Whistler Blackcomb, home to the 2010 Winter Olympics, is the biggest ski resort in North America with over 8,000 acres of ski-able terrain. It is also considered the premier ski resort in Canada. Over 5000 vertical feet makes for some of the longest runs a skier could encounter in a resort. Whistler Blackcomb boasts their longest trail at seven miles. The mountain receives over 400 inches of snow a year, and with the combination of the two mountains, has over 200 features in its 5 terrain parks. With over 80% of the mountain catering to intermediate and advanced skiers, it truly is a place of paradise. Pros and beginners alike travel from across the world to get a taste of this little slice of heaven, situated only an hour and half from Vancouver.
In the ski community, the words ‘Whistler Blackcomb’ induce visions of not only the elite skiers and riders across the world but the wild back country where powder is abundant. Recently, the purchase of Whistler Blackcomb from Vail resort allowed those who purchased their well known Epic Pass and Epic Local for the 16/17 season, five free days at Whistler. With an opportunity such as this, how could I pass it up? I couldn’t. So I strapped two pairs of skis and a board to the top of the car and took off to the beautiful territory of British Colombia.
The first thing you notice about Whistler Blackcomb when you arrive, is its sheer, overwhelming size. The two mountains, Whistler mountain and Blackcomb mountain, are connected by a massive twenty odd person gondola, which takes approximately eleven minutes to ride. There are numerous parking lots, restaurants, lifts, and trails. It was inundating at first as I took it all in.
There is a plethora of parking at Whistler, which makes it hard to know where to go. My favorite lot I found for parking on the Blackcomb side was lot six. It is situated right next to the gondola and after a day of hard riding, you can ride straight to your car. Best of all: it’s free.
If après ski is your favorite aspect of skiing, I would not recommend parking here. There are no restaurants or bathrooms here so if you came to Whistler to drink in the village, I would suggest parking in lot four. It is a bit further from the village than lots one through three, but it is free. The village also has a gondola and chairs. So if you park here, no need to fret. You can still access the mountain.
I would recommend parking only at these lots if you plan to ski Blackcomb since to get to the Whistler side of the resort could take a minimum of thirty minutes. If your plan is to ski Whistler, the garage at Creekside offers free parking as well. It is only a short, two minute walk to the gondola on Whistler. Parking can fill up on weekends and the during the busy season, so if you are set in parking somewhere, make sure to get there early.
Once you find parking, you need your lift pass. If you buy the Epic Pass, the full Epic gives you unlimited access to Whistler Blackcomb. This pass does come at a hefty price, however. At almost 900 usd, the pass can cost as much or more than a new pair of skis. For those who ski a lot, it is worth it. Depending on the time of year you go, lift tickets at Whistler can be expensive. The prices raise and fall. If you plan on going for a certain amount of days, and nowhere else, buy them online. You can buy a two day pass online for almost the same price as a one day pass at the resort.
After you obtain your lift ticket, the biggest challenge is knowing where to go. I recommend downloading the Whistler Blackcomb app, which will give you live updates on trail conditions, lift times, and terrain status. It even includes a map to help you get around the mountain. Also, I suggest picking up a good old fashioned paper one that you can carry with you while skiing.
While the map is perfect to know where you are and what the main runs are, there are guide books in the shops for sale. These guide books, offered in either intermediate or expert, show you where some of the best runs are in the resort, ones not on the map. This guide book shows how to get to these secret runs by hiking. If you are on a budget try the next best approach. Asking around. In general, people at ski resorts tend to be very friendly, and if you ask for advice they love to give you some pointers. For me, I got a free tour of some of the best runs on Blackcomb just by asking.
You have to know who to ask as many people are not regulars at the mountain. If you get on with a big group, as entranced with the incredible views as you are, most likely they will not know the secret powder caches. Still, talk to your neighbors, you might make some new friends.
If you are an expert skier/rider and are looking for someone to point out some good runs, ask your neighbor who has gotten on by themselves on a lift where more expert runs exist. Most likely this person knows the mountain well enough they are comfortable hitting expert terrain by themselves. They know where the hidden cliffs are, where coverage can be thin, and where the best runs of the mountain are. If you get lucky, they may offer to show you where some of these spots are. Sometimes, people like going with others down the expert terrain and would love to have you join them. After all, safety in pairs.
