In the coastal mountains of British Columbia, you'll find North America's consummate ski scene.
A local Whistler-Blackcomb magazine points out that on a good day, an advanced skier would have no trouble skiing more than 50,000 vertical feet. Fifty thousand feet. If you could ski entire mountains, that would be more than two Kilimanjaros, three Mt. Whitneys, or four Mt. Hoods. But that’s what this Canadian hamlet is all about. Extremes, superlatives, records. The Whistler-Blackcomb downhill ski area claims to be the biggest ski area on the continent, to have the greatest vertical rise on the continent, to have the most slope-side lodging in North America, and to have the most advanced ski lift systems in the world.
Downhill bound: The Whistler-Blackcomb ski area exists because two huge ski mountains next door to each other decided to get together and make themselves into one giant ski area. Each mountain by itself is near the size of Vail in Colorado—the largest ski area in the United States. It’s not out of reach to ski a 7-mile run on Whistler Mountain, from the peak at 7,160 feet to the base at 2,140 feet, and then walk about 100 feet over to the Blackcomb ski lifts, take a gondola or two a mile to the top, and brave the Couloir Extreme, the steepest, perhaps most fearsome, ski run in North America.
At the top of both mountains, a clear day exposes white peaks in every direction, and long views into Whistler Village below. As you point your skis downhill, you enter a world where wide lanes bordered by thick green forest twist and turn downward. Sometimes weather dresses the mountain’s middle regions with a shroud of wispy fog, and ghostly skiers fade away before you.
Although Whistler-Blackcomb can check in over 20,000 skiers and snowboarders per day, its immense size and 13 express chairlifts keep any of the runs from being unbearably crowded. Whistler Mountain draws more first-timers, and is perfect for intermediate skiers and boarders. Blackcomb draws a more advanced crowd, but has much to offer the intermediate skier too.
Downhill bombers and peace-seekers alike will find the tucked-away valley of Whistler—in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia—a glorious destination. Hundreds of miles of downhill skiing, acres of cross-country terrain snowshoeing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, heated swimming pools and spas restaurants galore, shopping all around, grand hotels, and grand views are just a few incentives. And, because Whistler is found in the Coast range, it lies at a relatively low elevation (so there’s a bountiful amount of oxygen available for skiers and ‘boarders). Finally, the pièce de résistance The strong U.S. dollar makes the high-style, fancy-schmancy Whistler closer to reality than you may think.
On the quieter side: Miles of cross-country ski tracks wind through Lost Lake Park, Chateau Whistler Golf Course, and Nicklaus Golf Course.
Outdoor Adventures at Whistler offers short and long snowshoe tours through the thick, snowy forests. If time permits, try a moonlight picnic snowshoe tour. The Whistler Museum features ski exhibits. Year-round fishing guide services are available, as is flight-seeing, heli-skiing, and comfy sleigh rides.
Après adventure: Next-to-the-slopes lodging abounds here. Guests staying at the new Pan Pacific Lodge Whistler (opened last winter) can walk mere yards from the bottom of the ski run into the hotel. Hot tub, sauna, and pool wait for weary muscles. A concierge will do your grocery shopping, and you can prepare dinner in your mini-kitchen. Guests of the stately Chateau Whistler Resort can ski right off Blackcomb Mountain to the hotel’s door.
Below the slopes, this town is made for walking—if weather permits. Cob-bled pedestrian roads lined with shops wind through the valley. Indian, Thai, Italian, Chinese, and American cafés are woven into Whistler Village, among gift shops, fudge stores, and a grocery store or two. In the past few months, U.S. residents have been getting almost $1.53 Canadian to the U.S. dollar. So $50 Canadian for dinner at the Chateau Whistler is really only $32.68 U.S.!
November 13 through 15 is the Whistler Cornucopia food and wine festival.
To get there, fly to Vancouver. Air Canada flies nonstop from San Francisco. Book a bus ride on the Whistler Express from the Vancouver airport with Perimeter Tours, or take B.C. Rail. Both follow the stunning Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler (two hours from the airport.) No need to rent a car at Whistler. Continual shuttles loop the area.
Visit the Whistler Resort on the Web or call (800) WHISTLER, for detailed information on skiing, lodging, and dining. For The Pan Pacific Lodge Whistler, call (888) 905-9995; the lowest of the low rates starts around $160 U.S. For the Chateau, call (800) 606-8244; lowest rates start around $120 U.S.
Photography courtesy of Andysonic777/Wikipedia
This article was first published in November 1998. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.