If you’re serious about your skiing or snowboarding, sooner or later you owe it to yourself to visit Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia. It’s consistently near the top of Ski Magazine’s annual list of Top 50 resorts as well as Forbes Top Ten Ski Resorts in North America. With a ski area of 8,117 acres spanning two mountains, it’s North America’s largest and most popular resort. The staggering amount of acreage includes over 200 named trails of bowls, glaciers and tree runs. There’s plenty of variety and enough terrain to keep everyone from beginner to expert busy for days.
That said, its popularity has its drawbacks. Located within driving distance from the greater Seattle area, it is often a rally point for weekend warriors intent on testing themselves against the mountain(s). This means an influx of crowds on both US and Canadian public holidays with the resort being doubly flooded during Christmas and New Years. It’s proximity to the coast means that weather can be a bit hit or miss. This isn’t helped by its relatively low peak elevation of 7,493 ft which means heavier snow that can be downright soggy at the bottom. That said, it has a respectable average annual snowfall of over 450 in so you’ll still find quality turns, especially if you stick to the upper reaches of the resort.
When the weather’s good, though, you’ll find awe-inspiring views that seem to go on forever over the many inlets along British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. There are plenty of places in the ski fields to escape the crowds, including some of the longest runs you’ll find in North America, and, if you’re up to it, easily accessible backcountry. The village, with its overwhelming array of dining, nightlife and shopping complemented by Canadian hospitality, is worth a visit all by itself.
Whistler-Blackcomb was originally built as part of a bid for the 1968 Winter Olympics, and 42 years later, it got its chance to host 2010 Olympic alpine skiing events. You’ll see remnants of its Olympic spirit in the village including a large set of rings. This is the place to channel your inner speed demon and take on the same slopes where the likes of Bode Miller and Linsey Vonn chased gold!
The resort consists of two distinct mountains, Blackcomb Peak and Whistler Mountain, with the main village nestled between the shared base and a second, smaller Creekside base a couple ridges to the west. The two mountains are joined by the Peak2Peak gondola which is the highest lift of its kind in the world (1,427 ft above the valley floor). It boasts the world’s longest unsupported span of 2 mi and is so impressive that tourists buy tickets to ride the gondola just to take in the sights! Of course, us snow sports enthusiasts will want to do much more than that!
The elevation at the village is 2,214 ft, so no one has to worry about being bothered by altitude sickness. Blackcomb Peak is a little bit taller than Whistler Mountain at 7,494 ft compared to 7,160 ft. But more importantly, this translates to a full mile of vertical! This is plenty of vertical to burn your legs and hunt fresh snow.
Just over half (55%) of the runs are rated for intermediates. The split between beginner and advanced runs depends on which mountain you’re on (there’s more advanced terrain on Blackcomb compared to Whistler). Across the resort as a whole, there’s a pretty even split with approximately 20% beginner terrain and 25% advanced. Of course, this doesn’t count the backcountry, which is easy to get to and, perhaps more importantly, easy to get back from!
When to Go
Whistler’s season typically begins by the end of November and usually lasts well into May. If you go in March, you stand your best chances of getting an almost-perfect combination of longer days, great snow coverage all over and temperatures cold enough to keep the snow in good shape. It also avoids the Christmas/New Year’s crunch, and the US public holidays when Americans stream over the border for world class skiing and a (usually) favorable exchange rate. Just watch out for the local schools’ spring vacation period which is a recipe for big crowds. For 2017-2018, it’s the last two weeks of March.
Lift tickets at Whistler are more expensive than other places in Canada but purchasing in advance will save you money. A pre-purchased adult ticket for 2 days ranges from $141-$174, depending on the time of the season. 5 days will cost $264-$395, and 7 days costs $353-559 USD}}, all of which compare favorably with similar resorts in the US. Children, youth (age 13-18) and seniors (65+) are all discounted. Even though Whistler-Blackcomb is a Vail property, the Epic pass doesn’t save you any money here, so you should only consider it if you plan on visiting one of the other Vail resorts in the same season.