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The Unofficial Whistler Travel Guide

Since 2006!

(Welcome to Highly Obsessed’s Whistler travel guide. Use this guide to gain useful information on Whistler vacation rentals, restaurants, bars and a first-hand guide to Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. This Whistler guide is updated several times yearly.)

Last Update: October 2010

Although I live in Toronto, I have been very lucky to be able to visit Whistler once, sometimes twice, every year for the past many winters. I have visited as a skier, a snowboarder, have stayed with family and purchased accommodations. I think this has given me a unique, unbiased view of the town and mountains. I’ve decided to turn my knowledge into a sort of ‘living document’ as I think of new things and receive more questions.

The background

First, the basics. “Whistler” actually refers to the Town of Whistler, population approximately 10,000. It was one of the sites of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It’s approximately a two-hour drive from Vancouver, depending on traffic and the weather. As you head further north to Whistler, your elevation increases, as does the amount of snow on the roads.

The resort is actually comprised of two major mountains: Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain.

Getting there

The most logical place to fly into is Vancouver (YVR). The airport is modern and spacious, and there’s plenty to eat and drink while waiting to depart or upon arrival.

From the airport, there are several limo and bus services that will take you to Whistler. I myself have taken several types of trips to get up there:

  • The Greyhound Bus to Whistler: It’s about a $30 cab ride to the slightly depressing bus terminal from the airport, and a round-trip bus ticket costs approximately $30 to $40. Buses leave hourly. It’s an extremely inexpensive way to get to Whistler, especially if you and a couple of friends can split the cost of a cab from the airport, or if you take the Canada Line/SkyTrain downtown. The Greyhound makes two stops in the Whistler area: Creekside, the smaller, newer and more southern village; and the main village bus loop, which is smack dab in the middle of the action. Creekside is about a 10-minute drive from the main village. Although the Greyhound bus is inexpensive, its location is not great relative to the airport. I would recommend heading directly from the airport if it suits your budget.
  • The Perimeter Bus to Whistler: Perimeter operates a bus service that runs directly from the airport to Whistler, taking an annoying cab ride out of the mix. Friendly staff are waiting for you with your bus tickets as you get off your flight. This option is more expensive, but the convenience is second to none. They also have superb, friendly staff; check out this entry on my experience with Perimeter. As of November 2008, this option is no more. Get more information here.
  • Pacific Coast Bus to Whistler: The official bus out of Vancouver Airport. I’ve only used it return from Whistler, and the fare was $51. The coach was very well-kept, the staff courteous, and the bus on time.
  • Ridebooker.com: Ridebooker.com operates shuttles from the airport to Whistler on a more customized basis. It’s slightly more expensive but my impression is that the service is much more personalized.

Note that a major advantage to the Pacific Coast bus, though more expensive, is that you can get dropped off at your hotel directly; Greyhound does not offer this. This may not seem like a big thing, as the Whistler village isn’t really large, but you’ll quickly find that dragging your gear and luggage any distance, particularly if it is snowing, is a huge pain in the ass. If you’re not staying directly in the village, it’s easy to get a van taxicab to get from your drop-off point to your final destination.

Should I go early season?

Most folks consider pre-Christmas ‘early season’ in Whistler. Visiting Whistler during early season has a couple of distinct advantages: prices are lower, lineups (and crowds in general) are smaller. The big downside, however, is that the mountains are not fully open, at least during the first couple of weeks of early season; that is, visitors typically have to ‘download’ (take a lift or gondola back to the base of the mountain) because there’s not enough snow to ski all the way to the bottom.

Now, I’ve been to Whistler twice during early season, and loved it both times – even when they were having one of their worst snow years on record. To an Ontario resident like me, who doesn’t have any mountains nearby, being able to ride most of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains was still phenomenal.

Early season can also have varied conditions; it didn’t snow at all the last two times I visited during early season (around the first week of December). However, one time I visited (2006), the mountains opened top-to-bottom on opening day. So there’s both a bit of risk and some reward potential in visiting early season, but think of it this way: there’s going to be snow on the trails either way when the mountains open in November.

