Whistler has some of the greatest vertical rise and has more skiable acreage than anywhere else in North America. 8,171 acres (3,307 Ha) is the count after the recent addition of the Symphony express- the combined size is double Aspen. The two massive mountains are divided by the Fitszimmons Creek and connected via the Village and the new Peak to Peak Gondola, which connects the mountains at alpine level.
There truly is skiing here for every standard and every mood - bowls and trees, piste and powder. The variety of terrain means that you can ski in almost every condition. When it's all powder with no visibility, head for the trees. In sunshine and hard pack, cruise down steep and fast groomers. If you're lucky enough to get the good snow and bluebird sky then shred the bowls and couloirs to your heart's content.
There's more than 17 miles (27 km) of cross-country trails throughout the village, including the Lost Lake area, the Chateau Whistler Golf Course, and Nicklaus North Golf Course. Rental equipment and trail maps for cross-country skiing are available at Lost Lake Hut. Contact the Whistler Information Center Tel:+ 1 604 932 2394 for further information.
Whistler has North America's largest high-speed ski lift system, rising from four different base stations. The capacity of over 64,000 riders per hour keeps lift lines to a minimum; however during peak season, weekends and powder days all chairs will be inevitably get crowded. Skier numbers are usually higher on Whistler Mountain, so on busy days Blackcomb will more often have shorter lift lines.
In total there are 39 lifts, nearly half of them high speed - only Vail comes close to this. Ski lifts on each Mountain are also accessible for skiers with disabilities. The lifts run from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm during the peak season, and the last lift closes between 3:30 pm and 4:00 pm (although this hour is subject to change). Keen skiers and boarders can buy a "Fresh Tracks" ticket giving them access to Whistler Mountain from 7:15 am, a cooked breakfast feast at the Roundhouse Lodge, and then first choice of the freshly groomed trails or, after a dump of new snow, fresh powder!
Each mountain has both high speed quad chair and gondola access. The chairs can often be a faster way to get up the mountain as the queues are usually shorter and both connect to another chair taking you directly into alpine elevation.
One of the latest additiosn to the ski resort's lift system is the Symphony Express. Commissioned in December 2006, this high speed quad chair takes skiers and boarders up to the newly named Symphony Amphitheatre on Whistler Mountain. This area gives access to 1,000 acres of intermediate and advanced skiing Locals have long known the backcountry here as part of the 'Musical Bumps' with the Piccolo and Flute bowls - new pisted descents include Rhapsody Bowl, Adagio, Staccato Glades, Glissando Glades and Encore Ridge. The Symphony Express has made the Flute Bowl hike more accessible and has also taken pressure off the notoriously long queue for the Harmony Express quad.
The Peak to Peak Gondola opened in December 2008 and is the largest lift of its kind in the world. Linking Whistler's Roundhouse with Blackcomb's Rendezvous, this state of the art machinery attracts visitors from all over the world. The new lift has allowed traffic to flow freely between the two mountains and skiers no longer need to decide which mountain to ski that day. The 11 minute journey spans 4.4 km and the highest point (over the Fitzsimmons Creek) will be 1427feet/436m.
Whistler offers lift passes to suit most people and circumstances, depending on age and on how long and when you plan to ski. Reduced prices apply to veterans in the 65-74 and 75 age groups and to younger skiers where lift passes are progressively cheaper for those aged 13-18, 7-12, and six or under. There are also parent passes (for those accompanying young children), a midweek pass, and a single mountain pass which is unlimited on the mountain of your choice. Children aged six years and under ski free.
Lift passes can be bought at all mountain base stations, via the www.whistler-blackcomb.com website and at 7/11 stores (which is usually a bargain if bought in Vancouver). Early season and spring specials are available every year and are always advertised.
Two vast mountains may seem rather daunting, but do not be put off by the fact that only 15-20 percent of the mountain area is graded for beginners. One of the great things about Whistler is that beginners are not restricted to the lower slopes. You can learn fast here and confident beginners can quickly progress to enjoy some of the high altitude beginner trails like Burnt Stew Trail off Harmony Express chair (6,939 feet / 2,115 m)-a perfect area for groups of mixed ability with some breathtaking 360-degree views and easy trails running down to the village. This gives beginners a "whole mountain" experience and a strong sense of achievement as they ski well-groomed green trails from high altitude all the way down to the village.
