When the Winter Olympics came to Whistler in 2010, it shone a global spotlight on what ski circles had been savoring for decades: the epic terrain, death-defying drops, and stunning vistas that make the resort a world-class skiing and snowboarding destination. Indeed, the 8,171 acres of North America’s largest resort (Whistler and Blackcomb joined forces in 1997) are a snow lover’s paradise, featuring everything from breathtaking bowls to Olympic runs and everything in between. The resort’s 200-plus runs include gorgeous groomers, zippy glades, blues and greens galore, and more than 5,000 feet of vertical drop on each mountain: truly something for every level of skier. And that’s not to mention the off-piste action.
As stupendous as the skiing and snowboarding action is, Whistler—which is an easy drive from Seattle (about five hours, depending on the border crossing)—also offers an abundance of adventures off the slopes, including hopping après and an exploding culinary scene. The bottom line? It should be on the must-go list for anyone who lives for winter adventures.
Here's all the intel you need to know to ski Whistler: from how to conquer the mountain itself to where you should eat, sleep, and aprés in this all-around awesome mountain town (which, by the way, got its name from the shrill sounds made by the hoary marmots in the region).
The Mountains: Insider Tips
Whistler Blackcomb offers a staggering amount of diversity and geography, from laid-back groomers perfect for cruising to sphincter-puckering bowls and steeps that give even the most hardcore junkies a run for their money. In terms of difficulty, both mountains are pretty similar, though Blackcomb—which has a reputation for being a little bit more hard-charging—might slightly tip in the favor of more advanced skiers, with a steeper fall line and less beginner terrain. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t deter newbies: There’s more than enough to green and blue terrain to keep you happy.
Another huge draw: The Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which was built in 2008 and offers a ridiculously easy way to explore both mountains. It’s 11 speedy minutes in the gondolas, which not only offers a nice respite from the elements but also knee-buckling views of the terrain you’re about to conquer.
Wherever you are in the resort, though, keep an eye out for legendary locals like Hugh Smythe, who helped pioneer concepts like avalanche control and heli-skiing, and Mike Douglas, known as the Godfather of Freestyle who’s now an outdoor sports filmmaker, and a score of other local celebrities on skis and snowboards, all of whom are regulars in these parts.
A great way to kick off a powder day: the Fresh Tracks breakfast, which costs $20 CAD (plus your lift ticket) and gets you access up the Whistler Village Gondola from 7:15-8 am every day for a buffet breakfast and—more importantly—first access to the slopes.
Despite the resort’s reputation as a utopia for adrenaline-chasing powder junkies, beginners shouldn’t fret: There’s plenty of opportunity to polish your skills on greens and blues that are just as epic as the steeps and deeps. In fact, blue-level skiers and riders can find plenty of fun off the top of Whistler mountain. One must-do run that’s high on reward: the Burnt Stew Trail, accessed from the top of the Peak chair at the summit of Whistler Mountain. On cloudy, snowy days when the weather socks in the top of the mountain, check out the green and easy blue runs accessible from the Fitzsimmons Express chair: Lower Olympic, Lower Fantastic, and Crabapple.
Also recommended for newbies high up on Whistler Mountain are the runs off the Emerald Express, the top of which is conveniently located next to the Roundhouse Lodge and the Whistler terminal of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. Check out runs like Ego Bowl, Whiskey Jack, Marmot, and Green Acres. Over at Blackcomb, beginners can avoid some of the crowds at the top by exploring the greens and blues off the Wizard Express at the base of the mountain.
Intermediate-level skiers will find nirvana at Whistler-Blackcomb via blues galore, as well as a few on-the-easier-side blacks to work up to. One word of warning, however: As is generally the case with adventurous outings in the outdoors-loving country of Canada, run ratings tend to skew a little aggressive. In other words, what might be categorized as a black run in a U.S. resort is a mere blue here.
Three don’t-miss runs for intermediates: Seventh Heaven on Blackcomb (especially when skies are clear); the Saddle of the Whistler Peak Chair, and the Peak to Creek, a favorite among locals. It makes for a perfect way to wrap up the day: A gloriously long run that stretches over 5,000 vertical feet—just about the total vertical drop of the whole resort (boarders will need to keep up their speed in certain sections on the upper part).
Ready to shred some of the most wicked terrain in North America? Pick from plenty of adrenaline-thumping options, from the bowls of the famous Spanky’s Ladder to the hair-raising chutes of Couloir Extreme, both on Blackcomb, to the wide-open drops of Whistler Bowl off Whistler's popular Peak Chair.
For an even more unforgettable adventure on Blackcomb’s most beloved bowls—Ruby, Garnet, Diamond, and Sapphire (named, appropriately enough, after precious stones)—which are accessed via Spanky's Ladder, snag first chair on the Glacier Express and join the crowd of locals to wait for avalanche control to finish doing their thing. Then, it’s game on for first tracks down these epic bowls
And don’t miss the chance to join the coveted ranks of those who make it through Couloir Extreme, which has earned every bit of its name, without falling. Originally named Saudan Couloir when it opened up in 1987, it’s now beloved by daredevils who savor the jaw-dropping views of the Coast Range before dropping in.
Things are a tad less extreme on Whistler Mountain, but one must-do is the Dave Murray Downhill, named after a former Canadian ski team member and Whistler’s director of skiing. The steep, speedy run hosted World Cup Downhill and Super-G races in the 1990s and was used in the 2010 Whistler Olympics.
Where To Stay
Whistler offers a bevy of lodging options to suit every budget, from more wallet-friendly spots all the way up to the cushiest of digs. As with any resort, you’ll generally find better deals the further away from the action you go, and on weekdays.
