Skiing in Whistler. It’s a dream I’ve had for the last three years, when I started to feel confident in my ability to take on big-mountain slopes.
Don’t get me wrong — I’ve skied bigger, like Park City Mountain, and really challenging terrain, like Lake Louise. But I didn’t do it well and I spent a lot of my time at those resorts murmuring “FFS” under my breath. Even though I absolutely loved it, I had terrifyingly anxious moments! Sadly, then, some of my memories of those beautiful ski resorts are foggy because I wasn’t a good enough skier to manage them with the same kind of freedom that I’d enjoy now.
Although it had been 691 days since I’d skied on anything big (yes, I counted), the mountains were calling. It had also been ages since Big B and I had gone away without the kids and nearly two years since I’d been on an airplane. And with an EPIC Pass burning a hole in my pocket, I wanted to do it ALL.
So, I used a bunch of Aeroplan miles I’d been banking and booked flights to Vancouver, surprising Big B at Christmas with the tickets and a “Surprise: We’re going skiing in Whistler!” goodie bag, complete with our full itinerary.
Our trip was so wonderful — so ridiculously magical — that I took my first true, full deep breath in months, standing atop Blackcomb at more than 7,000 feet looking out onto the snow-capped peaks of the Pacific Range of the Coast Mountains.
And since my life’s purpose is to provide resources for people to help make their lives easier and more interesting, I’m bringing you months of my research and planning in one easy-to-follow guide for your own skiing in Whistler trip.
This is what you’ll find below:
Why Whistler Blackcomb ski resort?
Whistler shuttle — how to get from Vancouver to Whistler
Where to stay in Whistler
To rent or not to rent?
Whistler ski pass
Mountain guide & lessons
Restaurants in Whistler
Other things to do in Whistler
Whistler COVID protocols
Skiing in Whistler: bucket-list travel
So. Why Whistler Blackcomb?
Consistently ranked the No. 1 ski resort in North America, Whistler Blackcomb is a gentle beast. Whether you’ve been skiing (or snowboarding) all of your life or you’re relatively new to the sport, this mountain duo is a game-changer. It’s got terrain that will comfort newer skiers and challenge even the hardiest experts.
With more than 8,100 skiable acres, Whistler Blackcomb shines because of its sheer variety. From steeps and deeps to chutes, bowls, glades, long cruisers and gentle rollers, we dipped our sticks into some of the most gorgeous corduroy on one run and then into fresh powder on the next. Here, we could do a quick trail in 15 minutes or go from peak to valley on a 40-minute thigh-burner. We skied hard for four days and still didn’t do more than scratch the surface.
With a one-vertical-mile drop and two side-by-side mountains connected by a vibrant pedestrian village, Whistler Blackcomb’s more than 200 trails, three glaciers, 37 lifts and 16 alpine bowls is the stuff of wintery dreams.
Skiing in Whistler: how to get from Vancouver to Whistler
Obviously, this is going to depend on where you’re coming from. B.C. residents probably don’t need much help in this department, so consider this section best for those flying into Vancouver (YVR).
Before you even arrive at YVR, you’ll want to have your Whistler shuttle — or other transfer option — sorted out. In fact, I’d argue that you should consider your transfer options even before booking your flight. Here’s why: if you plan anything other than a private transfer, there are shuttle schedules and they don’t always jibe with flight arrival times.
I did not know this before we booked our flight from YYZ to YVR, set to arrive around 10 a.m. to salvage as much of the day as possible.
If we wanted to get to Whistler via YVR Skylynx (which is the only shuttle service that operates directly from YVR without a secondary transfer point), we would have just missed the 9:30 a.m. departure time and had to wait until 12:30 p.m. for the milk-run shuttle or 1 p.m. for the express shuttle. That’s a significant amount of time to lose on arrival day, especially if you need to pick up rentals and lift tickets before everything closes so you can get on the mountain first thing the next day.
Instead, I bit the bullet and hired a private driver through Whistler Platinum. It is far from being cost-effective unless you do the math on what your time is worth. That was the only way my brain could wrap spending $400 for a one-way transfer. That said, it was money well spent for us and, after all, this was our first trip in such a long time that I was willing to splurge. Our fully vaccinated driver met us at baggage claim and whisked us away in an Escalade, dropping us off at our hotel’s front doors two hours later. We arrived in Whistler before our Skylynx shuttle would have even left YVR.
