Winter is when Whistler really comes into its own. Sure, it’s a great place to be in summer, and there’s plenty to do up here even when there’s no powder on the slopes, but it didn’t become an internationally renowned mountain resort and a Mecca for extreme sports enthusiasts because of the excellent hiking opportunities. Whistler made its name first and foremost as a ski resort, and a rather special one at that. Not every resort can say they’ve been voted “Number One in North America”. Fewer still can say they’ve hosted a Winter Olympics.
So we’ve established that Whistler is a good place to be in winter. But what kind of skiing and boarding is on offer, and what else is there to do at this time of year? Here we take you through the most popular winter activities, how to do them, and who to go with.
ALPINE SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING.
Between them, Whistler and Blackcomb have 37 lifts and more than 200 runs offering over 1600m of vertical drop – and because they’re linked by the 4.4km Peak 2 Peak Gondola (more on that below), you can pack both into a single day’s action. Both mountains have multiple freestyle terrain parks for those who like getting serious air while ripping down rails, table tops, spines, and jibs. Lift tickets are available in advance from www.whistlerblackcomb.com and give you access to everything on the mountains (terrain parks and Peak 2 Peak Gondola included).
There are plenty of options if you’re in need of instruction, but one firm that we highly recommend is Extremely Canadian. Operational since 1994, they offer private clinics for skiers and boarders alike. Fancy yourself as a pro? They’ll take you to the mountains’ most wicked drops and purest powder stashes. You’ll be begging them not to leave you.
NORDIC (CROSS-COUNTRY) SKIING AND SNOWSHOEING.
With scenic trails suitable for all abilities, Whistler is a world-class cross-country skiing destination. There are two excellent options if you’re into Nordic styles.
First, you can take a short walk to Lost Lake Park, where 25km of cross-country skiing trails and a further 15km of snowshoeing trails run through wooded slopes and offer incredible views of the surrounding Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
Second, you can jump on a shuttle bus to the legendary Callaghan Valley. A Ski Callaghan pass gains you access to both the Whistler Olympic Park (site of the 2010 Olympics) and the Nordic Centre. Combined, these two parks offer over 130km of expertly groomed trails weaving through 7,000 hectares of pristine forest. Around 35km of this is open to snowshoers. Through Ski Callaghan you can also book activities, arrange instruction, and rent equipment.
If you love fresh powder but hate battling to find it on the piste, we recommend you give cat-skiing a go. For those of you who’ve never tried it before, cat-skiing involves taking a snowcat into the B.C. backcountry for exhilarating descents on fresh, untouched runs. It’s a “pow”-lover’s paradise. Half the fun is the ride itself: comfy heated bucket seats and large cabin windows allow you to relax and take in the scenery on the way up to your run. A day’s cat-skiing includes between 6 and 10 runs – with lunch usually included. If you’re going to splurge on one winter activity, we recommend you save your coin for this!
The recent addition of a fleet of Piston Bully 300s (some of the most powerful, reliable and comfortable snowcats) makes Powder Mountain a good choice of operator if you want to maximize your ski time and distance. They promise no less than 7,000 vertical feet of skiing.
BOBSLEIGH AND SKELETON.
Bet you never thought you could be part of a bobsleigh team? Well, here in Whistler you can – for a few exhilarating seconds at least. The Whistler Sliding Centre’s Public Bobsleigh Program opens up this thrilling Olympic sport to anyone with a stomach for 4G forces. Used in the 2010 Games, the track coasts through 10 twists and turns at speeds in excess of 125km per hour. It’s the fastest in the world. But don’t worry, you won’t be driving – that’s reserved for the group of onsite professionals and ex-Olympians who will take you for the ride.
And if that’s not exciting enough for you, how about hurtling head-first down the track instead? The Whistler Sliding Centre is the only place in Canada where you can try your hand (and head) at skeleton – that seemingly death-defying sport that’s terrifying even just to watch.
Both the bobsleigh and skeleton experiences include thorough safety orientations in case your palms are already sweaty.
For a fun group activity requiring no skill or equipment, take the Excalibur Gondola up to Base 2 on Blackcomb where the Coca-Cola Tube Park offers winter recreation of a different kind. Jump into an inflatable tube and feel the rush of adrenaline as you slide, spin and bump down the mountainside with the wind in your face. As long as conditions permit, you can even hang onto your friends’ tubes and go down as a group – the extra weight of multiple bodies bunched together only serves to amplify the speed. (If you’re here in Whistler on your own, why not invite along some of the friends you’ll make at Pangea.)
The park has over 1,000ft of snow slides with 7 different lanes and a conveyor “carpet” to take you and your tube back to the top. We recommend heading up around 3-4 PM for evening tubing under the lights.
PEAK 2 PEAK SIGHTSEEING.
Even if you’re not skiing or boarding, we think it’s well worth taking a ride on Whistler’s world-renowned Peak 2 Peak Gondola. Spanning the 4.4km gap between Whistler and Blackcomb, it features the longest unsupported lift span in the world (3km), and at 436m is also one of the highest of its kind. This combination of distance and height means you’ll have plenty of time (11 minutes to be precise) to take in the peaks, forests, glaciers and lakes that make this part of the world so breath-takingly beautiful. And because the sky cabins offer 360-degree views (some even have see-through glass floors – wait for the grey-coloured cabin if you’re good with heights), you can admire them from every angle and from both sides of the valley.
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola loads at both the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler (accessed via the Whistler Village Gondola from Skiers’ Plaza, a three-minute walk from Pangea) and the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb (accessed via the Wizard and then Solar Coaster chair-lifts that run from the Upper Village). Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.whistlerblackcomb.com or at the Whistler Visitors Centre.
Looking at the incredibly diverse terrain around Whistler, you can see why so many people enjoy whizzing around on a snowmobile. Used by many Canadians simply as a means of getting from A to B, these machines turn into chariots of high-octane excitement when you’re powering up and down all sorts of gradients in the B.C. countryside.
Admittedly, this is one winter activity in Whistler we haven’t yet tried for ourselves, but not once have we seen guided snowmobile tours steaming up the mountain and not wanted to join in the fun. There are a number of tour companies starting out of Whistler, including Blackcomb Snowmobile, Whistler Snowmobile, Ride Whistler and Canadian Wilderness Adventures.
Stay tuned to our blog and social media channels for more insight and more tips and tricks to experiencing the best of the unique mountain town of Whistler on a budget.