Less than 12 hours before my New York departure for Whistler, my Wall St. banker ski buddy called me with a crisis.
‘I’m so sorry Sean but Venezuela is going down the tubes. The bank needs me to stick around. I’m not going to make it to Whistler.’
In other words, go whistle.
The itinerary had been a simple one: Fly first thing Thursday morning, be on the slopes for 2pm. Ski all day Friday, Saturday, Sunday and return to New York Monday.
By sheer good fortune I had a friend who was prepared to jump in to replace my banker pal; the only problem was she wasn’t such an able skier – the itinerary would have to change.
Located in the spectacular Coast Mountains of British Columbia just two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler is Canada’s favorite year-round destination. There are two majestic mountains with a vibrant Village base, epic skiing and snowboarding, four championship golf courses, unbeatable shopping, restaurants and bars, accommodation to suit every budget, hiking trails, spas and arguably the best mountain bike park in the world
The Village has 200 shops, boutiques, galleries, jewelers, garment and gear specialists to keep you busy. Expect big names like Patagonia and Helly Hansen, and local favorites like Armchair Books
Whistler’s busiest time is ski season from Dec–Mar. Many hotels offer ski packages and incentives around then. The skiing can last through spring and summer (the World Ski & Snowboard Festival is held in Apr), since Whistler sees extremely heavy snowfall in the colder months
The combined skiable terrain offers more than 200 runs accessed by 37 lifts. One of these, the three-kilometer-plus PEAK 2 PEAK gondola joins the two mountaintops and is the world’s longest unsupported lift span. These outstanding technical facilities paired with the variety of terrain — wide-open bowls on Whistler Mountain and the Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb (where you can ski year-round) — and world-class grooming keep Whistler a favorite for serious skiers. Incomparable views that stretch to the Pacific Ocean, plenty of terrain for all skill levels, and a charming full-service resort village right at the base make it an equally good choice for families and casual skiers.
If your idea of the perfect vacation includes smaller crowds both on the mountains and in the Village, abundant availability of accommodations and reliable snowfall (averaging 2.4 meters or about 8 feet in November alone), then the Early Season may be your ideal time to visit
The three-kilometer-plus Peak to Peak gondola joins the two mountaintops of Whistler and Blackcomb and is the world’s longest unsupported lift span. It takes 22 minutes for a round-trip and offers stunning 360-degree views of Whistler Village, mountain peaks, lakes, glaciers and forests
Whistler was the Host Mountain Resort of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, the first time the International Olympic Committee has bestowed that designation on a community. Whistler hosted the alpine technical and speed events, the sliding events at Fitzsimmons Creek, the Nordic events in the nearby Callaghan Valley and all the Paralympic events except the opening ceremonies, sledge hockey and wheelchair curling
At night, Whistler Village comes alive with apres-ski. Bars and restaurants cater for every budget and fun is guaranteed
The beauty, as I was soon to discover with Whistler, is that not only is it North America’s premier ski resort with Olympic pedigree, it also offers the widest range of once-in-a-lifetime activities – and all based out of the magical Whistler Village. It promised to be dreamy stuff and we couldn’t wait to arrive.
The journey from New York to Whistler involves two flights: One to Toronto and then a connecting one on to Vancouver. From Vancouver it’s a two-hour bus ride north into the spectacular Coast Mountains. Thanks to the two-hour time difference, you can leave at the crack of dawn from the East Coast and realistically be on the slopes by 3pm.
We missed the last run of the day sadly because of delays in Toronto but made up for it by booking into The Sundial Boutique Hotel – the most conveniently located of all the hotels in Whistler village and just steps from the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain gondola. We were guaranteed the best start possible in the morning.
In addition to ‘Luxury by the Lifts’ the privately-owned Sundial is renowned for its warm, 5-star personalized service and rooftop hot tub as well as 49 spacious suites with gourmet kitchens, gas fireplaces and stunning views.
What better way to start the morning than with an Irish breakfast? Next door to the Sundial we found ourselves in Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub for a full Irish breakfast complete with soda bread and Barry’s Tea. The pub was designed and handcrafted in Ireland, with the fixtures and fittings and transported piece by piece to the Pan Pacific Whistler mountainside. It also plays live Celtic music daily for those who wish to pop in for an apres-ski pint of Guinness or an Irish coffee.