Beginners are likely to join one of the many ski school classes available, but there will be plenty of time left to explore the ski area. For those not joining a class, take the Whistler Village Gondola or Fitzsimmons Express to Olympic Station at 3,346 feet (1,019 m), where you'll find the Children's Learning Area and the best area for beginners on either mountain. Return to the gondola at Olympic Station and progress higher up the mountain to Roundhouse Lodge at 6,069 feet (1,850m), from where you can access the Green Acres Family Zone off the Emerald Express, or take Upper to Lower Olympic trail and ski all the way back down to the village. This run can get busy and skiers need to be of intermediate ability to ski all the way down to the village. The alternative is to download the Whistler gondola form either the Roundhouse or Mid Station. On Blackcomb, you can get started low down at the Magic Chair, but the upper mountain has only 2 green runs and it is easy to get stuck in the network of steep blue runs. Whistler Mountain is by far the better mountain for beginners and children.
The trail map is clearly marked to show slow-skiing zones on both mountains. Highlighted yellow on the trail map, they are well patrolled by the Mountain Safety Team-recognizable by their bright yellow jackets-who are quick to seize upon would-be racers skiing too fast in beginner areas or at intersections where skiers of mixed abilities meet.
Whistler has so much terrain available it's difficult to know where to begin. About half the trails you'll find are graded for intermediates and many are quite long. Improve your technique on mile after mile of well-groomed marked trails, or test your off-piste skills in the high alpine terrain.
On Whistler Mountain try the Marmot Trees near the Emerald Express area, a new gladed run has formed here after trees were cleared for the construction of the Peak to Peak gondola. The Symphony Amphitheatre is a great place to get introduced to powder and tree skiing. Intermediates can also ride the Peak chair, from the top check out Highway 86, then Franz's trail all the way down to Whistler Creek.
Blackcomb has some great skiing and riding in the areas around Solar Coaster, Crystal Chair, and 7th Heaven Express. Ridge Runner from the top of Crystal, and Panorama off 7th Heaven are not to be missed. Blackcomb glacier is also possible for confident intermediate skiers with some off-piste experience.
It is wrong to assume that heli-skiing is only for experts. Heli-skiing certainly means backcountry and powder, but it doesn't have to be neck-deep and steep. Fat skis are available and a day's guided heli-skiing is within the capabilities of most confident and aspiring intermediates. It very much depends on the prevailing weather conditions and having the local heli-ski operator select terrain that is appropriate to your group's abilities.
It is in the high alpine areas that Whistler stands above most other resorts, with wide-open alpine bowls, steep chutes, and almost limitless choices. Each mountain has its own advantages; Whistler has more bowls and Blackcomb more couloirs.
On a blue bird powder day you can't get better than Whistler's Peak chair. Once you've lapped it once and gorged on the fresh, bypass the long lift queue and continue down to Big Red chair through Frog Hollow, West Bowl or Doom and Gloom.
From Whistler peak there are some relatively easy descents like The Saddle-a steep and exhilarating trail when freshly groomed. West Bowl offers some of the toughest skiing on the mountain with double black diamond trails like Monday's and Cockalorum. Beware of avalanche debris in this bowl, frequent blasting by ski patrol can leave sizable hazards lurking underneath the powder. For fast groomer days take on Peak to Creek, the longest groomer in North America at 5.5km and descending over 5,000 vertical feet (1,530m) or try the World Cup tested Dave Murray Downhill.
In the Harmony bowl check out the double black 'Horseshoe' couloirs to the left of Harmony Ridge. There are plenty of single black diamond descents including Little Whistler, Low Roll, McConkeys, and Boomer Bowl. The Sun Bowl off the other side of the ridge has many more adventurous lines which are less frequented.