There are certainly other shuttles that operate very close to YVR, with some tickets being as inexpensive as $50 round-trip. Some will even track your flight and ensure a shuttle waits for you. But if you aren’t familiar with the Vancouver airport or don’t want the extra hassle of transferring to a pick-up point outside of YVR proper, your two best options are Skylynx or a private driver.
Another option could be Whistle, which is a local ride-sharing company like UBER and Lyft. We only learned about it once we were in Whistler and used it instead of taxis when we left the village. Worth inquiring.
On the way back to YVR, however, we did opt for a Skylynx shuttle because it worked well with our departure time. Our shuttle picked us up right in front of the Sundial Whistler’s steps and we were in a small Sprinter van on an express route to the airport after one more generic pick-up point in the village; depending on the route and number of passengers, Skylynx also operates luxury buses as well, so you could end up on either of these:
Skiing in Whistler: where to stay
This was probably where I spent most of my research time — because there are a lot of options. It can be hard to tell on a map how close or far things are from one another when you haven’t been there before, and I wanted to be as close to a lift or gondola as possible.
I ultimately decided on the Sundial Boutique Hotel. It sits at the crown of Whistler Village, mere steps from both the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain gondolas. With only 49 rooms, this privately owned hotel was another splurge but its location, onsite ski valet, massive suite footprint, private rooftop hot tub, full-sized kitchen, gas fireplace and stellar mountain views made every dollar count.
We knew eating in Whistler restaurants three times a day would be too pricey for us, so spending a bit more to have a kitchen in our suite was actually a cost-saving measure. We went out for lunch twice during our stay and for only two of us it was $150ish both times. Although the Sundial Whistler was more expensive than some of the other hotels I researched, the kitchen and ski valet plus proximity to the gondolas made it the best overall choice.
Note that I scored a 40 per cent off deal during a Black Friday sale, but I’ve seen the Sundial discounted during other periods as well, both directly from its website and on Expedia.
Skiing in Whistler: to rent or not to rent?
If you’re coming from eastern North America, you probably have skis meant for carving groomers. Unless you have a really solid all-mountain ski with a waist of at least 95mm, my advice is to rent skis in Whistler. The conditions in the west are so different and even if you aren’t planning to hit powder, chances are you will — and you want your skis to be ready for it.
Renting also means you aren’t carting your skis to and from airports and trusting the airline to get them to your destination and back again. If you are taking your own, be sure you check your insurance to see what kind of carry case is acceptable; some insurers will only cover damage if your skis are in a hard-sided tube.
There are numerous rental options right in Whistler Village, and you’ll pay more for convenience. Some shops will deliver right to your hotel while others that may be more budget-friendly could be a bit of a trek from where you’re staying. Depending on what you favour — proximity or price — know that you have lots of choices, and every ski rental includes poles. In fact, there are more than 12,000 skis and boards available to rent across 15 rental stores throughout Whistler, including the mountain top, Creekside Village, main village and Blackcomb base locations.
Since we were staying at the Sundial Whistler, we got our rentals right next door at the Salomon Store (located in the Pan Pacific Mountainside — right beside us). The location was super convenient for us and they had an awesome selection of high-performance demo skis with incredible bindings, which is always what I prefer when it comes to rentals. I had a sweet pair of Nordica powder skis that delivered paramount performance for me through four days of very different conditions, and Big B had some Atomics that were perfect for his huge frame.
If we weren’t staying so close to the gondolas or if we’d wanted to make this trip a really budget-friendly one, I’d probably choose Spicy Sports for rentals. The prices were the lowest I found (about $100 per day for two sets of high-performance rentals, including insurance vs. $88/day plus insurance PER person at the Salomon Store); it just would have been a bit of a hike for us to get our skis to and from the Sundial.
I have four key pro tips here…
- Bring your own helmet, goggles and two kinds of mitts (one for mild and the other for bitterly cold weather). You can rent everything at Whistler, right down to skiwear, if you need to. But if you have your own helmet, goggles and mitts at home, you won’t want the rentable options. Put these in your carry-on — just in case your checked luggage makes a detour.