Creekside or village?

People often ask if they should find accommodations at Creekside or the main village. You should base your choice on the following questions:

• Do I want to save money? Creekside accommodations are slightly cheaper.
• Do I want to be in the middle of the action? Creekside is about a $10 cab ride from the bars and restaurants of the main village, though there are also several bars and restaurants at Creekside. Creekside is not as busy or loud as the main village, and is close to many large houses for rent, so it’s considered more family-friendly.
• Is Blackcomb important to me? There is a gondola at Creekside that services Whistler Mountain, but not Blackcomb. So, to reach Blackcomb, you need to either drive into the main village, ride the Creekside gondola to the top and then ride back down to the main village, or take the Peak to Peak gondola.

Also consider that if you stay at Creekside you will need to take a gondola and a lift to get to the top of Whistler Mountain, whereas you only need to take one gondola if you stay in the main village. The upside, though, is that the uploading lines are far smaller at Creekside than the main village.

Where to stay

There are many, many lodging options that can be grouped into several categories:

• Hotels: There are plenty in Whistler at every price level. For an inexpensive stay within the village, check out the Listel. The location and rates are both excellent. I have also stayed at Mountainside Lodge, which is reasonably priced and features a phenomenal location, but I’ve only stayed in the summer so I’m not sure what winter availability is like.

• Condos/houses: An excellent way to save on funds. Use a rental site like Rentalo.com to book accommodations. Be aware that prices can range significantly, as can payment policies. Ask about tax. There are also fringe benefits to many house rentals: transit passes, hot tubs, free wi-fi, board games and the like. They can be quite small, though: try to get an exact sense of what “sleeps six” means, for example. That could mean two bedrooms and a large pullout couch which occupies the only open space you have. The Whistler Blackcomb website also features a wide range of condos that are relatively inexpensive, so definitely have a look at those as well. Tyndall Stone Lodge, for example, features a great location just a wee bit away from the main action (which is a good thing) and reasonable rates.

• Pemberton: A small town about 20 minutes north that is growing every day, Pemberton features reasonably-priced condos, houses and lodges. Also features incredible views and great golf. Pemberton recently added a new lodge.

Book early! You don’t want to leave your lodging decision until the last minute. Whistler accommodations fill up fast.

Blackcomb, main village, upper village

Whistler accommodations are split into four main areas:

• Main village: This is the most expensive area, but is in the middle of everything.
• Upper village: This is the Blackcomb area, and about a 10-15 minute walk or a 1 minute car ride back to the main village.
• Creekside: As mentioned earlier, about a 10 minute car ride to the main village. The free Village Shuttle does not service Creekside, but the regular bus system does.
• Village north: About a 15 minute walk to the main village and serviced by the free Village Shuttle as well.

The free Village Shuttle

Most areas in the main village area are serviced by a free bus service that runs every several minutes. It’s pretty sweet. Bus service to other areas of the town is fairly inexpensive (a paltry $1.50) and very reliable.

The mountains

There is literally a ton of online information on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Rather than repeat it, I will give a quick synopsis of what I think the strengths and weaknesses of each are.

Blackcomb: Personally, I find Blackcomb to be less crowded, a little icier, more difficult and a ton of fun.My favourite “groomed” areas are most anything served by the glacier lift, Ridge Runner, and Seventh Heaven. Slightly more off-piste, Blackcomb is famous for Spanky’s Ladder (which drops you into a range of double black diamond chutes – look for people hiking from the Glacier Express chair) and Blackcomb Glacier. Click here for some more information on my preferred groomed Whistler runs from a previous article.

