A Complete Guide to Whistler Blackcomb, Arguably North America's Top Ski Resort
What started 50 years ago as the centerpiece of an Olympic bid could now be considered this continent's top ski resort. At 8,171 skiable acres, Whistler Blackcomb dwarfs second-place Vail and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best, thanks in part to the mix of creative restaurants, luxe lodging, and a casual Canadian vibe.
The Five Need-to-Know Runs
Peak-to-Creek may be the most famous run in Canada, a thigh-burning 6.8 miles from the top of Whistler to the valley floor. Do it in under 12 min- utes and you’re a mountain god; under eight and you could probably win the next mayoral election.
The double-black-diamond Spanky’s Ladder is beloved by serious skiers. It has chutes to drop into, then bowls to cruise down—but you’ll have to click out of your skis and make a short hike to get to it. And be sure to name-check it as just “Spanky’s.”
The six-person chairs on the year-old Harmony Express deliver 3,600 skiers per hour up to terrain that the entire family can ski: Burnt Stew (green), Harmony Piste (blue), and Boomer Bowl (black).
Après-Ski Cheat Sheet
Where the local tribes do happy hour—and how to join them.
The Posh Option: After the Four Seasons Resort & Residences’ staff stores your skis, head to Sidecut Modern Steak & Bar. Onyx-paneled columns and a fireplace sheathed in a mosaic let you know this isn’t a pitcher-of-beer-and-hot-wings joint. Settle in and order a glass of local Meritage.
Rowdy Roundtables: Noisy doesn’t come close to describing the Garibaldi Lift Co.’s invariably packed room (referred to simply as the GLC). The big tables attract large groups of skiers trading exaggerated stories of hip-deep snow—often around a plate of poutine (fries with curds and gravy).
The Cool Club: Opened five years ago, the Ketel One Ice Room at Bearfoot Bistro is now a carved-in-ice institution for high rollers—and the coldest vodka-tasting room in the world, at -25 degrees. Throw on a complimentary Canada Goose parka and toss back a shot or two for warmth.
Day-Tripper's Den: Its location at the base of the Creekside Gondola—the first mountain access if you’re driving from Vancouver—makes Dusty’s Bar & BBQ the it-spot for brief visits. Choose a version of the Caesar, a.k.a. a Canadian Bloody Mary. On a sunny weekend, arrive by 2:30 for a patio seat.
Art at Altitude
The debut of a contemporary museum is a tipping point for Whistler's cultural scene.
It’s true that ski-resort art galleries tend to run heavy on timberwolf canvases and tree-trunk carvings. But in early 2016, the Audain Art Museum, a temple to the art of British Columbia, will open in a 56,000-square-foot Modernist tree house designed by Vancouver’s acclaimed Patkau Architects. Most of the gallery’s 200-plus works— which range from 19th-century First Nations masks to contemporary works by Jeff Wall, whose conceptual photographs will form the inaugural exhibit—are part of the private collection of Vancouver-based developer Michael Audain, who wanted to create a monument to the province’s artistic achievements. Just steps from the base of the Whistler Peak 2 Peak Gondola, it will also be a pleasant refuge on the rare bad snow day.
If First Nations art piques your interest, pay a visit to the nearby Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. Housed in a soaring cedar-and-glass space, the institution beautifully tells the story of the area’s founding people through its interactive exhibits. Its Thunderbird Café serves food inspired by native cuisine.
The most noteworthy seasonal event is the Whistler Film Festival, held this year December 2–6. Though much smaller than, say, Sundance, it consistently punches above its weight in entry quality and celebrity attendance (Daniel Radcliffe and Kim Cattrall, for example). This winter, to mark its 15th anniversary, more than 80 films will be shown—including Ingrid Veninger’s He Hated Pigeons, a narrative with an improvised live score that will accompany the screening.
Where to Overnight Right
Ski butler or your own kitchen? The trade-offs are few in Whistler's main areas.
When it comes to lodging, you’ll want to be in either Whistler Village, where you can access the bases of Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, or Creekside, a smaller, quieter village five miles south.
Whistler Village: The Fairmont Chateau Whistler has been the largest ski-in, ski-out property in North America since it arrived in 1989. Its grand façade channels the brand’s iconic Chateau Lake Louise and Banff Springs properties, and speaks to a classic vision of Canadiana. The location is the best in town: right in front of the Four Seasons at the Blackcomb base—close enough to walk to the main village but far enough to escape the late-night weekend revelry. Doubles from $253.
While Whistlerites proudly claim that this town ain’t Aspen (no Louis Vuitton stores or mink coats), everyone was secretly proud when the Four Seasons Resort & Residences opened in 2004. The 273-room hotel is within walking distance of the Blackcomb lifts, has what many consider the best ski concierge on the mountain, and offers rooms that are haute-rustic but not precious. Doubles from $254.
Whistler Creekside: To avoid the hubbub of Whistler Village, book at the 77-room Nita Lake Lodge, on a tranquil lakeshore 10-minutes’ walk from the Creekside Gondola. The rooms are generously sized, and the services include in-house yoga classes and complimentary snowshoe loans. Doubles from $194.
When you’re traveling with kids, little can compare with extra space and a kitchen, which is why the swank condos at First Tracks Lodge are in demand. The one- and two-bedroom suites are done up in a mountain mélange of rough-hewn logs and stone fireplaces, and can top 1,400 square feet. The Creekside Gondola is steps away. Doubles from $348.
Grab it to Go
The town is sometimes known as “Whistralia” because it hosts so many Australian workers, and they’ve left a culinary mark with lift-friendly hand pies—savory fillings in a closed pastry shell. Get an early-morning Ned Kelly (ground beef, bacon, egg, and cheddar) from Peaked Pies for the ride up the gondola.
Purebread may be the best bakery in the province. Go sweet (drunken-apple blondies) or go savory (pesto-pine-nut “stud muffin”). To avoid the line like the locals do, head to the Function Junction outpost, five miles south of the crowded village location.
Great cooking in Whistler is happening at old standbys and recent arrivals alike.
Elegant dishes like elk tartare and foie gras parfait served with endive and cacao nibs, combined with a stunning mountain setting, have made Alta Bistro a standard-bearer of casual fine dining in just four years. Entrées $10–$39.
Sticking around for 34 years—in a resort area, no less—is a remarkable feat. And the inventiveness that put Araxi Restaurant & Oyster Bar on the map is as strong as ever—it just added Dungeness crab rolled in egg crêpe with yuzu gel to the menu. Entrées $29–$52.
The minimalist Basalt Wine & Salumeria, which opened this summer on the village’s main stroll, is the spot for a plate of killer charcuterie and a bottle of B.C. wine. Entrées $22–$36.
Bar Oso, the newest offering from the team behind Araxi, is a less formal (and less expensive) take on Spanish-influenced small plates that promises to be the toughest table to land this season. Tapas $3.50–$25.