- Plan ahead. Figure out where you want to get your rentals and book them before you go. Every shop will allow you to pick up your gear after 3 p.m. the day before you go skiing in Whistler, which helps you avoid the rush or wasting any time in the morning when you just want to get out there.
- Get the optional insurance. It’s really minimal (we’re talking $4-8 per day, depending on the rental shop) and I legit saw random single skis from our chair-lift views that looked very lost and lonely.
- Know that you can change out your skis at any time. Whether you don’t like the pair you picked after spending the day with them, or conditions change so dramatically that you know you need, say, something even wider, your rental shop will let you change skis as often as you like.
Skiing in Whistler: Whistler ski pass
An EPIC Pass is a must if your home mountain is owned by Vail Resorts and you plan to ski more than a handful of times or if you know you’ll be visiting a couple of them during a given season — especially if you buy your pass early in the off-season when they’re VERY on sale.
The biggest advantage with a mountain collective pass like this is being able to ski at other Vail Resorts with a single member pass for the whole season. The EPIC Pass includes unlimited access to resorts like Breckenridge, Tahoe, Park City and Stowe, plus a limited number of days at the likes of Telluride, Snowbasin, 26 European partner resorts and even Rusutsu in Japan — and, of course, a total of seven days of skiing in Whistler, too.
When I think about the three Vail Resorts we plan to visit this ski season (Whistler and, if all goes as planned, Stowe and Mount Snow in Vermont this March), against the cost of lift tickets I’d need just for myself — four days at Whistler, CDN$664; two days at Mount Snow, USD$190; and four days at Stowe, USD$420 (totalling CDN$1,442 at today’s exchange rates) — an EPIC Pass pays for itself pretty quickly.
In September 2021, EPIC Pass prices for the 2021–2022 season were USD$783 for adults (ages 13+), USD$399 for children (ages 5-12), with kids four and under skiing for free. And if I lived close enough to any of the resorts included in the EPIC Pass to make weekend trips possible, it would be the best investment for me and my family, without question.
Your EPIC Pass also comes with myriad other benefits. So many that I’ll direct you here because it’s too much to list.
Oh, and one other thing — be sure to download the EPIC Mix app when you arrive in Whistler. Although I couldn’t get it to track my runs as I’d hoped, it did come in VERY handy when Big B’s binding popped off and we needed to call Ski Patrol. The app not only had phone numbers for both emergency and non-emergency Ski Patrol lines, but it also provided us with our exact latitude and longitude that we relayed to Ski Patrol (who thanked my profusely for not suggesting they find us “near a tree in some snow”).
Skiing in Whistler: mountain guide & lessons
Any time we go to a new mountain, we get a mountain tour. At some resorts, there are free daily tours that are usually an hour and are split up by level (beginner, intermediate, advanced); at others, you can customize a mountain tour with a private guide for a few hours.
But Whistler Blackcomb has an option that, if you’re a group of two to five people, is a helluva deal. It may not sound like CDN$939 is a steal, but hear me out: you get an all-in-one mountain guide and instructor, who will do a combination of lessons and show you all around this enormous resort for a full day. So, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. — that’s six hours! — your group will share the cost for this personalized experience.
Consider this: a half-day adult group lesson at Whistler Blackcomb is CDN$199 per person. If you’re with a group of four people, you can all go in on the private mountain experience and get a full day lesson and tour for CDN$234.75 each by the time you split the cost.
We toured around with Steve Brooks (you can request him by name, and I highly recommend him), an Ontario transplant who’s been teaching at Whistler for 27 years. He started off by asking us where we’ve skied, what kind of terrain we like to ski and what we hoped to get out of our day together; we wanted to learn how to ski powder most efficiently, tweak some of our movements and positioning, and get as much variety under our belt between both mountains as possible. Basically, we wanted the most robust private skiing in Whistler day we could possibly get.
And, boy, did Steve deliver. I feel like, aside from skiing somewhere in the neighbourhood of 17-20k of vertical in a single day, I also became a whole new skier in just six hours.
