With its epic terrain, plentiful adventure options, and that snow-globe village feel, it’s little wonder British Columbia’s Whistler is a bucket-list winter destination. And now with COVID restrictions lifted across Canada, it’s more accessible for Americans than it has been in years.
The astounding beauty of Whistler reveals itself well before you arrive, and getting there is as easy as it is scenic. Fly into Vancouver International Airport, grab a shuttle or hop in your rental car, and head up the Sea-to-Sky Highway. It’s a two-hour drive of nonstop spectacular views, with the Pacific Ocean on one side, the rugged Coast Mountains on the other, and lots of BC wilderness in between.
And once you get there…well, read on for five no-brainer reasons why a winter escape to Whistler checks all the boxes.
Whistler and Blackcomb have character all their own
Whistler’s jaw-dropping scenery is dominated by Whistler and Blackcomb, two massive side-by-side mountains. Each has its own character for skiers and snowboarders: Whistler is all about gigantic bowls and rolling, twisting trail skiing above the tree line, while Blackcomb features a vertical rise of an incredible 5,200+ feet and a true fall-line run.
But beyond the ski mountains, you can’t gaze at the horizon in Whistler without gawking at the snow-capped peaks extending into the distance. It’s the perfect backdrop for any winter trip.
The skiing and snowboarding are truly second to none
Over 8,100 acres of skiable terrain. A full mile of vertical. Average annual snowfall of 426 inches. More than 200 named runs, 16 alpine bowls, and 35 lifts. These are absolute dream numbers for skiers and snowboarders.
For a panoramic view that’ll leave you breathless, make your way down from Whistler Peak via the Upper Peak to Creek trail. Continue on to Lower Peak to Creek for a 7-mile run, a classic Whistler challenge. If you’re a black diamond skier, get pumped for the steep chutes and huck-able cornices on Blackcomb, while there’s endless off-piste for you to race down on both mountains.
The resort is also a world leader in parks and pipes, with Blackcomb and Whistler’s terrain parks regularly landing on top of the world’s best lists.
Learn to ski or ride
If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, you can learn with some of the best instructors in the industry at Whistler Blackcomb Ski and Snowboard School. You’ll even get lift-line priority so you can log bonus runs as you practice what you’ve learned.
Speaking of lifts, Whistler Blackcomb has added some new options for this season. The Big Red Express replaces the existing high-speed four-person lift with a six-person version, while the Creekside Gondola is a new high-speed eight-person gondola that will take more guests from Creekside Village straight up the mountain. More ways up the slopes equal more chances to hone those skills.
Wandering the Village
You actually don’t have to do much of anything beyond wandering to have a memorable afternoon in Whistler Village. This is a town meant for strolling. The original Village started at Creekside. When they decided to expand it to the Whistler Village that exists today, they didn’t design it on a grid — like most Canadian cities — but rather laid down the streets as if they were streams meandering from the mountain.
Explore the pedestrian-only Village for yourself, and you’re sure to discover a fast-evolving cultural scene that’s rich in original events, museums, boutiques, and award-winning restaurants and patios.
You’ll never go hungry…
Whistler’s reputation as a dining destination is almost on par with its skiing credentials. The Village has some 200 restaurants offering fine dining, street food, and everything in between.
Find hearty and delicious vegan fare at local favorite Naked Sprout Cafe. And if you have an après craving for Canadian poutine (fries with cheese curds and brown gravy), Zog’s Dogs will live up to your expectations with great service and a fabulous view of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
Whistler is also known for spectacular farm-to-table restaurants. With the resort so close to coastal Vancouver, it takes advantage of the availability of fresh seafood. Try the Oysters Rockefeller or the Mini Lobster & Shrimp Rolls during Après Hour at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House, or get dinner and a show at Teppan Village, an authentic Japanese teppanyaki steakhouse, with performing chefs, sushi, and cocktails.
Or reserve a table at the buzzy new upscale Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar, which serves elevated Pacific Northwest cuisine and sustainable seafood. Tempt your palate with a platter of oysters, jumbo prawns, clams, and mussels.
…or thirsty in Whistler
From your early morning java, green juice, and pastry at one of Whistler’s independent joints (try Mount Currie Coffee Company, Purebread, or Forecast Coffee) to premium cocktails at the likes of The Raven Room or The Mallard Lounge, you will never go thirsty at Whistler. And with many bars and restaurants offering an après menu (usually from 3 to 5pm), you’re sure to find something to wet your whistle.