Hiking Flute Bowl from near the top of the Symphony Express could keep any advanced skier entertained all day. Further afield and just outside the ski area boundary is the Musical Bumps trail and Cowboy Ridge, peaceful and intermediate glades and bowls. All backcountry skiing in this area requires a ski out along the hazardous Singing Pass hiking trail. Hiring a certified guide is recommended if you wish to explore this area. Whistler Blackcomb recommends Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau www.whistlerguides.com
For a classic ski outing on Blackcomb Mountain get up early and be first in line; skip the gondola line up and go up the Wizard Express and Solar Coaster instead. Warm up with a few laps on Jersey Cream chair and then line up for the Glacier express. From here you have many options; take the Horstman T-Bar up to 7th Heaven, Traverse over to the Couloir Extreme (home to the former Saudan Couloir Race) or follow the experts up the short boot pack to Spanky's Ladder. From the top of Couloir Extreme you can traverse along the treacherous Chainsaw Ridge. An error here could send you tumbling down Jersey Cream Bowl, so proceed with caution. If you want to try glacier skiing take the Showcase T-Bar up and drop into the Blackcomb Glacier. The main bowl of the glacier is more moderate terrain. Experts will no doubt find the double black Blowhole exhilarating.
7th Heaven's Everglades trees are a favourite on powder days, as are the chutes and gullies around Jersey Cream. The Bite, Blowdown and Staircase all allow you to zip in and out of the tress at your leisure. During the frequent white-out powder days head for the trees on Crystal chair. Arthur's choice and Outer Limits offer steep and technical tree skiing. If you are riding the chair with locals see if you can convince them to show you the entrance to the famed Fraggle Rock.
Fancy yourself a mogul skier? Hit the zipper lines on Davies Dervish and Trapline above the Glacier Creek Lodge. These runs are the stomping ground for local and provincial freestyle teams and are sometimes closed for team training.
The four massive bowls in Spanky's ladder- Sapphire, Garnet, Diamond and Ruby, all have their own playground of chutes, cliffs and risky entrances. There is no other terrain like this on either mountain; Spanky's Ladder is truly the realm of extreme skiers. Be advised that this area has plenty of 60+ foot cliffs around so make sure you have good visibility and someone showing you if you are exploring it for the first time.
Both mountains have snowboarding lessons and clinics, and there are specialized camps offering accommodations, instruction, and fun activities. Each mountain has its own set of Nintendo Terrain parks. Both mountains have beginner terrain park features (S), park staff recommend the Blackcomb Terrain Garden (accessed from Easy Out) as the best place to start. The main parks on both Blackcomb and Whistler have medium (M) to large (L) features where majority of park riders spend their time. The Highest Level Terrain Park (XL) on Blackcomb requires a special pass and a helmet.
The World Cup Halfpipe is located at the bottom of the Blackcomb terrain park and is considered one of the best in North America. It is cut every night with 17-foot (5m) radius and 15-foot (4.5m) walls, conditions in the pipe largely depend on how many people are using it.
Every park has a mix of jump and rail features appropriate to the signed level (S, M, L or XL). The popularity of park riding in Whistler means crowding and queues for jumps are inevitable. If you want to practice without lining up or having dozens of people watching you then get in there before lunch time.
The only pitfall of Blackcomb's park layout is that it has no dedicated lift service, all traffic must either descend to Solar Coaster or take the slower Catskinner chair.
Whistler has many classic off-piste options. Most popular with the locals is Million Dollar Ridge and Khyber's Pass (neither are on the trail map), just past the boundary of the Peak to Creek area. Make sure to have someone guiding you in these places, tales of people getting lost for days in Khyber's circulate around Whistler on a regular basis.
From the Flute Bowl the Musical Bumps and Cowboy Ridge offer excellent day touring options. Beyond Cowboy Ridge are Fissile and Whirlwind Mountains which require an overnight stay in the Russet Lake Hut. This hut (consisting solely of sheet metal walls and a roof) is unlike the luxurious catered huts of the European Alps.