Although I was mentally prepared for the challenge of skiing these 7,000-ish foot wonders, I had no expectations of crushing black diamond runs at one of the world’s most impressive resorts on day one. And I certainly didn’t expect to make it down the men’s Olympic downhill and Super-G course with ease inside of our first hour with Steve. The Dave Murray Downhill run, as it’s called, was definitely tough but there were no “oh crap” moments and I’m pretty sure I had a stupid grin on my face from top to bottom. Yet, without Steve’s confidence in my ability, I don’t think I’d have even attempted it.
As the proud Host Mountain Resort and site of the alpine events for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, there are plenty more “Dave Murrays” at Whistler Blackcomb. One of the most beautiful skiing experiences of my life was over on Blackcomb in the 7th Heaven area, where you can traverse at about 7,300 feet and peer over the edge of a glacier (and ski down it if you so choose) and breathe in what seems like the cleanest, crispest air before taking off for all of the beauty runs at the top of Blackcomb:
Doing this mountain tour on our first day meant that we had a good lay of the land and felt comfortable exploring much more of both mountains than we otherwise would have.
Après & restaurants in Whistler
The most important thing you need to know about eating and après-ing in the heart of Whistler Village is that it’s expensive. If you’re on a strict budget, and your accommodation doesn’t have a kitchen, you’ll want to get into the farther reaches of the village or walk to the Village North area where there are cheaper options.
Everyone told us to do our grocery shopping in Vancouver, before coming to Whistler, but without your own vehicle, this is probably not doable or — if you have a private driver — not a cost-effective move since you’ll have to factor in at least an extra $100 for a 30-minute stop.
We found the prices at The Whistler Grocery Store in the village pretty reasonable considering they could really jack up the prices if they wanted to. Plus, you can order it ahead of time and have it delivered to your hotel door for $25. Again, a splurge that turned out to be worth it since we spent zero time on our first day shopping and lugging groceries through the village.
I ordered enough food for six days, excluding two meals we planned to eat out, for $194 including delivery. We even had food that we didn’t get to and left for housekeeping to take home with his/her tip. When you consider that one lunch cost us $150, you can see why I booked a hotel room with a kitchen! Restaurants in Whistler are definitely not forgiving on the wallet.
The village liquor store, which is right beside the grocery store if you decide to walk over, is really well-stocked and the prices seemed better than the LCBO in Ontario. Best of all, they (obviously) carry lots of red wine from B.C.’s interior, which is very much like Californian wine — my favourite. We tried new-to-us wineries and I regret not bringing some home.
We tried three patios for après:
- Garibaldi Lift Co — the best view of Whistler Mountain and the most striking tables with stunning built-in fires, if you can get one. Awesome drinks and boozy coffees, but the food here was very underwhelming
- Longhorn Saloon & Grill — lots of tables with umbrellas and built-in fire pits, with great service, amazing cocktails and boozy coffees, and yummy food
- Black’s Pub & Restaurant — if you come before 2 p.m., you can snag a fire-pit table no matter how small your party might be; but after 2 p.m., you’ll need a minimum of four people if you want one. After 3 p.m., there’s a live DJ pumping out wicked house music and top 40 remixes and the cocktails here were the best we had during our stay. Service here, though, was a disappointment and not only because lots of the servers kept their masks under their chins while serving tables and walking around
We didn’t make it to Dubh Linn Gate but heard great things about it and whenever we walked by, it looked like a lot of fun. One thing I personally loved about the Whistler Village patios is that we had to show our vaccine QR codes; so we felt extra safe, even though we’re very comfortable eating outdoors to begin with.
Very special mentions for village eats and drinks has to go to:
- Peaked Pies — oh. my. word. This has got to be the best-value meal going in the village. Yes, it’s allllll the way in Village North, but it’s definitely worth the effort. This Aussie-inspired meat pie company makes probably the best pastry and meat pie fillings we’ve ever had. We tried one classic pie and one exotic (kangaroo) pie, and got the classic “peaked,” with scoops of mashed potatoes and mushy peas with a spectacular gravy poured on top. We even got a dessert pie, which was just as mouthwatering — all for $35
- Lift Coffee Company — best. mocha. ever. Honestly, it was a good thing we didn’t discover the mochas here until our second-last day, because I was enjoying two per day thereafter
- Purebread — I had many, many DMs to hit up this place once my followers saw we were skiing in Whistler. So we went twice in an effort to try as much as possible. Because, you know…research. Where to start? The presentation alone will make you feel like you’ve just walked into the Harrod’s of bakeries, with lovely cake stands piled high with the most fantastical displays of saliva-inducing goodness. Everything we tried was incredible…almond croissants, jalapeño cornbread, bacon, egg and gruyère popovers…I mean, incredible. Just don’t bother with the coffee here; it’s nothing special
And, finally, if you’re looking for a truly unique delivery option, the OG charcuterie box from Picnic Whistler is the perfect way to end a busy day on the slopes — just make sure you have a bottle of local vino to pair with it.