Whistler: I find Whistler to have many more beginners on the slopes, but there are some groomedareas that can’t be missed. The super-long ‘Peak to Creek’ run is amazing, and the area served by the Harmony chair is beautiful. The Dave Murray Downhill, which will serve as the Men’s Super-G course in 2010, is a must. It’s a black diamond run that’s very wide and very fast. You can ride Peak to Creek (from peak chair and red chair) and the Dave Murray Downhill (from green chair if you don’t mind missing part of it, otherwise take Garbanzo) all the way down to the Creekside gondola. If you love glades, also have to check out the new Symphony Express, which offers an incredible amount of glade and bowl riding.

Slightly more off-piste, the Whistler Bowl area is simply phenomenal. Accessed by the Peak Chair, you will find areas like Doom & Gloom and Frog Hollow still full of snow many days after a good dumping, as 90 percent of visitors do not access these areas (though they are inbounds). Hint: when you drop into Whistler Bowl, keep to your left a bit and don’t follow the crowd.

Again, click here for more information on my preferred groomed Whistler runs.

As of December 2008, doing both mountains in one day has become extremely easy. Using the Peak to Peak gondola, you can now get from the top of one mountain to the other in about ten minutes. The gondola is a spectacular ride that everyone should try. Note that two gondola cars – the grey-coloured ones – have glass floors if you feel the need to terrify yourself.

Lift Lines

As I mention above, I think Blackcomb is the less populated mountain. I personally believe Whistler is more ‘well-known’, has wider green runs that are easier to follow, and has more of a ski school presence. For these reasons, I find Whistler more crowded. (The last place you want to be right before closing is Olympic Run, trust me.)

That said, neither mountain has ever, in my experience, had consistently long lines. But here are some tips to avoid any lines, just in case:

  • Go up early, or off the beaten path. First thing in the morning. Do not come down if you can. If you have to, don’t come down until lunch. Otherwise, you’ll face long lines trying to get back up the mountain. If you’re planning to avoid the groomers and hit the bowls, you can go up slightly later, as most lifts serving the bowls don’t open until around 10am.
  • Do lunch early, or don’t do it at all. Lift lines on both mountains thin out considerably around lunchtime.
  • Use Fitzimmons Express to upload at Whistler Mountain. It will take you halfway up the mountain, and you can finish the ride using the Garbanzo chair.
  • I find these lifts to be less crowded than most: on Whistler, try the Symphony Express, Garbanzo Chair (you’d be amazed at how much terrain this serves) and the ‘Red Chair’ (Big Red Express). The Creekside Gondola is also a good way to get up the mountain throughout the day. On Blackcomb, try Seventh Heaven, Crystal Chair and the Glacier and Jersey Cream Express chairs.

Also, do take advantage of their Fresh Tracks Breakfast! For less than $20, you can get on the mountain far earlier than anyone else, and you get an excellent buffet breakfast too. Note that only 650 tickets are made available, so don’t wait until the last minute to get one. On a powder day, get your ticket the night before. The breakfast doesn’t give you access to the alpine, but there’s still plenty of fresh snow to cut through on a powder day.

Eating and drinking

Oh man, this could take a while. My thoughts, in no particular order:

