Editor’s Note: Whistler Resort is open, however, please follow all current safety guidelines for travel. Staying safe at Whistler in 2021 means wearing a face covering, adhering to physical distancing, following chairlift and gondola grouping rules, and having reservations. Visit whistler.com/covid for up-to-date information. We share places, products and activities we recommend. If you make a purchase using a link on our site, we may earn a commission.
“Have a good ski!” they say in Canada as you head for the slopes. If you’re in Whistler, it’s hard not to.
Two behemoth mountains—Whistler and Blackcomb— joined at the hip by a European-style village comprise this mega-resort in British Columbia, site of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Whistler can be described in superlatives: second greatest vertical rise in North America (one mile), most skiable acres on the continent (8,171—by comparison Vail is 5,289)); largest lift capacity (69,939 skiers per hour on 36 lifts), longest ski season in Canada (November-May with glacier skiing in June and July); best resort in North America (consistently voted on each year); and the steepest chute I’ve ever skied (Blackcomb’s Couloir Extreme). More on that later.
Add 200 trails, three glaciers, 16 alpine bowls, two seven-mile runs, 18 mountain restaurants and a partridge in a pear tree. (Actually, it’s a whistling marmot in a tree that gave Whistler its name.)
Peak 2 Peak Gondola
But the most impressive stats at Whistler are reserved for the record-breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola that debuted in 2008. Picture two mountaintops separated by a huge valley cut in half by a creek.
Then imagine a cable spanning the distance from peak to peak. The Peak 2 Peak crosses the longest unsupported span of 3,024 kilometers; it’s the highest lift of its kind; and combined with the rest of the lifts, it makes the longest continuous lift system in the world—round trip from Whistler Village to the Blackcomb base up and over the mountains.
I rode it soon after it launched, and after being “air born,” my initial queasiness subsided as I enjoyed the experience of quietly floating like a hot air balloon with a bird’s eye view of Fitzsimmons Creek and the dense tall treetops.
A few of the 28 cars have glass bottoms for that stunning over-the-top view. Before the gondola’s installation, we would ski one mountain one day and the other the next.
Now you can get from mountain to mountain in 11 minutes!
Skiing and Riding
Despite their massive size and high-alpine grandeur, these mountains inspire rather than intimidate. Sure, their legendary above-treeline drop-offs demand precise technical skiing. But more than half the overall terrain offers fabulous beginner and intermediate skiing that starts from the highest lifts.
There’s no better place to be on a good day than Jersey Cream on Blackcomb or Harmony Ridge on Whistler Mountain. The best ski experience is after the early morning Fresh Tracks Breakfast at mid-mountain Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain. Hit the upper slopes before the masses for untracked skiing. Unfortunately, this year Fresh Tracks has been canceled due to COVID.
About that couloir on Blackomb… I skied it totally by accident. That day my ski buddy and I got off the Peak Express Chair onto a traverse where we came across a group of skiers waiting to drop into what I thought was just a nice bowl. So I turned left and slipped in, thinking he would follow me. It turned out to be more than a bowl. It was the infamous “Sudan Couloir,” 2,500 vertical feet of constant 42-degree pitches!
It’s always on the list of top 10 bad-ass runs in North America. It was steep, yes, but the snow was good and I took my time connecting short radius turns to the bottom. I looked for my friend, waited and waited.
He eventually found me from a blue run that joined at the bottom. “Do you know what you just skied,” he said. “I just couldn’t make that first turn,” he later admitted.
Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have either. But that day—a good day—the snow was perfect and my head was in a good place, so maybe…
“Good day” are key words here. Weather at Whistler can be dicey, with Pacific Northwest coastal patterns being the rule.
Altitude is low by Rocky Mountain standards—the highest lift is at 7,494 feet—and though an average 467 inches of snow falls each year, it can settle hard and icy.
My best days have been in late March, when the snow had a cornstarch consistency perfect for holding an edge. The sky was clear and blue, the weather warm and sunny.
The worst days were early winter when thick clouds masked the mountains and rain pocked the surface into a steel plate. But the glaciers are always skiable, with consistent refrigeration keeping the snow at a perfect temperature. If Whistler Resort were in the high Rockies, it would be number one in every way.
The proximity of the European-style pedestrian village to the two mountains lends a small ski-area convenience to the base.
The layout renders an intimate atmosphere, disguising the huge number of lodging places, shops, restaurants, pubs, and spas that make up Whistler Resort.
Though there are plenty of shops around Whistler Village, you’ll want to be at least a little prepared for the winter temperatures before you go. Grab a winter jacket and some durable snow gloves from Colombia and you’ll be ready to hit the town. Check out their entire selection of snow and winter wear here.
From heli-skiing to lively après ski and every winter activity in between, Whistler delivers a complete winter vacation package wrapped up with that homey Canadian hospitality and unforgettable cuisine.
If You Go to Whistler
If you’re not Canadian, you must have a passport to enter Canada.
Whistler Resort is a 2.5-hour drive on the breathtaking Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver’s airport. A shuttle service operates between the airport and Whistler. You will not need a car once you get to Whistler Village.
The most unusual activity apart from snow sports is a float down the Squamish River to Brackendale, 30 minutes south of Whistler and home of the world’s largest concentration of bald eagles. The eagle count reaches its peak in January when they swoop down on spawning salmon in the river. brackendaleeagles.com