Travelogue – Whistler, British Colombia
Named for the marmots that roam the area and whistle like a deflating balloon Whistler is the largest ski resort in North America and is only a 90 minute drive from Vancouver with the ocean accompanying you almost the entire way.
Originating in the late 1970’s and Winter Olympics host city in 2010, Whistler alongside sister mountain Blackcomb are two imposing peaks joined by an artsy and busy village at ground level.
The Whistler Museum on Main Street is a hidden nugget well worth a visit to understand the history of the resort from it’s beginnings of a 1970’s hippy hangout to one of the best equipped ski resorts in the world. There are a load of interesting exhibits here, and the museum looks only for just a small donation on entry.
2.3m people a year descend on Whistler and Blackcomb’s side-by-side mountains, offering over 200 marked runs, 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls and 3 glaciers. Once rivals the two mountains were brought together by ownership just over 20 years ago.
The two mountains although just a walk between both at base are separated by a deep valley with Fitzsimmons Creek running along the valley floor. They form part of the Fitzsimmons Range and Blackcomb has a slightly higher elevation of 7,792ft. Whistler peaks out at 7,160ft but unlike in Colorado base elevation is just over 2,000ft and far more comforting on the sinuses!
At just over 1,400ft above the valley floor the Peak 2 Peak gondola links the two mountains in a feat of engineering and pure marvel. There are restaurants on both sides with Christine’s on the Blackcomb side the most popular.
Most visitors come in the summer months when the snow disappears to show mountain bike trails and jumps. The Red Bull Crankworx event apparently is insane. White-water rafting, hiking, golf, zip lining, UTV tours and looking for bears are all summer attractions.
As for winter, if skiing is not your thing Whistler has a whole host of other offerings. There is a tubing park on Blackcomb mountain, snowmobiling, dog sledding, snowshoeing and an escape room to visit. There are also ski and boarding schools for all levels of ability.
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is a charming exhibit in the Upper Village that celebrates indigenous cultures, traditions, and artworks and is the first centre of its kind in Canada.
This time of year it wasn’t getting dark until after 9pm. So, one night we broke our bedtime curfew and visited the outdoor Vallea Lumina, a multimedia night walk and immersive light show set in the forested surrounds of Cougar Mountain.
You follow a beautiful fairy story in pursuit of hidden wonders along a lit path moving through cleverly presented woodland stages. Annoyingly, you will be humming the song all the way home on the bus back to Whistler
On our last day we zip-lined across the Fitzsimmons Creek that separates Whistler and Blackcomb which was breathtaking and a whole lot of fun. The guides were safety conscious and provided us with fascinating historical and geological perspectives as we went. The whole tour lasted over 3 hours.
We used a company called Ziptrek, who offer a variety of tours. The one we selected included 4 zip-lines with the longest ‘ride’ at 1,500 feet. The highest tree-top bridge was 150 feet above the valley below. The panorama was beautiful.
When we first booked this holiday we also booked a car rental, but were advised against it later by those that had been here. The drive up from Vancouver was certainly better from the passenger seat and Whistler village is pedestrian friendly with all traffic routed around the outside.
The village is large and the atmosphere is more suiting a European experience. Unlike in Colorado where I spent many a lonely afternoon having a beer on my own, here the outdoor pubs and restaurants were buzzing mid-afternoon with one place, the Longhorn Saloon, taking on the role of a full blown nightclub as après-skier’s danced on table and spilt bottles of beers in the middle of the afternoon.
The village is big, set at the confluence of the two mountains and arranged in well-signposted zones to make it easier to navigate, although it is hard to get lost. Almost every single ski, boarding, hiking and cycling shop you can imagine line the wide pavements plus a whole host of bars and restaurants.
Village North is where the Olympic Plaza is, built as a legacy to the 2010 Winter Olympics. The area is used as a performance and community space.
There is a lot of opportunity here for ‘doorstep skiing’ with a myriad of accommodations within the village of varying levels of cost and standard. At the Whistler Mountain end is The Westin, and at the Blackcomb end is the Fairmont Chateau and the Four Seasons, which is where we stayed.
The Four Seasons was predictably lovely, but it kind of lacked any real what I’d call ski resort mood. It was very functional and if I’m honest had too many kids, but we were in the height of UK school holidays and North America spring break, and we had our kid so what was we realistically to expect!
The restaurants at the hotel were very good though. We had great food at both the Sidecut Steakhouse and the more down to earth Braidwood Tavern.
In true fashion we ate well, and lucked out with our restaurant picks. The fondue was plentiful at Chalet, the sushi excellent at Sushi Village, the oysters were plump and moorish at both Earls and Araxi. The best meal we had was a bit of a splurge at Il Caminetto. An upscale Italian with delicious food in a stylish space with service to match.
I’m glad we came this far out west, it is a beautiful part of the world, and the Canadian dollar made it more affordable. The lifts did get really busy though especially at the weekend. The exchange rate and Brexit also meant there were a ton of Brits out there. I don’t actually think I’ve been among that many Brits for ages, even in London. A Canadian accent was rare, as almost all of the restaurant and hotel jobs were populated by young Brits, who found it easier to navigate the straight forward 2-year visa process as opposed the now Brexited European route to find work and adventure.
Whistler is big and has a very diverse terrain and winter and summer adventurists will not get bored. It was busy though and is busier still in the summer, yet the village had a lot to offer and most of all scenery is stunning.