On Blackcomb Mountain there are plenty of choices, though they are not all visible from the Blackcomb Glacier. Passing through the boundary gate on the far side of the glacier starts you up a moderately steep hike towards Blackcomb Peak. Use of climbing skins is faster but snowboarders and alpine skiers are able to boot pack this slope easily. From here there are several options: climb the ridge on the left towards Corona bowl and Husume Flank, traverse right to the entrance to D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival) and Disease Ridge or continue out towards Circle and Decker glaciers. An easier option for those not inclined to hike is to traverse from the top of 7th Heaven out to Lakeside Bowl and Xhiggy's meadow. This area is relatively flat but nearly always fresh and is a favourite spot for freestylers building massive booter jumps.
Experienced ski-tourers can hire a guide and embark on the Spearhead Traverse. This two to four day trip (depending on how much skiing is done) traverses the scenic glaciers from Blackcomb to Whistler. Tours run several times throughout the season and can be booked through local guiding companies such as Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau. Web: www.whistlerguides.com.
Approximately 80 percent of the world's heli-skiing is in British Columbia, and weather conditions permitting, Whistler Heli-Skiing will take you into the backcountry to ski or board four or more drops per day, with each drop giving you access to between 2,500 and 5,000 vertical feet of untracked powder. Contact Whistler Heli-Skiing on Tel: +1 604 932 4105, toll free on 888 HELISKI or via their website www.whistlerheliskiing.com. For backcountry tours with professional guides contact the Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau or log on to www.whistlerguides.com.
The culture of mountain eating in North America is very different from Europe with quick snacks such as burgers, soup and sandwiches the norm. Packed lunches are permitted and microwaves are available to use.
Whistler and Blackcomb have between them 17 on-mountain restaurants serving breakfast as well as lunch, and the standard and choice of food is generally very good as far as North American resorts go. Step off the Whistler Village Gondola into Roundhouse Lodge's market-style eateries with West Coast specialties plus enchiladas and fajitas, salads, soups, main-course sandwiches, and full-service dining at Steeps Grill. The Chic Pea, a cabin-style hut and patio on Whistler, is popular, while Raven's Nest Mountain Deli has a fabulous valley-view deck and a menu featuring sandwiches, soup, chilli and an outdoor grill.
Blackcomb's original mountain restaurant is Rendezvous, offering Mexican food, salads, BBQ, and full-service dining at Christine's. Also on Blackcomb Mountain is Glacier Creek, a spectacular lodge with two restaurants. The Crystal Hut, a cozy European style log cabin has hearty home-style food and is famous for their great value Belgian waffles. The Horstman Hut is perched high up on Blackcomb at 7,494 feet (2,285 m.) serves café cuisine.
The main mountain restaurants are big and busy. They offer an excellent choice of food, but do not expect the same eating experience as a long lunch with wine in a quality Swiss or Austrian mountain restaurant. Eating on the mountain is pleasant enough, moderately cheaper than Europe but good value for money, but the self-service arrangement in many restaurants means people linger less over lunch and consequently spend more time on the slopes.
Whistler Village and Upper Village (Blackcomb), about 10 minutes' walk apart, are most convenient for the slopes with easy access to both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain lift systems. Whistler Village extends northward for just over half a mile (1 km) to Village North, and Whistler Creek (the original Whistler base station) is nearly two miles (3 km) away from the main centre.
The Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE) Transit system includes free shuttle buses between the Upper Village and Whistler Village and a free loop down to Marketplace, where the IGA Supermarket, Post Office and Medical Clinic are located. To get to and from Whistler Creek take either the No. 1 (Creekside Express) or No.2 bus (via Nordic to Function Junction). The Creekside Base is easily identifiable by the Creekside Gondola and the imposing Legends Hotel.
In Whistler Village you can stroll through cobblestoned streets in the pedestrian-only village center. It has covered walkways in case of rain and more than 200 shops, with everything from ski gear to fashion designer labels to native artwork. If you are after something particular, chances are you can find it in the valley. Pop into the Information Centre next to the taxi loop and the staff will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Nestled into the base of Whistler Creekside, Whistler's original après-ski bar, Dusty's, was established in 1965 and is home to Whistler's sunniest patio. Rebuilt in 2000 and a favorite among locals, Dusty's looks like a classic Western ski lodge with wood-beamed ceilings and a cozy fireside, but it has a distinctly contemporary atmosphere with the excellent sound and video system turned on.