For $75, you’ll get enough in your OG box to feed two very hungry, large-stomached adults:
- Three varieties of cheeses
- Three varieties of meats
- Artisanal crackers & bread from a local bakery
- An array of spreads & chutneys
- Seasonal local fruits & veggies
- Pickles, nuts & dried fruit
This is the charcuterie spread that meat and cheese dreams are made of, y’all. We put on a fire, opened our curtains to take in the village lights, cracked a delicious red wine and binged Ted Lasso. Perfection.
In the end, it was actually so much food that we had some leftovers for breakfast the next day. This is one of those 10/10 highly recommend things.
Other things to do in Whistler
Exploring the village
Whistler Blackcomb’s “village” is really made up of three distinct villages, two of which are connected by a pathway: the main village, Village North and Creekside. We didn’t make it to Creekside on this trip (that’s over at the base of Blackcomb), but it’s on the agenda this summer so I’ll come back to this post and update it later this year.
We did, however, spend quite a bit of time wandering around the main village and Village North during one particularly rainy day when skiing was a bit too wet for a full-day affair. Between these two relatively intimate villages, there’s a city-sized selection of lodging, shops, restaurants and bars, cafés and bakeries, and spas, too. Remember: this was an official Olympic village in 2010 — and that means you’ll even find a huge installation of Olympic rings to photograph:
The main village is really the heart of après-ski. This is where you’ll find most of the patios and the après energy. There are a few shops here, too, and it’s a major hotel zone. The real shopping, though, is in Village North. There are a few hotels and restaurants over here as well, but it feels more heavily weighted on retail. All of the usual suspects are there — The North Face, Peak Performance, Burton, Arc’Teryx, Oakley, Smartwool and more — but if you’re looking for sometimes-harder-to-find brands like Newland, Dale of Norway and Fire & Ice, you’ll find those as well. There’s a clearance centre in Village North, too, and some of the deals were really good (but know your prices).
Can-Ski has a few stores between both villages and, overall, it was my favourite shop.
There are also these little huts in Village North with long picnic tables in them, perfect for popping a squat if you’ve grabbed a coffee and some pastries. And there’s even an ice-skating rink near the Olympic rings. It’s got a calmer vibe and there’s simply more space — or perhaps just fewer people.
Scandinave Spa Whistler
While it’s not the best Scandinave we’ve visited (that trophy goes to Scandinave Tremblant), and it requires some effort if you don’t have a vehicle at your disposal (cabs can be unreliable and Whistle took 45 minutes to pick us up), there is absolutely no better way to unwind after a day spent skiing in Whistler than a couple hours of hydrotherapy circuits.
Scandinave Whistler is only about 10 to 15 minutes by car from Whistler Village, but feels a world away. Immersed in almost total silence — and, trust me, you will be shushed if you try to speak at anything more than a whisper — and set amongst lush, snow-dusted foliage, the baths were exactly what our sore, rusty bodies needed. My own ski fitness was really poor leading up to this trip and my thighs paid for it. The best planning I did for this entire trip was scheduling our spa visit for the end of our first ski day. Besides, I love Scandinave best after sundown.
Don’t forget: reservations here are a must. They do allow walk-ins but even weekdays may be full.
Experience PEAK to PEAK Whistler
Whistler Blackcomb’s world record-setting PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola is essentially a bridge between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Part of the world’s longest continuous lift system, even non-skiers can get a taste of Whistler Blackcomb’s high-alpine views from this 4.4-km aerial ride.
The “flight” is remarkably fast considering the distance you travel, but slow enough that it isn’t remotely scary and provides the opportunity to take in breathtaking, 360-degree nature. At its midsection, the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola is roughly the same height as the CN Tower and the bird’s-eye view on a clear day is jaw-droppingly spectacular.
