A long-standing top destination for skiers from every corner of the globe, Whistler Blackcomb’s sheer size is only one aspect of its grandeur. Not only does the Canadian resort offer acres of terrain for every level of skier, but you’ll also find world-class spas, shopping, and every type of outdoor adventure imaginable. Here’s everything you need to know to plan an epic trip to North America’s largest ski resort.
Sitting 75 miles north of Vancouver, Whistler Mountain (initially called London Mountain) was used for logging operations as far back as the 1800s. It was renamed "Whistler" after the shrill sounds made by its long-time residents: the Western hoary marmots. Surrounded by four high alpine lakes, one of Whistler’s first documented human inhabitants was trapper John Millar, who built a cabin at the base of Whistler Mountain.
In the early 1900s, Millar’s friends Alex and Myrtle Philip visited from Vancouver and loved the area so much they bought land and built Whistler’s first resort: Rainbow Lodge. Catering to fishermen, the lodge was built on Alta Lake at the base of Whistler in 1914, and was quickly frequented by executives from the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Rainbow Lodge instantly became the most popular resort on the entire West Coast and numerous tourist resorts sprung up in the area over the next several decades.
Whistler Mountain didn’t open as a ski resort until 1966 after Canadian businessman Franz Wilhelmsen pushed for the development of a ski area to host the Winter Olympics. Blackcomb didn’t open until 1980 and the two resorts functioned independently, though side-by-side, until Blackcomb operator Intrawest purchased Whistler in 1997. After decades of expansions, development, and improvements, the area’s Olympic dreams finally came true when Whistler-Blackcomb hosted the 2010 Winter Games.
As of August 2016, Whistler Blackcomb has been operated by Vail Resorts and continues to soar. The skiable terrain on both mountains sprawls over more than 8,000 acres and 200 trails, with 37 chairlifts and a dizzying vertical drop exceeding 5,000 feet.
Where to Ski
With such an immense playground, it’s tough to know where to begin—or end, for that matter. Here are some suggestions of not-to-miss areas to try based on ability level.
Both Whistler and Blackcomb are home to dozens of gentle slopes for skiers and riders in their early stages of comfortable gliding and turning. The absolute best place for complete newbies is at the base of Blackcomb, where a pair of easy tow lifts and Magic Chair lead to Yellow Brick Road—a short, smooth slope designed expressly for learning the ropes. If you’re up for it, a few lift rides to the tippy top of Blackcomb will put you at the beginning of Greenline, one of the longest beginner trails in the world. Starting above the treeline with stunning panoramic views of endless white peaks, Greenline meanders for almost seven miles down the entire length of Blackcomb back to the base area.
At Whistler, the best beginner area can be found off of the Olympic Chair, accessed near the mid station of Whistler Village Gondola. This is another protected learning area of mild, perfectly groomed, wide-open trails. Also, kids should not miss the Tree Fort off of Bear Cub trail, accessed under Big Red Express lift.
Skiers and riders who love fast, groomed runs will find themselves in a dreamscape here, where more than half of the resort’s offerings consists of exactly this type of terrain. The best-of-the-best blues can be found by making your way to the top of Whistler Village Gondola and all the way to Symphony Express. With the place to yourself and stunning views of Blackcomb across the way, the turns don’t get better on a clear day than in the wide open Symphony Bowl or on Jeff’s Ode to Joy. Also, from the very top of Whistler (Peak Express chair), travel through what feels like numerous climates for nearly seven miles and 5,000 vertical feet on the Peak-to-Creek Trail.
At Blackcomb, the optimal blues can be found off the aptly named 7th Heaven Express Chair, best accessed by taking a scenic ride on the Peak 2 Peak cable car.
On a clear day, there is no better place to find powder-filled bowls or dizzyingly steep chutes like at the summit of both Whistler and Blackcomb. From the tippy top of Whistler, Whistler Bowl, West Bowl, and Bagel Bowl have the mildest slope angles of this still steep array, while The Couloir or The Cirque will make you quiver just looking down at them from the Peak Express lift. At Blackcomb, the high elevation hot spots for experts are located on the glacier. Diamond, Ruby and Sapphire Bowls are indeed gems – where on a fresh snow day, you might get fresh tracks to yourself from morning ‘til afternoon. On snowy or cloudy days, experts are better off staying below treeline. At Whistler, one of the fastest, most thrilling groomers is the long and consistently steep Dave Murray Downhill. Plus, the lower section of Blackcomb is rife with steep, soft glades, including those lying between the Peak 2 Peak cable car and 7th Heaven Express – Yard Sale, Where’s Joe and Raptor’s Ride.
Whistler is famous for its post-ski party scene and while there is no shortage of places to find good vibes paired with tasty brews and mountain-sized nachos, Merlin’s Bar and Grill is an ideal spot to start celebrating before you’re even out of your boots. Located at the base of Blackcomb, Merlin’s live music throwdowns are world-renowned. You won’t have to look hard to follow the apres crowd with a trip to Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill, located smack in the middle of the base area. Down the road in Whistler Creekside, the resort’s most iconic post-ski party and dining spot (the ribs are crazy good) is the infamous Dusty’s Bar & BBQ.
Lastly, no après experience at Whistler would be complete without an indulgent visit to Scandinave Spa. Nestled into a thick cluster of pines on the mountainside, Scandinave’s hot tubs feature warm waterfalls and peaceful silence. The saunas will make you melt into the scent of their cedar benches and the long list of massages and facials will see you scheduling something for every day of your trip.
Whistler Blackcomb also hosts events throughout the winter season and has plenty of non-skiing activities like a Ziptrek Ecotour, Coca-Cola tube park, and snowmobile tours. Check out the event calendar and learn more about the other activities here.
Written by RootsRated for Rent Skis.
Featured image provided by Michelle Rousell