Why This Canadian Ski Town Is the Perfect Winter Vacation Destination

It's not just the powder and peaks that make Whistler a world-class winter destination.

The magnitude of Whistler first hits you during the scenic two-hour drive from Vancouver. As the Sea-to-Sky Highway weaves through British Columbia's Coast Mountains and rain turns to fluffy snow, it becomes clear: You've arrived in ski and snowboard heaven.

Ski out to Whistler Village
Mike Crane/Courtesy of Tourism Whistler

After all, Whistler is home to North America's largest ski resort, Whistler Blackcomb. Between its two mountains, 200 marked runs, 16 alpine bowls, three glaciers, 32 lifts, and 8,000 acres of varied terrain, it's a playground for alpine enthusiasts. Even its Peak 2 Peak Gondola breaks records as the world's highest and longest continuous lift system of its kind. And after hosting events at the 2010 Winter Olympics, it has become even more renowned for its off-mountain attractions and cultural highlights, including the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, a focal point for the First Nations who have stewarded this region for millennia.

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre at Whistler Mt
Logan Swayze/Tourism Whistler/Courtesy Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre

As travelers continue to look to snow destinations beyond their backyard, Whistler is entering the spotlight once again. Its Olympic legacy is undeniable — even its charming pedestrian-only village, complete with winding stone walkways, wooden bridges, and meticulous landscaping, was initially designed with the 1968 Winter Olympics in mind. Now, for the first time ever, the region's First Nations are leading the Olympic bid for 2030.

"Whistler benefitted greatly from the 2010 Games, and we are looking forward to joining the host Nations in exploring what the potential benefits might be from the first-ever First Nations-led bid for an Olympic Games," says Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton.

A renewed sense of excitement is palpable in the bustling restaurants and bars helmed by local characters in flannel. Just remember that a laid-back West Coast attitude comes with the territory. Here, the "20-centimeter Rule" applies — if there are more than eight inches of snowfall, you'll likely catch your bartender on the slopes before they pour you an après-ski drink.

In the mood for mountains? Here's how to plan the perfect trip to Whistler, no matter your travel style.

Skiers walking through the Ski Olympic Village at Whistler
Justa Jeskova/Courtesy of Tourism Whistler

For the Aspiring Olympian

With more than a mile of vertical rise and 2,000-plus acres of black-diamond and double-black-diamond runs, Whistler Blackcomb has its fair share of terrain for advanced skiers. If you're looking for a challenge, one of the best places to start is Whistler Bowl, which has everything from chutes to drops. Meanwhile, Couloir Extreme (the former home of a death-defying race called Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme) was made for thrill-seekers.

If you want to brush up on your technique, opt to ski or ride with an Olympian at the Whistler Blackcomb Snow School, where you'll spend a full or half day getting pointers from pros.

For those who want to explore untracked terrain, Extremely Canadian leads introductory and adventurous backcountry tours, during which you'll scale mountains and accomplish impressive runs with the knowledgeable Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG).

For the Beginner

Believe it or not, more than 35 percent of the terrain at Whistler Blackcomb consists of beginner pistes. And with lift tickets for Magic Chair, which services the bunny hill, priced around $21 CAD (about $17), learning doesn't have to be an expensive affair.

Those looking to level up can join a group class or arrange a private lesson at the Snow School. After brushing up on the basics, you and your instructor can cruise down monitored slow skiing zones, like Lower Whiskey Jack. Newbies wanting to experience Whistler's ski-in/ski-out allure for themselves can take Lower Olympic, a mellow run that begins at the Whistler Village Gondola mid-station and ends at the village.

How to Ride

It's recommended to book lift tickets at least seven days in advance to get the best savings. Prices fluctuate throughout the year, but start from $159 CAD (about $125) per day for adults and $80 CAD (about $63) for children.

Bobsledding at Whistler
Brett Hitchins/Tourism Whistler/Courtesy of Destination Canada

For Off-mountain Fun

Whistler has plenty of activity options beyond its alpine adventures — from snowshoeing at Whistler Olympic Park to bobsleigh rides at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Art lovers can use the Go Whistler Tours app to take a self-guided walk along the Cultural Connector, a scenic trail that links six cultural institutions. Stops along the way include the architecturally stunning Audain Art Museum, a 56,000-square-foot gallery with an impressive collection of British Columbian art, and the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), which hosts a weekly Spo7ez Winter Feast featuring traditional ingredients, songs, and stories from First Nations knowledge keepers.

In the evening, head to Vallea Lumina, a multisensory stroll through the forest, complete with music, immersive storytelling, magical lighting, and even s'mores and hot chocolate by the fire.

After all the action, spend a morning relaxing with a massage and hydrotherapy circuit at Scandinave Spa Whistler, a serene Nordic spa with hot pools, eucalyptus steam baths, Finnish-style saunas, cold plunges, and fireside lounges embedded in the forest.

Where to Stay

The luxurious Fairmont Chateau Whistler makes the most of its prime location at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, offering guests ski-in/ski-out access and the chance to leave their gear with a valet at the end of the day. With its own gear shop, art gallery, and award-winning fine-dining restaurant, The Grill Room, the 519-room hotel has no shortage of amenities. Don't miss its outdoor heated pools, hot tubs, and saunas (including a lap pool with underwater tunes), where you can soak while listening to live music from The Mallard Lounge. Those who stay on the Fairmont Gold floors, which recently underwent a $14 million renovation, can also enjoy exclusive access to the Fairmont Gold lounge, which offers around-the-clock perks like complimentary breakfast and afternoon canapés with mountain views.

Those looking for accommodations in the laid-back Creekside area will find a tranquil escape at Nita Lake Lodge, Whistler's only lakeside boutique hotel; each of its 77 rooms has its own basalt gas fireplace.

Where to Eat

For a mountaintop lunch break with incredible views, book a table at Christine's on Blackcomb, which serves everything from hearty burgers to vegan paneer curry. Family-run bakery Purebread is always a good choice for a grab-and-go artisan pastry.

For dinner, Alta Bistro specializes in seasonal local fare (even going so far as to pickle their own Pemberton vegetables) and dishes inspired by the forest and ocean, like freshly shucked oysters and smoky French onion and mushroom soup.

Après-ski Activities

You don't have to go far to find a party in Whistler, thanks to several options right at the base of its mountains. At Blackcomb, Merlin's is famous for its giant nacho plates, rowdy ambience, and karaoke nights. For a fancier option in the Village Square, head to Bar Oso (set to reopen in 2022) for alpine-themed craft cocktails made with local spirits like B.C. gin and cedar-infused rye.

The Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC) makes the most of its convenient perch above the Whistler Gondola building. Its all-season patio and massive stone fireplace invite you to grab a local brew and put up your boots. And with a view of skiers ripping down the mountain, it takes Whistler's favorite powder-day farewell — "see you at après" — to a whole new level.

Julia Eskins is a Toronto-based writer and editor who covers travel, design, arts and culture, wellness, and the outdoors. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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