Located 56km beyond Squamish and 125km from Vancouver, WHISTLER is Canada’s finest four-season resort, and frequently ranks as one of the world’s top-five winter ski destinations. Skiing and snowboarding are the main activities, but all sorts of other winter sports are possible and in summer the lifts keep running to provide supreme highline hiking and other outdoor activities (as well as North America’s finest summer skiing). It is a busy place – over two million lift tickets are sold here every winter, more than at any other North American resort. Fortunately, it also has one of the continent’s largest ski areas, so the crowds are spread thinly over the resort’s two hundred-plus trails and sixteen alpine bowls.
The resort consists of two adjacent but separate mountains – Whistler (2182m) and Blackcomb (2284m) – each with their own extensive lift and chair systems (but a joint ticket scheme). The mountains can be accessed from a total of five bases, including lift systems to both mountains from the resort’s heart, the purpose-built and largely pedestrianized Whistler Village, the tight-clustered focus of many hotels, shops, restaurants and après-ski activity. Around this core are two other “village” complexes, Upper Village (for the gondola to Blackcomb Mountain), about a kilometre to the northeast, and Village North, about 700m to the north. Around 6km to the south of Whistler Village is Whistler Creekside (also with a gondola and lift base), which has typically been a cheaper alternative but has undergone a fifty-million-dollar redevelopment that has seen its accommodation and local services duplicating those of its famous neighbour. Further development took place in the build-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, largely based in Whistler.Read More
Skiing and snowboarding essentials
Skiing and snowboarding essentials
The skiing and snowboarding season for Whistler and Blackcomb is one of the longest in North America, often running for almost two hundred days from November to early June, weather permitting. The yearly average snowfall is an impressive 10m, while the average winter alpine temperature rarely falls below –5°C (compare this with a chillier –12°C in Banff). Whistler sits in an area of temperate rainforest, and rain can certainly be a problem at lower altitudes; but what falls as rain in the Village is often falling as snow higher up.
The mountains’ winter ski season runs from late November to April. Blackcomb only is open in May for traditional skiing, and also in late June to July for glacier skiing and snowboarding. Lifts open at 8.30am and close at 3pm until late January, 3.30pm until late February. In May, Blackcomb is open from 10am–4pm. The Tube Park on Blackcomb is open Mon–Fri noon–7pm and 11am–7pm at weekends and holidays.
Lift tickets give you full use of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, and it will take days for even the most advanced skier or snowboarder to cover all the terrain. The best advice is to pick one mountain and stick to it for the day, or use the PEAK 2 PEAK, a $50-million, 4.4km gondola 415m above the valley floor that links the mountains. Lift tickets include access to PEAK 2 PEAK and are available from the lift base in Whistler Village, but the queues can be horrendous. Plan ahead and purchase your tickets and check all lift and other information online at w whistler.com or book by phone on t 1 866 218 9690 toll free in North America. Prices increase slightly in peak season – over Christmas and New Year and from mid-February to mid-March – and lift tickets are subject to a seven-percent tax.
You can rent equipment from outlets at the Whistler and Blackcomb lifts, but it is first-come, first-served, and you need to be there first thing (8am) to beat the queues; there’s also the option of picking your rental gear up the night before (after 4pm). Alternatively, Summit Ski (t 604 932 6225, t 1 866 608 6225, w summitsport.com) has several outlets around the Village, including the Hilton Whistler Resort (by the gondola).
Under-6s ski free. Daycare is available for children up to the age of 12, but should be booked well in advance. Contact the information centre or search for “daycare” at w whistler.com.
The phenomenal rise in the popularity of mountain biking in and around the resort sees an estimated 100,000 visitors annually coming to Whistler specifically to take to two wheels. The oft-made observation is that what Hawaii is to the global surfing community, Whistler is to the mountain-biking fraternity.
The resort’s popularity is not all down to terrain and happy accident. It always did have hundreds of free trails, with a total of 100km of single-track and 80km of double-track trails, plus around 200km of lift-serviced trails, the last factor vital, for there’s nothing better than having a ski lift do all the hard work of carrying your bike up the mountain and letting gravity do the work – and provide the pleasure – coming down. What has made a big difference, however, is the deservedly celebrated Whistler Mountain Bike Park (t 1 800 766 0449, w whistlerbike.com; daily mid-May to early or mid-Oct, 10am–5pm, plus 5–8pm on some lifts mid-June to early Sept, depending on the light). This includes those 200km of lift-serviced trails, three jump park areas, three access lifts (Whistler Gondola, Fitzsimmons and Garbanzo), two skill centres, expert staff on site, banked cruisers and dirt trails through canopied forest, a BikerCross park (fun to watch even if you don’t take part), and self-guided rides over 1200m vertical trails.
