Our Insider Guide to Whistler
You already know Whistler is the place to go: It’s routinely called the best ski resort on the continent by amateurs and insiders, has hosted Olympic events and holds two Guinness World Records for its sky-spanning PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola.
If you haven’t experienced it yet (or are itching to go back), we’ve made visiting easy by doing the research for you. Here’s the where, what and when of Whistler this winter season. Since it’s just two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler brings world-class skiing on the legendary Whistler and Blackcomb peaks within reach without the hassle of overseas travel.
When to go: With an average snowfall of nearly 12 metres a year (about the length of a school bus on its end), Whistler’s ski season is one of the longest on the continent. Skiers typically make fresh tracks in late November -- this season's first official day is Nov. 23 -- then keep coming back until mid-May. This year, locals woke up to the season’s first frosting on Sept. 18. Insider tip: Look for getting the most bang for your skiing buck in December and March.
How to get there: Vancouverites have less than a two-hour drive separating them from the slopes. Those coming from further away can fly directly to Vancouver International Airport. From there, you can rent a car (if you’re sure you’ll be able to keep your eyes on the road, rather than the view) or hop into one of the Whistler shuttle buses for the two-hour trip. The famous Sea-to-Sky Highway will make you marvel at the existence of so many shades of blue.
Where to stay (and save): Planning ahead can cut the cost of your winter vacation. Whistler often offers stay-and-ski packages that are discounted depending on how long you stay. These deals are available for bookings over the entire season and include accommodations and lift tickets.
The must for mogul masters: No skier’s trip to Whistler is complete without a thigh-burning trip on the Dave Murray Downhill. Named after Crazy Canuck ski racer Dave Murray, this epic run is loaded with rollers and drops -- and it never seems to end. In fact, you descend more than a vertical kilometre in just over 3 kilometres of terrain, going from the top of Whistler to the valley floor. Let’s just say your pounding heart will let you know you’re alive by the end.
The go-to for beginner skiers: Don’t worry if you’re still finding your ski legs – a solid third of the area’s 200-plus runs are designed for you. Whistler Mountain is more appropriate for families and beginners as the runs are generally less challenging than Blackcomb. We recommend starting off on the Lower Olympic green run, which is within the "slow zone."
Snow sports for the slope-adverse: For those who want to be active but prefer to stay level, snowshoes might be the right fit. If you’re bringing along your dog, Ski Callaghan, an area about 20 minutes from Whistler Village by car, has more than 18 kilometres of pet-friendly snowshoe trails. Many companies offer snowmobiling; pick one with vehicles offering hand heaters on the handles! Alternatively, turn shopping into a sport in Whistler’s buzzing pedestrian village, home to boutiques, designer stores and shops filled with singular souvenirs.
Where to (really) get some air: Soar past white-trimmed treetops and over mountain creeks with one of the zipline companies in town. If you’re travelling in pairs, try tandem zip lining; as a bonding experience, it’s hard to beat. You can also chase thrills with a 160-foot bungee jump over the glacial-fed Cheakamus River. Schedule this as a midday trip; Whistler Bungee is only open from 12-3 p.m. in the winter. True height-seekers can hitch a helicopter ride to the mountains' furthest reaches for heli-skiing or -snowboarding.
The surefire memory-makers: Adventurous families will love the Whistler Sliding Centre, where you can brave the Olympic bobsled course. If 80-kph joyrides aren’t your speed, the Whistler Blackcomb Coca-Cola Tube Park on Blackcomb Mountain is a family-friendly alternative. As an early-evening treat (trips start at 5 p.m.), gather the little ones for a sleigh ride pulled by Percheron horses.
Best selfie site: Linking Whistler and Blackcomb mountains is the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which holds Guinness World Records for both its length and height. This 4.4-kilometre lift is more than transportation for skiers and snowboarders; it’s an 11-minute reminder of the majesty of mountains. (We recommend opting for a glass-bottomed gondola.) Bring your best camera because you’ll definitely take some photos worth sharing. The only other way to capture these images would be if you could fly.
Hot spots for apres-ski fun: Longhorn Saloon & Grill, known by locals simply as the Longhorn, is the best place to rehash the day over a cold beer while watching skiers make their way down Whistler Mountain. At the base of Blackcomb, Merlin’s is as legendary for its sunny deck and massive nacho platters as it is for all-night theme parties. It’s not uncommon to realize it’s way past dark and your ski boots are still on. Don’t be wary of outdoor patios; between the fire pits, hot drinks and blankets on offer, you’ll stay warm as you unwind.
For the culture vulture in your group: Art-lovers should stroll down Whistler’s Cultural Connector, the village path dotted by galleries and exhibits. Browse Northwest Coast First Nations masks and nature-inspired works by coastal B.C. artists at the new Audain Art Museum, or uncover the stories behind Indigenous carvings and customs at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.
Where to recharge: Whistler has several yoga studios and fitness centres to stretch you out before your next flight down the Peak to Creek run. Our favourite spot to restore sore muscles is Scandinave Spa, an outdoor haven equipped with eucalyptus steam baths and Nordic waterfalls, all surrounded by boundless mountain views. It’s a silent spa, so talking is verboten -- but that’s what makes it so relaxing.