Whistler is hands-down one of my favorite ski resorts, and I’m fortunate enough to get to go there a few times a year.
I’ll start with the stats. Whistler-Blackcomb, about 90 minutes north of Vancouver BC, is a special place by any measure. It’s the largest ski resort in North America by far. It’s spread across two mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb) either of which, set by itself, would be a major resort in it’s own right. Until recently it had the largest vertical drop on the continent: about 1 vertical mile (it’s still 2nd in that measure). It has Alps-style glacier skiing. It has one of the world’s most remarkable gondolas, Peak 2 Peak, which is higher off the ground and has a longer unsupported span than any lift anywhere.
It’s not surprising then that Whistler is generally regarded as one of the top ski resorts on the continent. It’s huge, and there’s plenty of terrain for everyone. I’ll break it down by type:
- Beginners will want to stick to Whistler Mountain, but there’s lots of great learning terrain- especially on the Emerald chair.
- Whistler has more intermediate terrain than most resorts have total terrain, and they claim to groom more acres each night than anywhere else in NA. Also, intermediates can roam freely without worrying about getting stuck: there’s a blue (or green) run from the top of all 27 lifts.
- Advanced skiers will find huge swathes of terrain on both mountains; I think Whistler’s real sweet spot is for skiers in the high intermediate to advanced category.
- Experts head to Spanky’s (on Blackcomb) and the Peak chair (on Whistler) for steeps, chutes, cliff drops, etc. There are tons of easily accessed out-of-bounds options also.
- I don’t ski park myself, but I’ve been told Whistler’s series of terrain parks (beginner through expert) are amongst the best anywhere.
The only real drawback you’ll hear about Whistler is the weather. There’s no escaping that it’s in a coastal mountain range in the Pacific Northwest. There can sometimes be fog and freezing drizzle. Low visibility occasionally makes it very difficult to ski, although that’s only happened to me once in more than a dozen visits. Even then, there are so many different climate zones in 5000′ of elevation that there was decent skiing somewhere on the mountain. No, this isn’t the sunny high-desert skiing you find in Utah, but the chance that your entire trip will be ruined by weather is very small.
Probably the biggest myth out there about Whistler is related to snowfall, which popped up during the Olympics. All those events that almost got cancelled due to lack of snow? They weren’t at Whistler, they were at Cypress (a lower-elevation ski area in the Vancouver suburbs). Whistler averages 410″ of snow annually, which is more than any resort in, say, Colorado. The skiing events that were at Whistler did have slushy snow a few days, but they were held on the bottom half of the mountain – on runs that you’ll only ski once on your way down in the afternoon.
The reality is that most of the time, the snow above mid-mountain at Whistler is great. It’s not always the super-dry powder Utah is famous for, but it’s usually a lot better than the Northwest’s slushy “Cascade concrete” reputation.
So with all that out of the way, here are my two biggest Whistler recommendations:
- Go in April. The weather is better, it’s less crowded, and it’s a bit cheaper. There’s great coverage, and although it’s spring elsewhere, it’s still winter up in the alpine. Some of Whistler’s best days are after certain other major resorts have already closed for the season…
- Don’t try to see everything in only a day or two… Pick an area and stay there for a while. Because it’s so big, it can take a while to get around the mountain. It’s easy to waste bunch of your day navigating on access roads rather than doing real skiing. The Symphony area (on Whistler) in particular takes a while to get to/from – plan to stay a while once you’re out there.
If you like skiing, (or any outdoor activity, really) or even just beautiful mountain scenery, Whistler should be near the top of your list…especially in April.