If you live in Seattle, you have several fantastic ski resorts nearby at Stevens Pass, Crystal Mountain and Snoqualmie. But if you want a truly world-class ski weekend, you must go north of the border to the biggest ski resort in the world: Whistler Blackcomb.
For years I had heard that Whistler Blackcomb is the best ski resort in North America. So at the end of a trip to Seattle, I took a few days in the winter to finally carve some dry British Columbian powder.
By car, I traveled from Seattle up I-5 on the three-hour drive to western Canada’s largest city, Vancouver. After crossing the border from Washington state into British Columbia and passing through Vancouver, I took picturesque Highway 99 — known as the “Sea-to-Sky Highway” — on the 90-minute scenic drive to the village of Whistler. An alternative is to take the Whistler Shuttle bus from Vancouver or the expensive Rocky Mountaineer train service from North Vancouver.
Part of the beauty of Whistler is before you arrive. After leaving the Pacific Ocean and Howe Sound behind in Vancouver, Highway 99 snakes through the Pacific Range under a canopy of firs as you cross the Cheakmus and Green River divide into the BC interior. The snow-capped Garibaldi Range emerged in the distance as I ascended higher under a canopy of snowy firs. It truly is one of the prettiest drives in western Canada.
More than two million people visit Whistler annually, primarily for alpine skiing and snowboarding at Whistler Blackcomb resort. However, it is also now a popular summer destination with acclaimed mountain biking and golf. The village of Whistler is an dynamic tourist destination beyond the slopes due to its exciting après-ski and entertaining nightlife. Many visitors stay in the village or in accommodations on either Whistler Mountain or Blackcomb Mountain. I decided to stay at a ski-in and ski-out condo that I booked on Blackcomb Mountain.
It’s hard to grasp how big Whistler Blackcomb is before you see it in person. The resort is 50 percent larger than its nearest competitor in terms of size and has the greatest lift capacity in the world. Whistler Mountain is the southern ridge and offers a vertical drop of 5,020 feet (1,530 meters), while the northern Blackcomb Mountain provides 5,135 feet of vertical (1,565 meters).
The longest run at both is the nearly 7-mile-long Peak to Creek run on Whistler Mountain. The two mountains combined offer 37 lifts including three gondolas and 13 high-speed quads among their other chair lifts. There are plenty of dining options on the slopes with 17 restaurants on both mountains! But the thing I really appreciated about skiing here is that while there is a huge vertical, the summit elevation of 7,165 feet (2,184 meters) means you don’t have to worry about high-altitude nosebleeds!
After checking into my condo, some low clouds began moving through outside and started unloading fresh powder on Blackcomb Mountain. Therefore, I decided to hastily rent my ski equipment, buy my lift pass and not waste a minute. It was great being able to ski right out of my condo entrance down the mountain to the Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola and immediately hit the mountain.
During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler hosted most of the alpine, Nordic, luge, skeleton and bobsled events. One of the really amazing legacies of the Olympic Games is the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the highest and longest unsupported cable car span in the world. The 11-minute gondola ride, included in your lift ticket price, offers a stunning view from the “Singing Pass” of the valley between the peaks at 1,430 feet (436 meters) up.
When I finally arrived at the top of Blackcomb Mountain for my first run of the day, I was overwhelmed by so many choices of runs. I could choose between not only between greens, blues, black diamonds and extreme, but also plenty of terrain choices such as bowls, trails, moguls and ridge runs. In fact, there are more than 200 runs between both mountains!
As expected, the bowls were vast, fast and well groomed. However, I really enjoyed the fresh powder on the trails. Another highlight for me was skiing through through a mix of hemlock and spruce trees in the dry powder, as it hung from the fir branches above me. The smell was incredible as was the feeling of the fine powder as I cut sharp turns down the mountain as clouds drifted below me. The scenery was absolutely unforgettable.
I highly recommend that you buy your lift tickets three days in advance, as you can save a bit of money. With the discount, a one-day pass is C$78, while a two-day is C$156 and three-day is C$234. And if you are an American, the exchange rate is the best that it has been in more than a decade!
During my weekend, I spent most of my time on the slopes, but there are other things to do. I spent a couple of nights dining and enjoying the nightlife in Whistler Village. The plaza offers restaurants, cafes, clothing shops, gear, pubs and other entertainment. The ice rink is a lot of fun and you cannot beat C$5 skate rentals. You cannot leave without taking a photo or selfie with the Olympic rings, which look especially glamorous at night with the lights on.
Away from the mountain, is the beautiful Lost Lake. You have to buy a pass in the winter because only snowshoers and cross country skiers are allowed. But in the summer, only hikers and mountain bikers take over.
Another attraction worth visiting is Whistler Olympic Park, which offers skate skiing, crosscountry skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and biathlon shooting on very nice trails surrounded by the gorgeous scenery of the Callaghan Valley. You can take the trail to Alexander Falls which are huge and mostly frozen at the height of winter.
If you are more adventurous, there are opportunities to zip line (Super Fly), snowmobile and even bobsled. The Super Fly takes you down a mountain zipline at 60 mph (100kmh). At the Whistler Sliding Centre, you can cruise down the world’s fastest bobsled track at 75 mph (125 km/hr). Companies like Blackcomb Snowmobile can take you on thrilling backcountry snowmobile tours to see the true wilderness of the Garibaldi Range.
So if you have never been to Whistler, 2016 is the perfect time to visit. Whistler Blackcomb resort is celebrating its 50th birthday throughout the year.