From the Dubh Linn Gate we walked across to Whistler Village’s Salomon store where we rented our skis before carrying them just feet to the base of Whistler and Blackcomb – the two side-by-side mountains which offer over 200 marked runs, 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls, and 3 glaciers combined.
Connecting the two mountains is the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola – the world’s longest continuous lift system, which takes 11 minutes to carry skiers from one side to the other.
This is the view from one of the 49 suites at Sundial Boutique Hotel – and you get a balcony too! NOt only is the the Sundial the most convenient for the slopes, the rooms also come with kitchens so if you don’t feel like going out after a hard day on the slopes, or wish to budget a little, you can make yourself something indoors and then settle down to Netflix on the widescreen
The views from Sundial are the simply stunning. You feel like you are at the heart of it all and in the morning you can pick up your skis from downstairs and walk straight on to the lifts – it’s hassle-free skiing at its best
The rooms come with roaring gas fires which add to the whole ski-lodge Whistler experience
Breakfast and dinners at home, should you wish
Don’t mind if I do! Some of the suites come with hot tubs where you can rest up with a drink after a long day on the slopes and watch the sun sink being the mountains
A bird’s eye view of the hotel and rooftop hot tub. you can see from here just how conveniently located it is for the lifts
My friend, having not skied for a few years was naturally a little nervous so we started on the started gingerly, taking the easy green runs and progressing to the blue as we got back into the swing of things. We were also in luck: Whistler was enjoying its best season on record – the powder was deep and soft and the weather sunny with blue skies. This year they predict more of the same.
While I missed not being able to attack the steeper slopes, what I was able to appreciate was the sheer quality of the runs, now that I had time to consider them properly as we worked our way down. These aren’t 10 minute up and down trails – these are long, winding scenic routes that intersect with dozens more on the way down, giving the skier an infinite number of different paths to the bottom.
By 3pm we decided to call it a day and handed our skis into The Sundial where we headed up to the hot tub and watched the last of the skiers work their way down the two mountains and into Whistler village. The hotel has undoubtedly the best views of the two mountains and you could quite easily spend the entire afternoon in the hot tub just taking it all in.
Dinner was at Earls in the Village where the patio is one of the last to catch the setting sun before it disappears behind the mountains. It proved to be a sleek, upscale chain serving gourmet burgers, global comfort food, cocktails, wines & beers.
We were in bed by 9pm – the fresh air, exercise and several cocktails getting the better of us.
Christine’s is Whistler’s most exclusive ski-in restaurant. Make a reservation for lunch and then plan your morning’s ski route around it. Just be careful how much wine you drink – there’s still a long way down to ski once you leave
We were up by 6.30am and booked in for the 7am Fresh Tracks which gives the early birds the chance to catch the first lift and hit the open runs on the upper half of the mountain – but not before a mountain-sized breakfast buffet that is the talk of Whistler Village.
One thing of note with Whistler skiing is the sheer size of the two mountains, or better put: 8,100 acres of terrain and the one vertical mile drop. It’s simply HUGE.
Each year the resort attracts approximately 3million visitors by the end of March. Yet when you are shooting down one of the 200 trails or catching one of 37 lifts you notice how uncrowded it feels. You aren’t wasting time in long lines for the lifts and you aren’t bumping into skiers coming down. Space is yours and the freedom feels incredible.
Despite a huge breakfast, by 2pm we were ready to refuel. There are a number of excellent mountainside restaurants to choose – and all offer amazing views. Christine’s however is by far and away the best.
We took the Peak to Peak gondola across from Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain and skied into the restaurant perched at 6,102ft.
Ingredients are super fresh and brought up daily from Whistler Village, while the famous Christine’s Bloody Mary is almost a meal in itself with a rasher of thick cut bacon standing tall in the glass.
Main courses run from CAD $30 for a beefburger to CAD $36 for the Braised pork cheek. Warning: It does get very busy and is worth reserving a table in advance to avoid disappointment on the day.
Skiing down Blackcomb after and amazing couple of hours soaking up the atmosphere and views at Christine’s, the Whistler experience really starts to sink in.