• Splitz Grill: Located in the Alpenglow Village, this place has amazing burgers – look up ‘Splitz Grill’ online, and you’ll see many entries associated with ‘best burger in Whistler’. And because eating in Whistler can get expensive fast, the relatively low prices are a welcome sight.
• Buffalo Bills: This is a pretty popular nightclub, with a generally young crowd. It’s the largest one I’ve been in at Whistler. On weekends, and even local’s night on Wednesday, this place gets packed fast. Lots of dancing, lots of drinking, and a nominal cover charge when it gets crowded. Worth checking out. They also serve food throughout the day, I believe. I’ve been there for dinner, just before it changes over to a nightclub.
• Seppo’s on top of the mountain: Best place for a 3pm pitcher. Get one when your day is done, and enjoy being at the top of Whistler Mountain. Drink up, though, because ski patrol will tell you to get the hell off the mountain at around 3:30-4.
• Longhorn Saloon, base of the mountain: Best place for a 4pm pitcher. Once you get down from Seppo’s, continue drinking at the Longhorn; they definitely have Whistler’s best patio. Click here for some more info on the Longhorn, which was also reportedly the inspiration for the Windows Live codename.
The Boot: This is an off-village bar that is very popular with locals. I’ve never been there, but keep meaning to. It’s where locals go to avoid annoying tourists.
• Pemberton Hotel: The only bar in Pemberton. Once I saw some dudes ride horses through it. Beware the lack of public transit and the $50 cab ride home after 9pm or so.
• Milestones: Great brunch. Same prices and ambiance as any other Milestone’s restaurant in Canada.
• 21 Steps: Aptly named because it takes 21 steps to get upstairs to the restaurant. Very nice dining without super-expensive pricing. I had a phenomenal smoked salmon pasta bowl which was very unique and tasty. Definitely worth checking out.
• Garfinkels Nightclub: See Buffalo Bills. Think a little smaller and an interchangable crowd.
• Moe Joe’s Nightclub: See Garfinkel’s or Buffalo Bills, but also think smaller and grungier.
• Brewhouse Restaurant & Pub: Great food and great beer. Watch the trains go round and round (you’ll know what I mean if I go). A really nice place to relax, and it’s slightly further away from the main village… which can be nice sometimes.
• Garibaldi Lift Co.: Close, but slightly lacking in ambiance. Head to the Longhorn, I say!
• Moguls Cafe: Their breakfast bagels are a huge hit among locals and tourists. Grab one before you head up the mountain.
• The Old Spaghetti Factory: Reasonably priced italian chain restaurant. Loaded with families when I went.
• Dusty’s: Located at the bottom of Creekside gondola, this is a good place for lunch and/or a drink after the infamous Peak to Creek Run. Also a popular nighttime/clubbing destination.
• Tapley’s: The one time I was in Whistler for March Madness, I could pretty much watch all the games at once on all their televisions. Good sports bar. Slightly lacking in ambiance, but loved by locals. In fact, last time I was there it was becoming quite popular, especially on hockey nights.
• Black’s Pub: Located right across from the lifts, Black’s features some microbrew beer and various pizzas. Has an excellent breakfast as well.
• Earl’s: A good place to get a slightly upscale meal or just a beer. If you’ve been to western Canada, you know what the deal with Earl’s is: it’s kind of a half-bar, half-restaurant sort of place. Slightly more expensive than some other bars in the area, but a nice atmosphere will make you want to hang out there.
• Mongolie Grill: An excellent Asian-style restaurant where ingredients you choose are cooked right in front of you. What you pay is determined by the weight of what you choose (you get to load up a plate). Be forewarned this can get expensive quickly.
• Pasta Lupino: Never been myself, but reader-recommended as an affordable, gourmet pasta shop. Some nice reviews here.

Renting and fixing snowboarding equipment

  • I typically rent from Summit, just behind the Whistler gondola, for snowboard rentals in Whistler. There is another location or two in the Village if you’re staying nearby. Great prices, great service – the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. Summit is also an excellent source for used equipment. If you’re renting equipment, you can leave it at Summit at the end of the day and pick it up in the morning, so you don’t have to drag your gear around. And if you need some repairs, chances are they can get it done for you overnight – so when you come back in the morning, your stuff is ready for you, right next to the gondola.
  • Affinity Sports Rentals also has locations throughout Whistler and Blackcomb (four in Whistler Village, two at Blackcomb base). While I’ve never used them myself, they are everywhere, meaning there’s a location close to you if you’re staying in the Village (and they have a free shuttle service, too).

Most hotels have their own pro shop as well, so if you need a hole filled, a wax job or your board sharpened, chances are you won’t even have to leave your hotel.

Questions, comments and suggestions for this article are appreciated. Please email me!