With its champagne showers and renowned nachos, The Longhorn Saloon & Grill, situated at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb gondolas, is the place to be come après. Or saber that bottle of champagne at the oyster bar of upscale Bearfoot Bistro. Another recommendation: Sip a creative cocktail at Cure Lounge & Patio in Creekside, where you get front-row seats to the stunning views of Nita Lake and the mountain.
For a single malt scotch or specialty cocktail made with fresh ingredients, served with a side of people watching, indulge in après at The Bar at Araxi located in the heart of the Village.
Score amazing deals on-mountain…
Notably, accommodation options for all budgets and tastes are plentiful in Whistler, with either the luxury elements you want or the budget options you need. You can score lots of deals if you visit midweek, and early bookers enjoy even more savings by reserving before November 15.
And don’t forget that your Epic Pass is valid at Whistler Blackcomb. You’ll get unlimited access all season long, including holiday dates, as well as 20% off food, lodging, lessons, rentals, and more.
…and take advantage of the extra-long season.
The quality and consistency of snow and the extra-long season are two of Whistler’s platinum calling cards. No joke — it’s not uncommon to get fresh powder in the middle of April.
Because the season is so extensive, you’ll be basking in that glorious coastal snow long after other North American resorts have locked up for the year. Whistler is where shoulder season becomes high season — so whatever level of skiing or snowboarding you’re looking for, there are simply more opportunities to find it.
Indulge your Olympic fantasies
Some of the resort’s star athletes were born and bred in Whistler, while others have made it their home along the way. These champions know every inch of the mountain, and can spend the day with you, taking you out to some secret pow stashes. Or, if you want, they’ll just help you practice your turns. Instructors and Olympic guides can adapt to your level on a dime.
If your Olympic fantasy is to ski the same trail as a medalist, then try the Dave Murray Downhill, where Lindsey Vonn won gold in 2010.
You can also get your adrenaline pumping by riding in a bobsled at the Whistler Sliding Centre, a bonafide Olympic venue. Trust in your trained pilot and feel the acceleration of up to four Gs as you and your team race through twists and turns going as fast as 77 mph.
Get cultured in the Village
Whistler Village also hosts an abundance of events, festivals, and concerts. Winter is an especially thrilling time with the weekly Fire & Ice Show in Skier’s Plaza. And don’t miss the Whistler World Ski & Snowboard Festival in April, a week-plus of nonstop action with ski and snowboard competitions, music, art, photography, and filmmaking, plus some of the best skiing and après sessions of the season.
Whenever you’re in town, make sure to check out the Audain Art Museum, a first-class art institution showcasing BC artists through the years. You’ll find it in a stunning building designed by Patkau Architects, one of Vancouver’s foremost modernist firms.
An equally gorgeous building houses the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, a gallery and museum built by the Squamish and Lil’wat nations to showcase West Coast Indigenous art, culture, and historical artifacts. The aim, certainly achieved, is to forge understanding and respect across cultures.
Getting the bird’s-eye view
The lifts at Whistler and Blackcomb are part of the resort’s legend. Case in point: the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which connects the two mountains and is a masterpiece of engineering. It’s the longest single-span lift in the world, crossing 2.7 miles above an enormous canyon. Skiers and non-skiers alike will want to board the glass-bottom gondola car for an exquisite bird’s-eye view.
Adrenaline junkies can see the sights from the air by opting for high-octane ziplining through the snowy forests on North America’s longest and highest zipline.
If you’d rather stay on the ground, you can get up close and personal with those pristine winter landscapes while snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.
Fun for all
Whistler is an ideal winter destination for families, and that extends to the outdoor activities off the slopes. At Whistler Olympic Plaza, there’s an outdoor ice rink and the adjacent Snow Zone for sledding. In the Village, meanwhile, you can sit by a fire pit, drink hot chocolate, and listen to live music.
The aforementioned Fire & Ice Show in Skier’s Plaza is a live, free event that showcases Whistler’s best skiers and riders as they jump and flip through a raging ring of fire along with fire spinners, a DJ, and fireworks display. The kids will no doubt be talking about this one for years.
Taking a snow break
After a full day of skiing and après, energize and rest your body at Scandinave Spa. Here, the Finnish tradition of hydrotherapy (heat, ice bath, rest) is set within a tranquil spruce and cedar forest. The spa is a technology-free zone (i.e., no cell phones allowed), and you’ll have to take a vow of silence.
After a day of pampering, it’s time for some retail therapy. You can find top Canadian labels such as Lululemon and Roots, as well as cool indie brands like 3 Singing Birds and Ecologyst, in Whistler Village. Shopping goes way beyond your typical souvenir finds here.