One thing that stood out as we pulled into the bars back in Whistler village to sample the apres scene was just how international the resort is. Whistler attracts Australians, Brits, Europeans, South Americans and, of course Americans and Canadians.
I’ve skied Aspen, Deer Valley, Vermont and now Whistler and no where comes close to this beautiful resort in British Columbia for atmosphere. It is precisely this mix people that makes it so special. And only in Whistler will you find crepes, poutine and raclette to to accommodate the Canadians and Europeans, Fry-ups, soda bread, and great Guinness to keep the Brits happy, and amazing pies for the Australians.
Talking of crepes, after such a big meal at Christine’s we decided to keep it light and dropped into Crepe Montagne for a Banana caramel and a Sweet Strawberry. Delicious. Thank goodness we were burning so many calories in the daytime.
Soar over old-growth forests and between mountain peaks as you get an eagle’s-eye view of Whistler Fly along one of Canada’s longest and highest ziplines
The Closest to Flying You’ll Ever Get: Side-by-side ziplines mean you and a friend can fly through the BC backcountry together
Whistling through Whistler: It may look daunting but once you start zipping across the mountains you’ll be screaming with excitement
Our last full day in Whistler and we decided to check out some off-slope activities the resort is so well known for. For those familiar with Instagram, Whistler’s Scandinave Spa will ring a giant bell. It’s an outdoor Scandinavian baths with various hot pools, cold plunges, waterfall showers and saunas nestled on the edge of the Lost Lake Park spruce and cedar forest about 20 mins taxi ride from Whistler Village. The spa encourages silence to ‘to find one’s inner stillness, leading to complete relaxation’. The setting really is a sight to behold and no surprise it is one of Whitsler’s most Instagrammed images.
Hopping from one bath to the next along the heated path that cuts through thick snow, the experience will have you, like us, grinning from ear to ear. So spectacular was the experience we found it hard to remain silent.
On top of the baths there are also massages and various treatments available which, after a few days skiing Whistler, are just the ticket.
We left feeling super relaxed, which looking back was probably the best way to approach our next activity: Canada’s longest, highest zipline with Superfly Ziplines.
The tour starts with a custom 4×4 climb up Rainbow Mountain (dress in extra warm clothes, it was very very cold) before a gradual descent across five ziplines and various mountains in the BC backcountry.
For sheer exhilaration/fear, nothing quite beats hanging in a harness attached to a steel zipline and shooting across a gully 200m below at speeds of up to 75mph.
Experience the age-old Finnish tradition of soaking in soothing outdoor baths at Whistler’s most unique spa. The Scandinave Spa combines rustic elegance with majestic scenery in a tranquil, secluded setting
Enjoy the baths or add a massage for complete rejuvenation. Open air baths are available year round, with heated solariums for relaxing and a café for refueling. A bath experience pass during the high season (November 1- March 31st) costs $85 ($95 Saturdays
The spa is one of the most Instagrammed images in Whistler – and it’s hardly surprising. It truly is a winter wonderland that leaves you feeling super chilled and in love with Whistler
The contrast between the warm baths and freezing surroundings will make your body tingle and leave you feeling quite simply amazing
Soaking in the baths is the perfect remedy after a few days on the slopes
Day or night, the view of the baths cut into the woodland never gets boring and is worth every cent
For our last night we decided to treat ourselves and headed up to the Four Seasons, one of Whistler’s most exclusive hotels.
The hotel was uber luxurious but rather pricey, especially when you consider it is’t in the heart of the Village, rather a shuttle ride away and therefore doesn’t offer ski in, ski out like the smaller, less expensive hotels in the Village.
What started off as a potential disaster, what with my ski buddy canceling on me at the 11th hour, turned out to be one of my favorite ski trips to date – and for that I have Whistler and my substitute pal who stood in at such short notice.
What we realized is that while Whistler wholeheartedly deserves its status as North America’s best ski resort, it is also so much more. It felt more than just a ski holiday , it felt like a winter adventure holiday.
Such is the set up with the winter wonderland set-up if Whistler Village, everything is on your doorstep and hassle-free – and you don’t need to be a millionaire to afford it all.
If you are looking for the perfect ski vacation and then a little more – Whistler is for you.