It’ll cost you $56 for a day-pass in high season (from mid-June), $48 the rest of the time, and $50/43 for seniors and youth 13–18. Children 5–12 are charged $31/25; children under 12 must be accompanied by adults. Two- and three-day passes are also available. These prices cover riding, entry to the Magic Bike Park and access to the lifts from 10am–8pm. You can also rent a high-quality “Park” bike from $65 for half a day (t 1 800 766 0449, w whistlerbike.com) from the park’s G1 outlet (beside the Whistler Gondola), or $99.99 for the whole day. “Youth Park” models cost $50/65. You can also rent individual bits of protective gear, or a full armour package (arm, leg, glove, chest and helmet) for $44.99.
You can buy lift-only passes, rent equipment and do your own thing by visiting other rental outfits such as Cross Country Connection (t 604 905 0071, w crosscountryconnection.ca), which has bikes from $12 per hour, and also offers tours and lessons. If you want to research routes and further information, then w whistlermountainbike.com is an excellent resource.
If you’re a beginner, stick with the Valley Trail, the 30km paved pedestrian and cycle route in the valley around Whistler Village. You can rent bikes from outlets around the resort, including so-called “cruiser” bikes designed for beginners.
Other outdoor activities at Whistler
Other outdoor activities at Whistler
In addition to skiing, mountain biking and hiking, Whistler offers a wealth of outdoor activities year-round. For further information, contact the visitor centres or visit w whistler.com, which can book and advise on most activities. Numerous rental outlets around the resort provide bikes, skis, snowshoes and other equipment.
Meadow Park Sports Centre 8625 Highway 99 t 604 935 7529, w whistler.ca/meadowpark. You can play tennis at Meadow Park, 3km north of the Village, or give them a call for information on other public courts. Ask at the visitor centre for details of hotels such as the Delta Whistler Resort, Fairmont Château Whistler and Château Whistler Resort which allow players to use their courts and provide racket rental.
Scandinave Spa 8010 Mons Rd t 604 935 2424, w scandinave.com. After any of these activities there are plenty of spas for massage, mud baths and treatments that soothe all aches and pains. For utter luxury, try Scandinave, whose outdoor baths come with incredible mountain vistas.
Wedge Rafting to the right of the Whistler Gondola t 604 932 7171, w wedgerafting.com. From May through September, this outfit has a range of rafting trips priced from $89 for 2hr trips on the Green River (great for beginners), while experts can plump for the Class-IV thrills of the Elaho or Squamish River rapids (8hr; $165).
Whistler Core at the Whistler Conference Centre t 604 905 7625, w whistlercore.com; Mon–Fri 7am–10pm, Sat & Sun 8am–9pm. Year-round indoor rock-climbing facility and an outdoor summer climbing wall. A day’s drop-in indoor climbing costs $17.50. A variety of guides and guided tours are available from $125 for a half-day climb.
The Adventure Group near the base of Whistler Gondola, also locations inside Fairmont Château Whistler and Four Seasons t 604 932 0647, w tagwhistler.com. Offers 90min snowshoe tours for novices from $89 or an evening tour by Green Lake followed by dinner ($109). Also offers snowmobile outings (from $99).
Blackcomb Horsedrawn Sleigh Rides 4890 Glacier Drive t 604 932 7631, w blackcombsleighrides.com. Offers a variety of sleigh-ride tours with or without lunch or dinner, with four tours (hourly from 5pm) every evening in winter ($55 for 50–60min). Tours follow the ski trails to the woods for great views and a stop in a cabin for a mug of hot chocolate. For $105 you get a sleigh ride and dinner.
Blackcomb Snowmobile the lobby of the Hilton Resort Whistler t 604 932 8484, w blackcombsnowmobile.com. You can ride snowmobiles (from $129) with this outfit, which also offers a range of dogsled rides: the “Mountain Mushing” tour (4 daily; 2hr 30min) costs $159. Canadian Snowmobile Adventures (t 604 938 1616, w canadiansnowmobile.com) offers similar snowmobile tours and prices.
Cross Country Connection 7400 Fitzsimmons Rd South t 604 905 0071, w crosscountryconnection.ca. For cross-country skiing, the best spots are the 32km of groomed and patrolled trails around Lost Lake and the Fairmont Château Whistler golf course, all easily accessible from Whistler Village. Cross Country Connection offers rentals ($25/day) and lessons (from $89).