a touch of sweetness from currants; or the indulgent fai tu, a family-style tasting menu.