Discussion

  1. Hey Adam,
    Great post about Whistler, I had a trip planned to Whistler two years ago but it feel through – and I was out over a grand 🙁
    You guide is perfect for skiers and boarders who have never been to the resort before and I am sure it will be helpful to people.
    Thanks for the great post ….
    Ski Bum (At Heart)

    Posted by Anonymous | October 25, 2006, 10:29 am
  2. Thanks Brian!
    I plan to edit/expand it fairly significant when I have some time.. especially the part about restaurants and bars. I’ve certainly been to many of them. 😉
    Interesting that you mention you were out money on your trip, I had a similar experience when Jetsgo went under. 🙁 I hope you get out there some day!
    –adam

    Posted by Anonymous | October 25, 2006, 11:16 am
  3. Hey Adam,
    Yea I hope I get to whistler too let me tell ya, this year looks like Aspen / Snowmass 😉
    Take care.
    Brian

    Posted by Anonymous | October 26, 2006, 10:31 am
  4. No kidding. If I had the cash, I’d be out in Colorado early November!

    Posted by Anonymous | October 26, 2006, 1:36 pm
  5. […] inspired me to add a “lift lines” section to the Unofficial Whistler Guide. I plan to add a section like that to all the guides I’ve put […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding & Cycling Blog | October 24, 2007, 12:55 pm
  6. […] Once the trip is over, stay tuned for updates to the Whistler Guide. […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding & Cycling Blog | November 10, 2007, 12:58 pm
  7. […] ‘Boarding – The Unofficial Guide to Whistler […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | Recently Featured - The Unofficial Guide to Whistler | December 19, 2007, 1:24 pm
  8. I’m not sure how you get up to Whistler, but if you take the Greyhound from Vancouver, then you can get a bus ticket + one day lift pass for really cheap.

    As an example, the round trip bus ride costs about $40? I think you can get the bus ticket + one day lift for $60, which is amazing value.

    They don’t always offer this, so ask them when you get to the counter.

    Posted by Steve | December 19, 2007, 1:26 pm
  9. […] be sure to check out our guides on Whistler and Blue Mountain, both Canadian ski […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | A Guide to Mont Tremblant | December 25, 2007, 10:57 am
  10. […] A few other observations and notes from the trip, many of which will end up in the Unofficial Whistler Guide: […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | Fistfights and Shredding: The Return to Whistler | January 22, 2008, 1:42 am
  11. […] updated the Whistler Guide. And stay tuned for more information on the debacle that was my most recent stay in Whistler at the […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | Whistler Guide: Now Updated | February 18, 2008, 4:45 pm
  12. Great post! A lot of useful information there, and I agree with about 98 % of it. The only difference would be recommendation of rentals, but then if you look at my website you will see why. I am in competition with the company you mention. Anyway, very informative post, you have certainly taken your time and thought it out.

    Posted by Whistler Ski Rental | February 24, 2008, 2:17 am
  13. Thanks. I don’t necessarily want to turn the guide into an exclusive document; I just highlight where I’ve been. I will add your co. in.

    Cheers,

    adam

    Posted by Adam | February 24, 2008, 10:58 am
  14. Great guide. You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this.

    A couple of thoughts:
    – If it is windy enough to close the top lifts at Whistler then head straight for Blackcomb. High winds don’t have nearly the same effect over there.

    – Pacific Coach Lines runs a great bus service from the airport and they are actually the “official” Whistler bus provider at YVR now.

    – We have a direct shuttle service from YVR to any address in Whistler that is super quick and costs just a bit more than Perimeter. There are other great options available.

    Posted by Transportation Whistler | February 26, 2008, 2:15 am
  15. It is not possible to access the top of Dave Murray Downhill from Green Chair. Also, you may want to include the prohibitive cost of the perimeter airport bus.

    Posted by Anonymous | February 27, 2008, 7:20 pm
  16. Anonymous — You’re generally right. I should update that to say Garbanzo. Though you can technically get to most of it via Green Char>Banana Peel (of course, you miss what to me is one of the best parts — the top at the gate!).