In case you were wondering, you don’t need to go skiing in Whistler to ride the gondola. You can get separate tickets just for the PEAK 2 PEAK experience, year-round, but it’s included in your lift ticket if you are skiing or snowboarding.
Canadian Wilderness Adventures has an office space right in Whistler Village, so you won’t have to go far if you’d rather talk through your snowmobiling tour choices in person. We went with the Wilderness Run, which is ideal for beginner or lightly intermediate snowmobile drivers. The tour price includes a roundtrip shuttle from the village, training time and a back-country adventure on maintained trails.
Although the description reads that this tour “suits fit, adventurous riders,” you really don’t need any experience nor do you need to be a gym rat to handle this ride. There are some good climbs and a few spots to really open up the sled, plus a fun finale on a series of bumps, but if you’re an experienced rider, I’d suggest bumping up to one of the longer and more intense tours.
Our small group made it to a great lookout point:
My pro tip? Drive your own snowmobile. Don’t share unless you’re taking your kids. Counterintuitively, you’ll actually stay warmer if you drive — plus that’s where the real fun lies.
Vallea Lumina Whistler
In three words: it’s a must.
“Magical” doesn’t even come close to describing Vallea Lumina, a multimedia, multi-sensory experience that takes you on the most enchanting journey through a forest that’s seemingly come to life. You walk through Vallea Lumina at your own pace, but to really take it all in, expect to spend at least 40 minutes here — or even up to a full hour if you find yourself wanting to stand off to the side in a few of the installation areas just looking up into the night sky pondering life.
Although we absolutely loved Tonga Lumina, Vallea Lumina tops it. There were moments so awe-inspiring that I was moved to tears and I especially loved that the experience ran through a stream with mini-rapids; during part of the walk, the sound of water rushing over rocks blended with the music and lights in an audio-visual maelstrom. It was holistic and healing and ethereal, really.
Important notes: this is perfect for all ages, but keep in mind that although it’s only a one-kilometre walk, the trail is uneven and — the night we visited — was quite slippery, even in my grippy winter boots. There are some sections with steep-ish stairs and it is not at all wheelchair- or stroller-friendly; you should absolutely reconsider if you have mobility issues or concerns. Some tickets include roundtrip shuttle service from the village’s Gateway Bus Loop, and since there’s no parking at the venue, double-check to be sure you’re getting the kind of ticket you need.
Whistler Blackcomb ski resort COVID protocols
As of this publication date (February 2022), the following public health protocols are in place if you plan to go skiing in Whistler:
- In B.C., everyone aged 5 and older is required to wear a mask in indoor public settings, regardless of immunization status
- Effective September 13, 2021, people aged 12+ must show proof of vaccination to access certain events, services and businesses in B.C. This mandatory requirement applies to all residents of BC, as well as travellers visiting from outside of BC; Ontario residents, for example, need to show their provincially issued QR code along with ID. View the full list of where proof of vaccination is required
- Masks are required in the gondolas but not while you’re skiing or boarding, and not on chair lifts
- All Vail Resorts staff members are required to be fully vaccinated, but guests are not
Above all else: PLEASE be patient. Businesses in the hospitality industry are still working so, so hard to manage during an ongoing pandemic while recovering from two years’ worth of losses. Many businesses remain incredibly short-staffed, some stores and restaurants may still not be back to their regular hours of operation or full menus. Remember that it’s a privilege to go shopping and to dine out; remember that these are human beings just trying to do their jobs the best they can with the cards they’re dealt; remember that they don’t make nearly enough to enforce provincial and federal rules, but they have to; and remember that you’ll get a lot farther with kindness.
For more information and the most up-to-date details on current operations, please visit the Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb sites.
DISCLAIMER: a big thank you to Vail Resorts for providing me with an EPIC Pass to facilitate content; to Tourism Whistler for gifting us tickets to Vallea Lumina and organizing the snowmobile tour so we had a sense of what was available beyond skiing in Whistler; and to the Sundial Whistler for our lovely mountain-view upgrade. We paid for the bulk of this trip, which was originally never intended to turn into a press trip at all, and no one can influence the opinions expressed here, anyway.