Whistler Blackcomb, North America’s biggest ski resort, is only a hop, skip and a jump away from our home of the last few years, Vancouver Island. OK, the ‘skip’ part is a $150 return ferry trip (one vehicle with two passengers) but in the grand scheme of Canada, Whistler is pretty close.
the resort of all ski resorts
Thousands of people travel here from around the world every year to experience the powder and big mountain experience that Whistler Blackcomb offers. The sheer scale of the resort has long overwhelmed me; there are 37 lifts*, over 200 trails, more than 8,000 acres of terrain and 17 on-m0untain restaurants. And to think I was impressed by a pierogi stand at the bottom of a lift at Big White!
Everything is bigger at Whistler, from the length of the longest run (11km) to the highest lift elevation (2200m). Ticket prices reflect the grand scale too; a day pass at Whistler can set you back $115 before tax. Simply put, it is a giant two mountain playground for powder-hounds.
*Mount Washington in comparison has 5 lifts (plus 4 Magic Carpets for learning), 1700 acres of terrain and a summit elevation of 1588m.
entertainment for non-skiers/snowboarders
Back on ground level, there is still a fair amount to see and explore if you don’t like sliding. There’s a huge ziplining course, plenty of snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails as well as a Scandinavian spa (which I would have loved to go to). Before you even get there though, the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler is an experience in itself. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful roads I have ever seen.
Being relatively close, Whistler has experienced similar weather patterns (i.e. the weirdest winter ever) this season as we have here at Mount Washington. The resort has been able to ride out the leaner times thanks to the higher elevation and snow making machines. When the snow came back in February, as well as being happy our home mountain was open again, we were also pleased we could experience Whistler at it’s best too. Although we could have made the trip to Whistler last year, we decided to save it for our last and final season on the West Coast.
Below: the Olympic rings in the Village
a one day challenge
Due to both time and money, we only had one day at the resort. We were actually on the mainland for the Outdoor Adventure Show in Vancouver, and it worked out best to combine the trips. For a place as big as Whistler, having only one day to explore was difficult. If I thought the statistics were overwhelming before, after arriving at Whistler Village and looking up at the two mountains above I was truly dumbfounded. Excited too, but I could already tell that we would probably not be able to do the place justice. The Village alone took some time to explore with countless restaurants, bars and shops, as well as an unexpected large number of ice cream parlors.
With a hotel room in the Village completely out of our budget, we stayed at the HI hostel 8km out of town. It was purpose built for the 2010 Winter games and used as part of the Athletes’ Village. It may well be the fanciest hostel I’ve ever stayed at and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for relatively cheap accommodation in this area. There’s a regular bus you can take to get into the Village, but we just drove in since there are several free parking lots.
The view from two-thirds of the way down Blackcomb mountain
A busy ski day
I was right about not being able to do the place justice, but we certainly had a good try! We intended to spend half a day on each mountain, but found ourselves finally getting the Peak 2 Peak gondola (the highest lift of its kind in the world) across to Blackcomb from Whistler at 2pm. Oops! Before lunch we had tried four different lifts, eight runs, and visited Little Whistler Peak (2,100m). The latter was especially cool since the elevation is above the tree line; it looks very other-worldly up there.
The mountain scenery at Whistler truly is magnificent; clearly everyone else knows it too, given how busy it was even on a weekday in early March! I remained a little overwhelmed all day; looking down the mountain to the far distant Village really is something.
The weather was kind to us and we scored a beautiful blue bird morning before the clouds came in after lunch. There was no real powder to speak of, but the snow was soft when it warmed up a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos of the day since the memory card in our camera corrupted (so unbelievably frustrating, it’s happened to us twice in the last year). Despite many recovery attempts, I only managed to get the thumbnails back of a few. So just take in all the blue sky and stunning mountain views from these tiny pictures below! (Please let me know if you have a magic solution to restore the originals).
I didn’t really get to see much of Blackcomb since I only did a couple of runs before heading down the mountain. Living and working at Mount Washington, I’ve got so used to half days! JR carried on until the lifts closed, and thinks he may have preferred Blackcomb despite only snowboarding there for a few hours. There were definitely fewer people around late afternoon, so that may be one reason why. By the time I got down the hill, every Village bar and restaurant with outside space was absolutely packed with people. Finally, some proper après ski! We didn’t really get to experience it however; being Islanders, we needed to get catch a ferry back before they stopped for the night.
the last ferry
We followed a beautiful sunset all the way to Vancouver, but ended up missing the ferry from Horseshoe Bay by four minutes. Driving all the way across the city, we managed to catch the next one from Tsawwassen, but only just, being the last vehicle on the boat! Vancouver Island is geographically so close to the mainland, but sometimes it really does feel like a world away.