Garibaldi Lift Co or GLC for short overlooks the base of Whistler Mountain and is a popular haunt for those ending the ski day in Whistler. A sophisticated synthesis of lounge, restaurant, bar, and club, the GLC has a signature tapas and martini menu, plays the latest ski and snowboard videos, and reggae and ambient house music most evenings - and celebrity spotting is a must here.
Merlin's Bar & Grill in the Upper Village, with the resort's largest outdoor patio and plenty of live entertainment, is the favorite among mountain employees and local stars, and the place to party after a day on Blackcomb.
Citta's is situated in the village square and the patio is known as the best place in Whistler for people watching. This bar is crowded from après till closing time. Other local picks are Crystal Lounge (limited seating so get in early) and the Cinnamon Bear Bar & Grill.
For the freshest beer in Whistler, look no further than the Brewhouse. The draught beer is brewed on-site and the kitchen produces tasty north western dishes. Kick back with a pint Lifty's Lager straight from the tap, a welcome change from the domestic beers of Canada.
Most bars in Whistler have outdoor patios, play live music, and serve both classic and creative après-ski food and beverages. Naturally, they all boast a lively fun atmosphere, but for those wanting a quieter end to the ski day there are plenty of tamer bars to choose from and plenty of late night shopping.
Visitors to British Columbia, those from outside North America especially, will need to get acquainted with the local liquor laws. In Whistler you have to be 19 to consume alcohol and all clubs strictly enforce ID checks at the door. Young children cannot accompany their parents in some bars, but most establishments will allow children during après ski, but due to licensing restrictions families will have to vacate after dinner time.
The 'number 1 après ski spot in town for over 25 years', the lively country theme is a comfortable setting for the cold beers, grill, snacks and large patio at the bottom of the Whistler and Blackcomb gondolas. Tel: +1 604 932 5999.
Famous for table top dancing and large nacho platters, après ski here can be cocktails on the deck, watching sports, or a full-on nightclub. Karaoke nights and theme parties are regular. Located at the bottom of the Wizard chairlift at the base of Blackcomb, children are permitted until 7pm. Tel: +1 604 938 7700.
At the base of Blackcomb, this high standard steakhouse is popular with locals for its good food, pool tables and outdoor area and is equally known for a few drinks before the fire at lunch or after skiing. Tel: +1 604 932 9677
At the base of Whistler Mountain, the Garibaldi Lift Company or GLC for short is a one shop entertainment stop including a bar, restaurant and nightclub. Children only permitted until 7pm. Tel: +1 604 905 2220.
Known for having over 90 beers, many on tap, Black's Pub has a quiet atmosphere for a few drinks and good food by day, and a more lively night. Tel: +1 604 932 5418.
No resort is complete without an Irish Pub, and the base of Whistler Mountain is no exception. Guinness sits among 30 world draft beers and 28 malt Scotches, and the good food is as popular. Tel: +1 604 905 4047.
Its central location guarantees this bistro's popularity. Tables can be hard to get, so book ahead to enjoy the outdoor terrace, great meals and cocktails in a warm hangout with music and entertainment. Tel: +1 604 932 3320.
A chilled-out lounge bar in the Attic, 21 Steps has comfortable sofas and flat screen TVs for watching ski and snowboard movies. Beautiful fresh food is complimented by wines and cocktails. Open until 1am Mon-Sat, and 12am on Sundays. Tel: +1 604 966 2121.
A small but intimate atmosphere with big screen TV's and friendly service, Crystal Lodge is a popular bar for apres ski and daily specials on food and drink. Get in early after skiing or you will be greeted with standing room only. Tel: +1 604 938 1015.
Located in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, the Cinnamon Bear has sit down eating and a casual bar. The secluded location means it's easier to find seating. Tel: +1 604 966 5093.
