We’ll just let the stats tell the tale. Made up of two adjacent mountains that inspired the resort’s name, Whistler Blackcomb boasts nearly 13 square miles of skiable terrain with more than 200 trails, 16 bowls, four terrain parks as well as a half pipe and a snow-cross track, three glaciers, a seven-mile-long run and a vertical drop that exceeds 5,000 feet. This ridiculous opulence is serviced by a veritable city-sized base village, with almost 100 restaurants and lodging options to fit a wide range of lifestyles. It hosted the 2010 Olympics without batting an eye, so it’ll easily handle every one of your mountainous ambitions.
The resort is so downright massive that lift-riders actually pass through three distinct weather systems on the way up to the 7,500-foot summit. If rain is falling in the village, chances are the peaks are bathed in sunshine just over the blanket of cloud. It can make for a wonderfully disorienting experience, rising through the gloom to have the entirety of the resort unveiled before your widening eyes as you clear through foul conditions.
Most visitors reach this iconic resort via the scenic two-hour drive from Vancouver–a legit stop-over spot for either the start or the end of your trip north. The resort itself gets more than 450 inches of snow each year, with a typical 100-inch snowpack, meaning the white stuff should be plentiful when you arrive.
Surprisingly, Whistler’s sheer size is digestible, in large part because the terrain is divided between Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, whose summit is conveniently linked by the Peak-2-Peak gondola. This tri-cabled carriage was unveiled during the 2010 Winter Games, and traverses 1.9 miles at a height of 1,430 feet–a glass bottom adds to the sense of enormity, available on select cars. This geographic composition means that long list of trails are evenly spread out, evoking a welcome, laid-back atmosphere on the mountain. Beginners can sharpen their skills without crashing into more advanced skiers, who can hit the mountains steeps and chutes without worrying about scaring a newbie. The ride on the gondola is a must, though most experience visitors to Whistler typically divide their days into conquering one mountain at a time–more runs, less transition.
Though Blackcomb carries an extreme rep among in-the-know skiers, beginners can head up the Seventh Heaven Lift and cruise down the mellow, groomed slope of Greenline, which follows the mountain’s natural lines all the way back down to the base. Experts will likewise loop runs off Seventh Heaven, accessing terrain that varies from wide-open bowls to narrow patches of tree skiing. Hard-chargers also gravitate to Whistler’s higher-elevation hot spots off Peak Lift to access runs off Whistler Bowl, Stephen’s Chute and more narrow cornice drops than there are words to name. Intermediates, meanwhile, will find more than half of the runs rated to their skill level.
Freestyle skiers and snowboarders can choose between the resort’s four terrain parks, ranging from the beginner-friendly Big Easy Terrain Garden to the experts-only Highest Level terrain park, with some of the biggest jumps and rails available. Riders can test their skills on this park’s huge features, or they can sit back and watch the pros dial down their competition runs.
As you’d expect from this kind of mega-resort, Whistler offers a plethora of classes for beginners, with private and group lesson for adults and children as well as backcountry clinics and the opportunity to ski with an Olympian. They also host heli-skiing, accessing 432,000 acres of big-mountain terrain.
The pedestrian village is equally robust. If you want it, you’ll find it, from rockin’ night clubs, firework displays and live music to mellow après fireside spots, couple retreats and the controlled chaos of family-friendly restaurants and hotels. And special events, from film fests to live concerts, happen almost weekly.
One tip: unless you pride yourself on countless exploration, the resort’s sheer size makes it easy to miss out on some of the best runs. If your time is limited, consider hooking up with the Extremely Canadian guiding service (http://www.extremelycanadian.com/) to get a local pro’s perspective on Whistler Blackcomb’s best- and least-known runs.
Vail Resorts recently acquired Whistler Blackcomb, which is now arguably the shiniest of their many-jeweled crown in ski resort dominance. Right now, it means that Whistler is now part of Vail’s Epic Pass program, opening the resort up to legions of season-pass holders. They also announced a $52 million investment this year, including a three-gondola inter-connect route and new lifts: a new 10-passenger gondola, a six-pack and a four-passenger high-speed lift.
With ski-in and out access to the lifts, Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a perfect location for first trackers. The 4.5-star hotel features a host of amenities, including indoor/outdoor hot tubs with bar service, a fitness room with sauna and steam room and a full spa.
Located within walking distance from the resort, Bearfoot Bistro offers a bevy of local seafood and wild game as well as some of the best ingredients from around the world, served in set three- to five-course meals that can be topped off with nitro ice cream, prepared and frozen with liquid nitrogen at the table. The restaurant also offers a champagne sabre-ing lesson in their wine room and vodka tasting tour in their Belvedere Ice Room, complete with Canada Goose artic parkas to keep you warm in the -25F environment.