Make sure that they know your skiing ability though and you have an understanding of theirs. If they ask, “can you ski a black?”, don’t say yes if your version of skiing a black is side slipping down the mountain. There is no shame in this as we all had to start somewhere. The last position you want to be in is one where side slipping is not an option and you are stuck with nowhere to go but down. Keep in mind every mountain is rated differently. A green run at one mountain could be a blue run at another. At Whistler Blackcomb, be aware that some blacks may be more difficult than the ones you are used to.
A quick tip for those expert skiers who sometimes ignore postings and duck signs, Whistler Blackcomb may not mark objects as you are used to in the U.S. There are plenty of unmarked obstacles that you might fall off of if you don’t know the area. Unmarked obstacles I saw while skiing: cliffs, waterfalls, rocks, thin coverage areas, rivers, tree stumps. If a sign says cliffs in the area, know that there will be massive cliffs.
If you do end up falling off a small cliff because you ignored the signs you might feel you need a drink. You’ll want to know where the best après ski is, so ask a group of people in their their twenties to their fourties. Usually these groups know where to find the best happy hours, drinks, and local bars both on and off the mountain.
When you are ready to ski again, you might be looking for different terrain. If you are looking for good groomers to ski, look for a local family. Usually the parents will know the groomers and easy trees pretty well as they are skiing with their kids. A family may also be the best option to find out where is a decent place to eat. Expert skiers may bring their food with them so they can get the most ski time in the day. Families will usually know which place has the cheapest food, the best food, or where the restaurant lets you sit and eat food you brought.
Another option to potentially find good runs is to ask the lift attendants. You might get a truthful answer and you might not. Liftees get breaks in their shift to ski the mountain though so they usually know it pretty well. Sometimes they tell you where the best powder is on the mountain that day. Sometimes they let you know where their favorite groomed run is. Most likely they will not tell you the most advanced terrain, but rather give you some nice blues and easy blacks to ride. Any employee is a good resource as they know the mountain as only a local knows it.
Whistler Blackcomb also has signs at most lifts saying the ‘Trail of the Day’. While it could be worth checking out this trail, more than likely, everyone else will be on it as well. So if it is a crowded day, it is best to stay clear of the trail of the day.
Be sure to take a look at the events happening on the mountain. Many resorts host free events, such as concerts or wildlife tours around the mountain. Sometimes they even have people who will take groups out for expert skiing/riding. If you do go on a group tour, or even take a lesson though, make sure to tip your guide! They always appreciate it.
Whistler Blackcomb also offers Heli Skiing, which will take you to untouched areas of the surrounding mountains. They also offer a ‘First Tracks’ breakfast. It costs about 20 Canadian dollars, on top of your lift ticket price. It consists of an unlimited buffet at the top of the mountain, starting at seven, before anywhere else opens. If you do this, try to arrive at least twenty minutes early if you want to see the sunrise. The tickets are usable for day, but Whistler limits it to 700 people. You can be the first on the mountain, but know that you will not be going all the way to the top peaks.
Also, remember to check the weather and be prepared for potentially very wet days. It rained for three of the days I was there, and while snow gear is waterproof, it is not that waterproof.
My advice to ski like a local, is to ask locals! They will know the hidden gems of the mountain and the best runs for that day. I could recommend many different trails, but as the conditions on the mountain are always changing, so too as to what are the best runs. Check the conditions and see which peaks may have received the most snow. Many people wonder to where you can stay to make it cheap. I stayed at the Hi Hostel. It was a short ten minute drive to Whistler and there is a bus if you don’t have a car. There is another hostel in the village but make sure to book your stay early. Both places fill up fast.
So now that you know how to get the most out of your ski trip in Whistler, you might wonder why do I recommend visiting it. Whistler is a beautiful resort, with so many different areas to explore. The natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains is breathtaking and astounding. The scenery is dramatic and the air is fresh and crisp. Stepping into Whistler Blackcomb is like stepping into another world. Despite the chairlifts and people, it is as if you have entered a different time. It is an almost wild resort that reminds you why we should treasure places such as these. The second you step into your skis, or strap on your board, all your problems disappear and it becomes just you and the mountain.