Whistler: The Grandfather of North American Ski Resorts
Plan a perfect weekend to the legendary British Columbia ski area
With 8,171 acres of terrain spread over two mountains slathered in a thick maritime snowpack that averages 458 inches a year, Whistler is the granddaddy of North American ski resorts. It also has 16 high-alpine bowls, killer hike-to zones, massive backcountry access to three glaciers, six terrain parks, and insane tree skiing.
When it comes to nightlife, the pedestrian village at the resort’s base is the Las Vegas of ski towns, serving up a heady mix of nightclubs, brewpubs, and dive bars and populated by a steadfast tribe of locals and tourists who wouldn’t have it any other way. After a trip to Whistler, you’ll likely join their ranks. Here’s why.
Tucked in a cozy Euro-style chalet at the edge of Whistler, about a five-minute drive from the mountain, the Alpine Lodge Hostel offers one of the best deals in town. Whether you’re in the dorm or a private room, rates include a simple breakfast and access to the hot tub, sauna, and shared kitchen. If you’re unfamiliar with the resort, the staff will set you up with someone who can show you around the hill. Or kick back by the fire in the great room and you’re likely to meet a like-minded skier to rip around with for a day or two.
Start the day on the Blackcomb side with a warm-up lap on the Wizard Express. From there, make your way into the alpine on the Glacier Express lift. Go hard left off the chair and line up at Spanky’s Ladder for the five-minute bootpack to access the Garnett, Sapphire, Diamond, and Ruby Bowls, an enormous zone of bowls, chutes, and features, and ground zero of Whistler’s steep-skiing scene. This area is steep and deep and can be complicated, so you might want to hire a guide or go with a local. Keep in mind that Whistler offers a complimentary daily orientation tour at 11:15 a.m. for intermediate and advanced skiers. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, this is well worth your time.
From the bottom of any of the aforementioned bowls, ski all the way down to Whistler’s base via Glacier Run and start to make your way to the Peak Express chair on the Whistler side of the resort, which accesses Whistler’s killer high-alpine terrain. Go left off the chair and hit the Couloir, an approximately 1,000-foot coulie with a sustained 40-degree pitch, sometimes hairy entry, and one of the gnarliest inbounds runs in North America. Go right off the chair and hit Whistler Bowl, a wide-open zone loaded with snow, or take Upper Peak Creek to Bagel Bowl, a local favorite for secret powder stashes and sweet tree skiing on the far skier’s left of the lower bowl, near the resort’s boundary line.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. You could spend a lifetime exploring Whistler’s bounty.
Delicious Belgian waffles are a Whistler phenomenon, and Crystal Hut on Blackcomb serves up some of the resort’s best. Try the Fully Loaded, stacked with berries, whipped cream, chocolate chips, and maple syrup. Located at the top of the Crystal Ridge Express, Crystal Hut is small and cozy. The hut also does a three-course candlelit fondue dinner accompanied by live music. Accessed by snowcat or snowmobile, this is one dining experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Poutine is Canada’s national delicacy, and no trip to the Great White North is complete without a heaping serving. (For the uninitiated, poutine consists of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.) Head to Zog’s at the base of Whistler for some of the best poutine around, grab-and-go-breakfast sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs.
After winning bronze in the downhill at the 2010 Olympics, Bode Miller celebrated with dinner at Sushi Village. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, we don’t know what is. People come for the food and stay for the scene, which is laid-back and fun, with the low din of tables slamming sake bombs echoing in the background. Try the sake margarita, the fish ta-cone, and mango caterpillar roll. Top that off with a few sake bombs of your own.
With a sprawling patio, huge fireplace, and live music, the Garibaldi Lift Co. (or GLC) is the spot to kick back and drink a cold Kokanee come day’s end. Just feet from the Whistler Village gondola, the GLC is the hub of Whistler’s après scene and where locals go to get their drink on. The GLC gets busy fast, so get there early to snag a table.
Into 35-cent wings? Hit up the Happy Hour at the super low-key Crystal Lounge. You'll also find plenty of drink deals and tons of events like karakoke, ski giveawaya, open mic mights and live music. Grab a Jenga set and a whiskey jack ale and settle in for the night.
More club than bar, Garfinkel’s has been a Whistler drinking institution for more than 20 years. That’s largely due to its long-running local’s night, sizable dance floor, and the big-name DJs who roll through, like Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire. Post up on a banquette or grab a pool table. Either way, you’re in for a show.
Spearhead Traverse: A 20-mile ski tour that never dips out of the alpine, the Spearhead links Whistler and Blackcomb via a stunning horseshoe-shaped backcountry traverse. Though it can be done in a day, most people do it in three or four, taking time to pick off backcountry gems like Mount Trorey and Overlord Peak, and to soak in the splendor of the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons ranges. This tour requires travel in avalanche and glacial terrain and is best done with a guide, like Coast Mountain Guides.