    As for the ‘prohibitive’ cost of the Perimeter Bus: It *is* expensive. For someone about to shell out significant money to go on an extended vacation, I don’t think it’s much of a big deal. But for a resident trying to get between Vancouver and Whistler, I agree, it’s prohibitive. Most can’t shell out that kind of money regularly.

    Thanks for the comments, I will put in some updates.

    Cheers

    adam

    Posted by Adam | February 28, 2008, 7:33 am
  17. Hey Adam, great post. Since you are keen to update it, I thought I would recommend a great place to eat, that is also cheap. You wont find it mentioned on many websites either. It called Pasta Lupino, and its located right beside the 7-11. Great little restaurant that I think deserves a mention. Plus is you are feeling generous, you might want to mention my blog, where I give an ‘almost daily’ update on the current snow conditions here in Whistler. I given the website in my details.
    Anyway, cheers, and keep up the good work.

    Posted by Whistler Blackcomb Snow Conditions | February 28, 2008, 8:29 pm
  18. Thanks for the latest round of excellent comments. I have updated the guide with all your suggestions.

    Cheers,

    adam

    Posted by Adam | March 1, 2008, 12:12 pm
  19. […] help concertgoers (or those thinking of going), given I have experience in many things related to Whistler and […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | Pemberton (Music) Festival: Some Tips and Hints to a Good Weekend | March 17, 2008, 12:07 pm
  20. […] We’re always updating this section with in-depth articles on both topics. Some, like the Whistler Guide, are updated […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | Some Public Service Announcements | May 20, 2008, 8:05 pm
  21. Help! Any inexpensive idea of being able to get to Whistler from YVR after 11:30 p.m.? Thanks!

    Posted by Carlos | July 1, 2008, 1:47 am
  22. That’s a good question… maybe a ride sharing program?

    Posted by Adam | July 1, 2008, 7:12 am
  23. […] bad, what to expect on the mountains, etc. – much of which I have captured in the ever-evolving Whistler Guide (which of course will get a refresh after this […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | 2009 Whistler Trip Booked! | November 24, 2008, 10:11 pm
  24. […] will update the Whistler Guide with this […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | The Perimeter Bus to Whistler Is No More | January 3, 2009, 9:48 am
  25. […] updated the Whistler Guide with some fresh […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | On The Way Home From Whistler Blackcomb | January 24, 2009, 4:33 pm
  26. This is a fantastic resource – the kind of thing I always look for before visiting someplace I haven’t been to – real local information on things that matter.

    Posted by The Access Road | November 29, 2009, 11:43 pm
  27. Thanks Access Road. 🙂

    Posted by Adam | December 5, 2009, 10:38 am
  28. You forgot Snowbus.com or .ca for $30 one-way from Vancouver airport airport (from Birdgeport station – 7 min metro link to the airport). $20 student tickets.

    Greyhound student tickets are $16.

    Posted by IC | December 7, 2009, 5:20 pm
  29. […] We’re lazy. We already know Whistler kicks ass. We know the mountains and the town pretty much like locals. So much, in fact, that we dole out advice to tourists in the town and in this blog alike (we get many inquiries based on our Whistler Guide, located here). […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding and Cycling Blog | Return to Whistler: 2010 Edition | December 15, 2009, 1:02 pm
  30. Seriously great guide. Trying to there for the Ski and Snowboard festival so should come in handy!

    Posted by Simon | April 12, 2010, 2:48 pm
  31. Love this info here. Great that you continue to update it. Haven’t been to Whistler during the winter yet, but it’s definitely happening in the next year or two!

    Posted by Rachelle | October 10, 2010, 12:22 pm
  32. Thanks for the perfect guide!! Any suggestions on where / how to purchase discounted lift tickets?

    Posted by Yummy | December 6, 2010, 11:00 am
  33. Fantastic guide. It gives a great in-depth analysis, covering all of the essentials one needs to know when planning a trip to Whistler. Good insiders guide for winter sport fanatics.

    Posted by Dave's NY | June 15, 2012, 1:05 pm
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