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 some of the world’s finest mountain biking, supreme highline hiking and other outdoor activities (as well as North America’s best summer skiing). It is a busy place – over two million lift tickets are sold here every winter; 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 37 lifts.
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 three bases, including lift systems to both mountains from the resort’s heart, the purpose-built 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).
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 resort’s popularity is not all down to terrain and happy accident. It always did have hundreds of free trails, with endless options for single-track and double-track trails in and around the valley, 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 bike.whistlerblackcomb.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, five skill centres and parks, four access lifts (Whistler Gondola, Fitzsimmons, Peak Chair and Garbanzo), 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 1507m vertical trails. The bike park also offers complimentary orientation tours for newcomers.
It’ll cost you $57 for a day-pass in high season, purchase in advance online to get the best deal (from mid-June), $50 for seniors and youths 13–18, and approximately $35 for children ages 5–12; children under 12 must be accompanied by adults. Multi-day passes are also available. These prices cover riding and access to the lifts from 10am–8pm. You can also rent a high-quality “Park” bike from $90 for half a day (t 1 800 766 0449, w bike.whistlerblackcomb.com) from the park’s G1 outlet (beside the Whistler Gondola), or $125 for the whole day. Kids’ downhill bike rentals cost approximately $60/90. Helmets are included and you can rent extra pieces of body armour (recommended) at an additional cost.
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 whistler.ca/trailsis an excellent resource, as well as downloadable Apps such as TrailMapps Whistler.
If you’re a beginner, book Bike School 101 (w bike.whistlerblackcomb.com), which offers two-hour clinics to introduce newbies to elementary downhill bike control, technique and body position. Lessons are approximately $119 and include lift ticket, rental, helmet and pads.
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 whistlerblackcomb.com, which can book and advise on most activities. Numerous rental outlets around the resort provide bikes, skis, snowshoes and other equipment.
Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre 4584 Blackcomb Way t 604 964 0990, wslcc.ca; Tues–Sun 10am–5pm; $18. Superb First Nations centre which gives an insight into the history and culture of the Squamish and Lil’Wat nations. Explore with a First Nations ambassador on a tour which includes a welcome song, excellent short film and cedar-bark weaving. Every Tuesday in summer there is a salmon barbecue dinner (5–8pm; $58).
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 hot pools come with incredible mountain vistas.
Wedge Rafting To the right of the Whistler Gondola t 1 888 932 5899, 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; $169).
Whistler Core Next to 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 $18. 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 inside Fairmont Château Whistler t 855 824 9955,w tagwhistler.com. Comprehensive booking agency who offer tours year-round from 90min snowshoe tours for novices from $89 to a two and a half hour snowmobile tour through the ancient cedar forest from $159, and ziplining $129.
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 ($60 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 $115 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 with this outfit ($119 per person doubling; $159 per single rider; reduced rates for 8am early bird tours), which also offers a range of dogsled rides: the “Mountain Mushing” tour (4 daily; 2hr 30min; minimum 2 people per sled) which cost $229 per person. Canadian Snowmobile Adventures (t 604 938 1616, w canadiansnowmobile.com) offers similar snowmobile tours and prices.
Heli-skiingt 1 888 435 4754, wwhistlerheliskiing.com. To take your experience to the next level, Whistler Heli-Skiing is available for helicopter drops to endless big mountain terrain that includes 173 glaciers and 475 runs outside of the Whistler Blackcomb resort. Three run packages start from $959.
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. 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 late May. Whistler Mountain closes at the end of April and Blackcomb stays open in May. In late June to the end of July, Blackcomb Mountain opens for skiing and snowboarding on Horstman Glacier. Lifts open at 8.30am and close at 3pm until late January, and 4pm until late April. In May, Blackcomb is open from Mon–Fri 10am–4pm. The Tube Park on Blackcomb is open Mon–Fri noon–7pm and 11am–7pm at weekends and holidays from mid-Dec to early April (times are weather dependent).
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 suspended 436m above the valley floor that links the high alpine terrain mountains. Lift tickets include access to PEAK 2 PEAK and are available from the lift base in Whistler Village, the Upper Village on Blackcomb or at Creekside. Purchase tickets online ahead of time for the best rates and check lift times and other information at w whistlerblackcomb.com or book by phone on t 1 800 744 0449 toll free in North America or t 604 967 8950 internationally. 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 five-percent tax.
You can rent equipment online or by phone ahead of time, or on-site at numerous rental shops in Whistler Village, Creekside and Upper Village. Rental gear can be picked up the morning of your ski day or after 4pm the evening before to save time. Visit wwhistlerblackcomb.com for booking information, 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 and full-day ski and snowboard lessons are available for children of all ages, as well as adults. Snow School lessons are all operated by Whistler Blackcomb and can be booked online.