(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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
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!