For a splurge, not much tops the luxe factor and convenience of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, just steps from the base of Blackcomb Mountain. The 550-room resort features upscale digs, including impossibly comfortable beds and in-room fireplaces, and ski-centric amenities like ski valets who takes your gear right after you come off the slopes. But the real star of the show is the property’s outdoor hot tubs and heated pools. Easing weary muscles with an adult beverage in hand as snowflakes float down—it’s hard to image a better way to end the day.
If you’re bunking up with a bunch of budget-minded buddies, the sporty chic Aava Whistler Hotel is just the spot. The award-winning hotel has been the gathering spot for thrill-seekers since re-opening before the 2010 Olympics. Adventure-centric amenities include complimentary ski valet, ski lockers, boot dryers, fat bike and snowshoe rentals, and Whistler’s only GoPro Demo Lab, which allows guests free use of the cameras (just in case you forgot your own). Rooms come with a pull-out sofa, or go for one of the suites to accommodate a larger group.
Another wallet-friendly option: staying outside of Whistler Village in Creekside, a neighborhood popular with the outdoor-loving locals. Several lodging options are available at lower price points than the Village, including First Tracks Lodge, Legends, and Evolution Whistler.
Where to Eat (and Drink)
The skiing isn’t the only thing that will spoil you at Whistler Blackcomb. The resort’s culinary star is also rapidly rising, with a bumper crop of inventive, award-winning chefs working their magic with a bounty of B.C. ingredients. Craving a quick, easy bite? You’ve got plenty of options for that, too.
For farm-to-table cuisine and some of the best cocktails in Whistler, Alta Bistro is a favorite among locals. Tuck into hearty, hyper-local dishes in a delightfully cozy space, with wooden racks full of wine bottles and jars of pickled veggies. In the heart of the Village, Araxi is a popular spot to people-watch while savoring seafood-centric plates, as well as one of the most extensive wine lists in B.C.
On the more sensational end of the spectrum, don’t miss the chance to saber a bottle of bubbles in the 20,000-bottle cellar of the Bearfoot Bistro, one of the most dramatic dining experiences in Whistler, if not B.C. Then dig into a five-course tasting menu from award-winning chef Melissa Craig before a post-meal toast in the Ketel One Ice Room, the world’s coldest vodka tasting room at -25 degrees Fahrenheit, with 50 vodkas from all over the world.
A dining experience that brings an unprecedentedly upscale vibe to the mountain is the recently renovated Christine's restaurant on Blackcomb Mountain. Helmed by award-winning chef Steve Ramey, it's set a new standard for mountain food, with gorgeously presented, locally sourced dishes that would be right at home in any foodie city. Combine that with sublime views of the mountains, a stellar wine list, and a modern, unfussy space, and you just might have trouble snapping back into your skis.
For a more casual experience, you can’t beat El Furniture Warehouse for cheap, tasty grub: All dishes cost $4.95 CAD. Other wallet-friendly options include two standout Mexican restaurants: The Mexican Corner , featuring authentic, contemporary-leaning fare and awesome atmosphere (Fiesta Hour from 3-6 pm comes with great drink specials); and Tacos La Cantina, for rib-sticking tacos and other dishes that offer a creative take on Mexican favorites. For a treat to tuck into your ski jacket, join the locals at Purebread Bakery in the Village at Olympic Plaza, where “breadheads” create a head-spinning array of yeasty goodness, from sour cherry chocolate to jalapeno cheese bread, as well as mouth-watering cakes and sugary confections.
The party doesn’t stop once you’ve had your fill of powder. Whistler’s après action is almost as legendary as its terrain. Three popular spots are located at the mountains’ bases: Garibaldi Lift Co., known by locals as GLC, Dusty’s BBQ, andMerlin's Bar & Grill. With a wide-open layout and spinning DJ, GLC—which is literally located on top of the Whistler Gondola building—is a rockin’ spot among the younger set (and it starts filling up early). Dusty’s BBQ, meanwhile, serves up mugs of draft beer and finger-licking, rib-sticking grub like nachos big enough to make a meal out of. Merlin's is a few steps from the base of Blackcomb (a great aprés spot for Fairmont guests) and boasts a mellow vibe (except when patrons dance on the tables in their ski boots, that is) and super friendly staff.
Wherever you go, try one of the fantastic B.C. brews—try some of the tasty pours by Whistler's own Whistler Brewing Company, which are served all over Whistler and further afield. And it’s never a bad time of day for a Bloody Caesar, a version of the Bloody Mary made with clamato juice and beloved by Canadians.
Options for the Non-Skier
The town of Whistler, which encompasses the Whistler Blackcomb resort, is a veritable winter wonderland, with plenty of off-the-slopes opportunities for winter adventure. The Adventure Group is a go-to outfitter for activities like snowshoeing, heli-sightseeing, snowmobiling, and even winter ziplining.
Making the trip with kids in tow? Don’t worry—there’s no need to put them up with a babysitter all day, as Whistler is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in North America. Besides an excellent ski school, there are plenty of off-the-slopes options to keep kids of all ages happy, including free ice skating every Monday and Wednesday at the ice rink, and every afternoon, Family Apres, with activities like snowman building, tobogganing, and storytelling.
One under the radar but highly recommended resource for visitors: the Meadow Park Sports Centre, which houses a hot tub, sauna, and steam room, along with a 25-meter lap pool. It’s a great way to enjoy the benefits of a soak to soothe sore muscles without forking over spa fees, or if you happen to be staying in a hotel that doesn’t have a hot tub.
And don't forget to snap a photo posing in front of the Olympic rings in the Village.
Written by Blane Bachelor for RootsRated.