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Originally published Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 7:02 PM

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Bring Olympic-sized appetite to Whistler

You don't have to be a savvy skier or skilled snowboarder to enjoy Whistler, B. C. Part of experiencing the Whistler ski resort ...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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You don't have to be a savvy skier or skilled snowboarder to enjoy Whistler, B.C.

Part of experiencing the Whistler ski resort — or any place for that matter — is to dine at the restaurants and mingle with the locals.

Whistler is aptly named a village — with hotels, restaurants and shops nestled at the bottom of the mountains. In the pedestrian-oriented village, all amenities are within easy walking distance.

But this winter you'll need to make additional preparations before you trek north. If you'll be in Whistler during the Olympic Games that run Feb. 12-28 — the resort will host downhill and cross-country skiing, luge and more — make reservations at restaurants as soon as possible. Many restaurants are already near capacity and others have extended their hours of food service.

There are plenty of places to splurge in Whistler, but there are a couple ways to save money, too, such as buying food at one of the grocery stores. If you want to get groceries before you settle in, stop at Whistler's Creekside Market on Highway 99, just south of the village. You can also shop at The Grocery Store near Village Square or at the larger Whistler Market Place IGA.

Many hotel rooms in Whistler have kitchenettes so it's easy to cook meals. Take advantage of Whistler's après-ski — also known as happy hour. Pick up a local newspaper and a village map to check out food and drink specials that start as early as 3 p.m. at restaurants and bars.

Here are a couple spots worth enjoying after a fun day on the slopes:

• To grab a quick bite between ski runs go to Zog's Dogs, a casual outdoor dining area near the base of the lifts in Whistler Village that serves hot dogs and poutine, a French-Canadian specialty. This delicious gut bomb is a plate of French fries and cheese curds, smothered in gravy. Be prepared to stand in line for this large snack that easily can be shared by two people.

• If you want an elegant place for appetizers try Bearfoot Bistro, inside the Best Western Listel hotel. From 3 to 6 p.m., you can suck down a half-dozen oysters for $10. A unique ice railing wraps along the bar holding your Champagne flute in a chilly spot. Pick from an assortment of small bites, socialize with world travelers and relax as the local pianist plays jazz music.

If you are looking for a memorable ambience, step inside Bearfoot's recently opened vodka room.

Owner André Saint-Jacques just opened the icy vodka room — the first of its kind in Canada. Customers donned in coats, scarves and hats can sample vodkas in ice glasses in the subfreezing room, he said. There are about 100 vodkas to select from the icy shelves.

Saint-Jacques said they are extending their hours during the Olympics to handle the crowds, serving their three- and five-course tasting menus from lunch until 1 a.m. (www.bearfootbistro.com)

Both Bearfoot and Araxi, another favorite for many visiting Whistler, have extensive wine lists.

• At Araxi, Scot Curry, the assistant bar manager, concocts cocktails such as Harmony Meadow — a combination of gin, sake, camomile tea and elderflower cordial.

Araxi emphasizes local ingredients and has a wide selection of seafood, including a raw bar.

But foodies will get an extra bonus in the kitchen this winter. The winner of the FOX television show "Hell's Kitchen" (season 6) is now a chef at Araxi. Dave Levey, who grew up in New Jersey, will show off his skills and creativity under Executive Chef James Walt. (www.araxi.com)

• To finish the night off, head to Tapley's Pub, the local hangout with a young crowd. This sports bar offers typical grub like sandwiches, salads and burgers. It also has live music and karaoke, depending on the night. (www.tapleyspub.com)

Get more information on Whistler at www.tourismwhistler.comor www.whistlerblackcomb.com

Christine Willmsen: cwillmsen@seattletimes.com or 206-464-3261.

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