Skiing in Whistler? Here’s what you need to know
Whistler is one of the most popular destinations for Asia-based families. Kristin Westlake has been carving up its slopes with her family for a decade. She reveals her tips for navigating a successful trip.
It’s a longer season, running from November to the end of May, it’s bigger than anything in Japan and all but the very biggest inter-linked resorts in Europe, it’s super-easy for English-speakers, and the lift line etiquette is better than in Europe! The village is also relatively low so there is no chance of altitude sickness.
Whistler has an amazing ski school for kids and there are loads of other activities as well as skiing. Plus, there’s a huge variety of places to eat and a really gorgeous village.
When did you start skiing here?
My husband’s been coming since 2001 and myself since 2010. All of our kids learnt to ski or board here – they’re now 26, 22, 13 and six and are all beating mum and dad down the black runs these days! The ski schools here are excellent. There’s a variety of beginner terrain but the ski instructors get the kids up to the top of the mountain very quickly. The Magic Castle on Blackcomb and the Tree Fort on Whistler have been built specifically for kids to enjoy and include slippery slopes. My tip would be to use Blackcomb ski school for an easier drop-off and pick-up and slightly less crowding.
What about accommodation?
There are two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, and options include Whistler Village near the Whistler gondola, the Upper Village – which is nearer to Blackcomb, or Creekside which has its own lift access to Whistler.
I would recommend ski-in, ski-out at Blackcomb as it’s quieter than being right in the middle of Whistler village, it’s walking distance to Blackcomb ski school and it has good access to the new Blackcomb gondola which has shorter lift lines.
What are your tips for families new to the slopes?
Book lessons for everybody. Learning to ski on your own is no fun at all and the instructors here tend to be pretty sensational. For best value for mums and dads, get a group of four adults together, but remember to book well in advance.
And how’s the powder?
Powder days happen and are fantastic, although Whistler’s proximity to the ocean means they’re a little less regular than they might be elsewhere. However, for us, the mind-numbingly huge terrain, the seven-month-long season and consistently awesome snow more than make up for this.
The skiing can be extreme as you want it to be – the Spearhead Traverse with new huts offers multi-day backcountry fun for experienced skiers, but you need to book in advance and take an experienced guide.
Any must-do activities away from the slopes?
Dog-sledding is a favourite. I can recommend Canadian Wilderness Adventures in Callaghan Valley, who offer a shuttle service to Whistler village. They have gorgeous dogs, friendly guides and the stunning terrain makes this a truly magical experience.
Zip lining in the snow is also amazing. There’s a thrilling boardwalk high among the fir trees with several fast ziplines over Fitzsimmons Creek. It’s tons of fun for ages six and up.
There’s also plenty of snowmobiling action; try Cougar Mountain for more sedate family fun, or wannabe sled-heads should head to Pemberton and book a day out with Broken Boundary Adventure Company who will take you into the backcountry at speed.
Where’s good to eat?
For mountain lunches, book at Steeps on Whistler mountain for fine, on-mountain dining – the short-rib poutine is to die for. A good Blackcomb option is to ski down early and head to Portobello in the Fairmont Chateau – this way you avoid the crowds in the mountain restaurants and get better food for the same price.
In the evening, almost all the restaurants are family-friendly. Our own favourites include Sushi Village – you can’t book for groups under six people so arrive before opening and join the queue, and don’t miss the sukiyaki.
Teppan Village is loads of fun, with Japanese chefs preparing fresh dishes in front of you – the local salmon is a must-try. Hy’s Steak House is great for hearty ‘apres’ meals.
For an adult night out, book a sitter and head to Bearfoot Bistro, starting off in the Ketel One vodka room, the coldest ice bar on earth. Ask the sommelier for a cellar tour and order the tableside ice cream for dessert. Rimrock, Araxi and Red Door are also highly rated fine-dining options.
Any must-pack items?
Ski gear prices are comparable to anywhere else in the world. There are at least two ski shops that offer year-on-year trade-ins for kids gear – buy new and return the items the following year for a 50% discount on the next lot of new stuff. Whistler Village Sports also offers good quality second-hand kids’ items. And check out the Whistler Outlet Store in Squamish on the way up from Vancouver, as they offer some good discounts. Arc-teryx, a cult local brand that we use exclusively, has a factory outlet in Vancouver.
Any other advice?
If you’re renting a car in Vancouver, double-check that it has snow tyres. It’s not compulsory for rental companies to offer this service and over the years a few families have ended up in a ditch on their way up the mountain. We always use VIP Whistler – call and ask for Sean.
Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong to Vancouver International Airport. The flight time is around 12 hours. From Vancouver it is a two-hour drive to Whistler.