Find out what North America’s largest ski resort has to offer
With more than 2 million visitors per year flocking to its seemingly endless skiable terrain, Whistler is as legendary for its aprés as it is its on-snow cred. (And don’t forget about the hip village atmosphere and plethora of adventurous summertime activities.) Now it seems like we’re bragging, but thanks to the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Games, Vancouver’s sister city to the north also boasts improved accessibility and some sparkly new attractions. No matter the season, here’s everything you need to plan a weekend mountain getaway to Whistler.
Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort
Rival resorts Whistler and Blackcomb merged in 1997, creating one giant ski destination 54 percent larger than its next largest North American competitor (Colorado’s Vail Ski Resort). When you’re standing at the resort’s base, Whistler Mountain is on the right, and Blackcomb is on the left. This mega amount of terrain — 8,100 astounding acres — means unbeatable diversity, from beginner rollers to expert cliff bands. Plus, snowboarders can make like Shaun White at one of Whistler Blackcomb’s five terrain parks.
Whistler Blackcomb XXS from Whistler Blackcomb on Vimeo.
More than 10 metres (400 inches) of snow fall at Whistler Blackcomb on average each winter, and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect waist-deep powder after a huge dump. But even when the West Coast isn’t getting pounded with fluffy white stuff, the resort’s expanded snowmaking capabilities (thank you, Olympics) mean visitors to Whistler Blackcomb will still enjoy a deep base and extended season. Another Olympic boon? The new Superpipe at Nintendo Terrain Park. Or, of course, you can test your schussing or riding prowess on the Dave Murray Downhill and Women’s Course on Whistler Mountain, where the world’s top speed demons earned their medals in 2010.
Whistler Blackcomb XXS from Whistler Blackcomb on Vimeo.
Lest you think skiing is all there is to do here, hop aboard a snowmobile, snow cat, dog sled or horse-drawn sleigh for a special tour around the alpine landscape. Another option for non-skiers: The Blackcomb Base Adventure Zone — a huge multisport complex — transforms into an eight-lane tubing hill. Or, soak your sore legs after a day on the slopes in the hot Scandinavian baths at the Scandive Spa Whistler.
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola
In 2008, traversing between Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb changed forever with the opening of the record-setting Peak 2 Peak Gondola. The gondy stretches 4.4 kilometres (2.73 miles) from Whistler to Blackcomb, delivering you to a new snow-capped peak in just 11 minutes. It also boasts the world’s longest unsupported span (more than 3 kilometres), and at 436 metres above the valley floor, it is the highest lift of its kind.
If you can manage, snag a spot aboard either of the two silver trams: Both have glass floors and provide dizzingly awesome views.
Don’t misinterpret the term “ski resort” as “no snow, no go.” There are so many things to do in Whistler during all four seasons that it is virtually impossible to list them all. A few of the summertime highlights include golfing, whitewater rafting and hiking. Thrill-seekers should head directly to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park for 1,507 vertical metres of lift-serviced trails. Here, you may coast down gentle cruisers or shred some super-gnarly single track. Meanwhile, families will enjoy the Blackcomb Base Adventure Zone, which is packed with an 18-hole mini-golf course, a 25-foot climbing web and the 315-metre Westcoast Luge track. Or grab the kids, and head to WildPlay Element Parks, a network of zip-lines and suspended courses on Cougar Mountain, just 10 minutes from Whistler Village. And for the true snow bunny, Whistler even offers summer skiing at the Horstman Glacier.
In 2009, Whistler was designated a Cultural Capital of Canada based on its dedication to the arts, showcased by the Whistler Arts Council, Whistler Film Festival Society, Whistler Museum and Archives, and The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre. The quaint alpine town rests at the foot of the massive ski resort and is a pedestrian-only municipality that has earned praise from architects and engineers for its livability and sustainability. Approximately 9,600 people call Whistler home year-round. Many came for just a season and simply never managed to leave.
There are plenty of lodging options in town — from hostel-type setups such as the UBC Whistler Lodge to swank ski-in-ski-out hotels such as the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside. There’s also no shortage of off-mountain activities to keep you busy (think yoga studios, spas, indoor rock walls and tennis courts). If you have only a day and want to see as much as possible while expending as little energy as possible, check out a motorcoach tour of the area through Sightline Tours.
Whistler-Style Après Ski
What would a day on the slopes be without a little après? A 2010 reader survey by SKI magazine rated Whistler the No. 1 destination in North America for après ski thanks to its variety of bars and restaurants, as well as its downright fun live-music scene and all-night parties. You don’t even have to change out of your ski boots before heading into the four most popular slopeside joints: Merlins, Garibaldi Lift Company Bar & Grill, Dusty’s Bar & BBQ and The Longhorn Saloon. Within the village, there are more than 90 other bars, lounges, cafés and restaurants, where you can unwind after tearing up the ski trails all day.
Getting There and Around
Just a two-hour car ride from Vancouver (five hours from Seattle) will land you in Whistler’s mountain paradise. Highway 99, or the Sea to Sky Highway, is the most scenic route, and $600 million of Olympic Games improvements mean the drive is faster and safer than ever. Bus and helicopter charters to Whistler are available from Vancouver International Airport, and you can also travel by train into the village. When you arrive, everything you need is easily accessible by foot. Should you need a shuttle, hop on the Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE) from the Marketplace to the Upper Village loop, which is free during the winter.