Plan Your Ultimate Ski Vacation to Whistler, British Columbia

Three skiers exploring Blackcomb Mountain

Photo: Christie Fitzpatrick

The resort town of Whistler is a beautiful, snowy ski town only about two hours from Vancouver. And the drive to get there is one of the most scenic you'll ever take: the Sea to Sky Highway.  

Whistler is most famous as a ski destination (and for mountain biking in the summer) and has two massive mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. Combined, they're the largest ski resort in North America with more than 8,000 acres of skiable terrain. Add to that a massive village, an arts and culture scene, and a favorable exchange rate, and it's no surprise that Whistler is one of the best ski trip destinations for North American powderhounds.

Year-round, Whistler offers visitors fine food, spas, and plenty of opportunity for adventure, all in a breathtaking locale. There's enough there to fill a winter of adventure, but if you only have a week or so, check out the guide below to planning a ski trip in Whistler, British Columbia.

Location

Whistler is near the coast in British Columbia, on the western coast of Canada. It's roughly two hours by car from downtown Vancouver and an hour north of Squamish. As far as ski resorts go, the mountains aren't particularly high, with a base elevation of just 2,200 feet above sea level. However, the resort has a 5,280-foot vertical, so the top lifts are roughly 7,500 feet above sea level. There can often be very different weather patterns between the top and bottom of the resort.

Driving between Whistler and Vancouver can take double the amount of time it should when there's poor weather or heavy traffic. Avoid driving to Whistler on Friday evenings and leaving town on Sunday afternoons as that's when traffic is heaviest. The drive is at sea level until arriving in Squamish, at which point it gains significant elevation heading into the mountains. It can often be clear and cool in Squamish but snowing heavily in Whistler, so bring chains and ice scraper.

Weather

Since Whistler is near the coast, it doesn't get as cold as the resorts in interior British Columbia. However, that also means there's more moisture, which can result in slightly heavier snow — though powder days are still very common. Expect temperatures in the 20 degrees F while you're skiing, but it could be cooler at night or if a storm is coming in. It's not unusual to have an overcast sky at the base but clearer skies at the summit above the cloud layer, so bring goggle lenses suited to variable conditions.

Mountains

Whistler on a bright winter day

Photo: Vail Resorts / Christie Fitzpatrick

There are two mountains in Whistler: Whistler and Blackcomb. However, they're one resort with a shared ticket, hence the name "Whistler Blackcomb." The bases of each mountain are on either ends of the village, so they aren't easy to ski between (though a cat track will bring skiers from Blackcomb's base to Whistler's base). However, skiers can take the Peak 2 Peak Gondola from Whistler's summit lodge (Roundhouse) to Blackcomb's Rendezvous Lodge. The gondola takes 11 minutes and covers 2.7 miles and is included with the cost of a lift ticket.

The two mountains are fairly comparable in terms of statistics, though Whistler has more lifts (19 vs. 12). About half of the trails at both resorts are rated as intermediate, though Whistler is generally regarded as the easier of the two mountains. However, they're the largest resort in North America when combined, so both mountains will likely offer enough bowls, steeps, chutes, groomers, and tree runs to fill a full week of skiing or riding.

Rentals

Even if you have your own gear, you may find you want to rent a different snowboard or pair of skis for a day, especially if you wake up to a surprise powder day. You could also rent gear for the entirety of your stay if you don't feel like flying with yours. Almost all hotels have ski storage, so you won't have to worry about carrying your wet skis or board back to your room.

For backcountry rentals (skins, splitboards, backcountry packs, etc.), try Evo Backcountry (where you'll get a discount if you're taking a backcountry class with a local guide) or Escape Room. Day rentals are usually around $60 CAD.

For demos and on-mountain rentals, start by asking your hotel as they may partner with a local shop that offers discounts to guests. Otherwise, just rent from whichever shop is most convenient, which you should be able to find by looking up your hotel on GoogleMaps. You'll usually get a discount if you book in advance. The shop pros can probably help you figure out which snowboard or pair of skis is best for you based on your riding style, but you'll need to know if you want "sport" rentals (basic, all-mountain rentals suitable for a variety of terrain and riding styles) or "performance" rentals, which are more tailored to experienced riders who already know their skiing style.

Tickets, Passes, and Lessons

Whistler isn't a cheap destination, but it's actually far more affordable than planning a ski trip to a major resort in the US. If you buy lift tickets in advance online, rates are around $160 CAD per day. That's certainly a lot, but with lift ticket prices at Colorado resorts creeping into the $200s on holiday weekends, it's still a savings — especially since it's priced in Canadian dollars, which is usually worth about 80 cents USD. You can also bundle lift tickets with lodging if you stay at a property managed by Whistler.

However, if you're planning to ski or ride for a week, you. may be better off buying an EpicPass, the season pass for resorts owned by Vail. They go on sale in the spring for the coming winter season and are usually around $600-$700 USD, though limited-day passes are usually available. EpicPass holders also get access to discounts on gear rentals, lessons, and on-mountain purchases. The prices change annually, so check in April to see what the best available deals are for the coming year.