The Brewhouse in the North Village serves the best beer in Whistler, hands down, as well as offering weekly brewery tours and great choice of pizzas and pastas. Tel: +1 604 905 2790.
Whistler's reputation as an Whistler's reputation as an international resort is reflected in the variety of cuisine on offer at over 90 restaurants catering to all tastes and budgets. There are well-stocked but expensive supermarkets for the self-caterers, but the eating out is superb with a choice of sushi, Chinese, Italian, Greek, French, and North American restaurants, plus many cafés and coffee shops.
For fine dining there are more than enough restaurants to choose from. Araxi, Quattro's, Bear Foot Bistro and Il Caminetto di Umberto all receive great reviews for their menus and wine lists. The pride of Whistler's Fine Dining is the Rim Rock Cafe (near Creekside), renowned for its 'Fish and Game' menu. Reservations are needed atleast a week in advance.
For more casual dining there are dozens of options. Elements has an affordable yet filling tapas menu, 21 Steps has amazing steaks and grills. The Sushi Village is renowned for serving large 'dumbo' flasks of sake to compliment its exemplary sushi menu.
For the families the Old Spaghetti Factory is affordable and has a great kid's menu. The Crabshack, Caramba and Una Mas all offer great alternatives to an expensive dinner out.
There are also well-stocked supermarkets for self-caterers.
Whistler has a strong reputation as a party town and the nightlife will never disappoint. For late night revellers there is plenty of action with a number of fashionable bars, discos, and nightclubs playing a variety of good music, such as Garfinkel's, Down Under, Moe Joe's, Savage Beagle, and Tommy Africa's. Check out the local Pique newspaper for club and show listings.
Hip-hop nights, live bands and theme events, Garfinkel's is always packed out. Thursday nights have been popular with locals for 13 years, and on Saturdays everyone comes down to party. Tel: +1 604 932 2323.
Visitors, locals and DJs have hit Tommy Africa's for over 15 years for the mix of hip-hop, RnB and club classics until 2am. Drinks offers, shooters and a buzzing dance floor keep it popular. Tel: +1 604 932 6090.
Centrally located and on two levels, Savage Beagle is renowned for its freshly squeezed juice martinis. Popular with the locals on Tuesdays, the club gets lively after 11pm every night. Tel: +1 604 938 3337.
This downstairs bar is known for its house and hip-hop nights - air-hockey, booths and two bars add to the atmosphere with queues on Wednesdays, when it's locals' night. Tel: +1 604 932 1904.
Mainstream and classic dance music make every night popular - as do the cow-girls. The bar can be very busy at weekends, and the special offers on Industry Night Wednesday's make it one of the biggest. Tel: +1 604 932 6613.
Whistler is the largest resort-based retailer in North America and shops are invariably open until late. With over 200 shops there is plenty to interest non-skiers and for skiers and riders keen on adding to their equipment there are 28 sports stores in Whistler resort.
Canadian Snowmobile Adventures and Outdoor Adventures offer snowshoeing, dog-sledding and snowmobiling. Snowmobile tours are the most popular and all kinds of themed tours are available, like the fast paced 'Trailblazer' and evening 'Stargazer'.
For non-skiers wishing to get around the mountains the locally run Sno-Limo service has specially designed chairs fitted with skis and a braking system. This service allows elderly and non-skiers to enjoy the snow without the need to learn any new skills.
A great family night out is the Coca Cola Tube Park. Fun for young and old and no snow sports equipment or experience is necessary. Catch the Excalibur Gondola to Base II and the Tube Park is a short walk up the hill. If it's raining or you want a more relaxed excursion, the Village 8 Cinema screens all the latest films.
The Core, located right in the village, has an indoor climbing wall, a full gym and various well being classes like yoga and pilates. Core Kids has a dedicated play area with special camps and 'climb and dine' programmes, all fully supervised by experienced staff.
Ziptrek Eco tours offer an exciting tour by zip-lining across the Fitzsimmons Creek. In between zips across the valley at up to 80km per hour, guides educate guests on the local environment of Whistler and the Fitzsimmons catchment.