You can usually find discounts on multi-day lessons that include a free extra day of skiing. If you're venturing into the backcountry, go with a professional guiding company like Extremely Canadian unless you're properly avalanche certified and very familiar with the mountain (in which case you're probably not reading this guide).

Whistler Restaurants

Friends at dinner in the Whistler Village

Photo: Vail Resorts

Whistler is considered by many to be the perfect example of an après-ski scene. The large village, which is both walkable and has a shuttle system, has around 170 restaurants, bars, cafes, and lounges. It's hard to make a bad decision, but its always helpful to have a few suggestions of where to start.

Garibaldi Lift Co. has an excellent selection of surprisingly creative and tasty après-ski snacks to hit the spot after an active day, like ahi crunch rolls and gorgonzola potatoes. Longhorn Saloon is an extremely lively, vaguely Western-themed spot that always has a crowd, and Bearfoot Bistro has an indoor ice bar. Just be sure to make reservations as far in advance as possible as the afternoon time slots fill quickly, especially on weekends. And the famous Mallard Bar at the Fairmont Chateau is hard to beat as an upscale sunset option

For dinner, high-end options include Alta Bistro (with its famous gin and tonic of the day), or the outdoor heated dining snowglobes at The Wildflower (next door to the Mallard Bar). Bar Oso is great for tapas, and Sachi Sushi is the spot for delicious sushi, sashimi, and nigiri that won't break the bank.

Where to Stay in Whistler

No one would say a vacation to Whistler is cheap, but the sheer number of options does help keep the prices a little lower than you might expect.

One of the most budget-friendly options is the Pangea Pod Hotel. The "pods" are large, private bunk areas with a slider curtain to divide it from the main common area. However, guests traveling together can book suites, ensuring it's only your group in your pod area. The hotel also has a huge secure storage area for bikes and skis, a rooftop bar, a common area, and a restaurant and bar. It's in the Whistler Village and pods start at around $100 per night during the ski season.

For a mid-range option, check out the Nita Lake Lodge. It's a boutique hotel with some rustic-meets-luxury design elements that give the hotel a bit of a western flair. The hotel has a variety of inviting rooms, some of which sleep up to eight guests. Rooms in winter start in the mid-$200s, though they often offer discounts for longer stays. It's not in the village, but there's a complimentary ski shuttle for guests.

If you're going all-out on a Whistler ski trip, stay on the Gold Floor at the Fairmont Whistler. The luxury hotel has just about everything you could ask for, from a ski valet service to outdoor dining bubbles to a complimentary shuttle service and a stunning outdoor area with hot tubs and bar service. However, guests on the Gold Floor gain access to a private car service, rooms with fireplaces and custom bath products, and a massive lounge with daily complimentary breakfast, snack, and evening services, among other high-end offerings.

Getting Around

One of the best aspects of a Whistler ski trip is that you probably won't need a car. The road into Whistler is the two-lane Sea to Sky Highway, and during heavy snow, drivers should be prepared for slippery roads and poor visibility — which means it's often better to let a car service with studded tires handle the driving. You can also take the Skylynx Connector from the Vancouver Airport to the Whistler village for around $40 per person. The bus has bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and charging ports, making it fairly comfortable as far as buses go. EpicRides is another nearby option with round-trip tickets.

If you stay near the village, you'll be able to walk wherever you want to go. Most hotels that aren't in the village offer a free shuttle service, and the Whistler Village itself offers a free shuttle with bike and ski racks. Parking can be expensive and limited, so it's truly easiest not to bother with it. Taxis and car services are available for getting to places not serviced on shuttle routes.

What to do off the slopes

Being on a ski trip doesn't mean you have to ski every day. And even if you do ski every day, you'll still find yourself with some free time in the afternoon. Fortunately, Whistler is so big that there's plenty to do off the snow.

One of the most relaxing places to visit is the Scandinave Spa, where guests repeat a series of soaks to (supposedly) jumpstart their immune systems and promote quicker muscle recovery. Guests should start with a long soak in a hot tub, followed by a quick plunge in a cold pool, followed by roughly 15-minutes of relaxation, and repeat the process at least three times. Whether there's any detectible health benefit is unclear, but there's no denying that soaking in a snow-covered waterfall hot tub and relaxing in a plush robe by an outdoor fire feels pretty darn good after a few days of skiing.

If you'd prefer more of a cultural experience, head to the stunning Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center. The beautiful byiulding is an homage to indigenous structures and is full of artifacts, exhibitinos, and modern-day and historic art from the local Squamish and Lil'wat peoples. Guided tours are available, as are activies like winter dinner performances and craft-making workshops. If modern art is more your thing, browse the galleries at the Whistler Contemporary Gallery, the large Audain Art Gallery, The Fathom Stone Art Gallery, or the Mountain Gallery at the Fairmont.

Of course, you can be on the slopes without skiing. Snowshoeing, trying new sports at the Whistler Olympic Park, tubing, sleigh rides, and even dogsledding are all options in Whistler.

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