Thinking about a Whistler road trip? Whether you're a veteran Whistler skier or a first-timer, here are a few tips!
I've skied Whistler dozens of times since my first trip in January 1973. Back then the road up from Vancouver was partially dirt. I have seen W/B evolve into a first class, cosmopolitan ski resort with unmatched ski terrain and tons of snow. You’ll hear voices from all around the world when you visit. Plus, the Canadians are super nice and actually like Americans. You’ll notice a lot of young people from Australia and New Zealand working there. They are an especially fun group.
If you are driving from Seattle, avoid the Seattle and Vancouver commuting traffic, especially on Friday afternoons. Make sure you have your passport! Border has variable wait times; it’s often a crapshoot.
Cross at the truck border crossing (Highway 15), not Peace Arch. Watch for signs on I-5 to give you updates on the border cross wait times (typically 10-40 minutes). If the wait is greater than 45 minutes, consider driving east eight miles to less crowded Lynden or even farther to the Sumas crossing. At the main border, stopping at the duty-free store and buying something can save you 15-20 minutes in line. That commitment allows you to cut ahead in line. But it’s a trade-off since you often waste that much time stopping and shopping for something you don’t really need (like maple flavored, leaf-shaped cookies).
At the border be calm, don’t act guilty (I know you are), be respectful.
Common questions as you enter Canada:
Where are you going/staying? How long are you staying?
Common questions back into the US:
Where do you live? Are you bringing anything back?
From the border, drive north to Highway 1, then west to Vancouver, then Highway 99.
Five to five and a half hours is a typical drive time from downtown Seattle (Mercer and I-5). Best total drive time from downtown Seattle to the Village is about four and a quarter to four and a half hours. That is with minimal traffic, 10 minutes at the border, good road conditions, and getting most lights.
You might get there in near four hours if you: Drove after midnight, without stopping, and sailed through the border like the Dukes of Hazard yelling "I love the Canucks". (Please don’t call me after you are arrested)
The drive to Whistler is a beautiful, mostly divided highway drive but curvy. Takes an hour and a half from Van. It’s not a classic mountain ski drive but partially through a majestic fiord. It’s a modern, newly improved road. It is uncommon to see snow on the road with the low elevations. If you can go during daylight, it is awesome and probably a tad safer.
Ditch The Car
Once you get to W/B, you will not need a car or even see a car if you stay in the Village (recommended). Overnight parking is steep at some hotels. The parking lot under the Whistler convention center is covered. Good, free local bus service is also available, yet not needed if you are in the Village.
The Village is really cool, lots of shops/food/bars/clubs, everything is walkable, even in ski boots. There are heated sidewalks. I like the rock shop, with some amazing museum quality fossils. Elevation of the Village is 2,000 feet, very low. If it is raining or wet snow in the Village, don’t be overly concerned. The covered bubble chairs and gondola will keep you dry into the snowy alpine. If it is snowing in the Village, it means quality powder in the alpine. Always bring goggles that help in flat light. Sun angles are low, snow is white, sky is gray/white. There are not many trees up top for contrast.
Whistler Blackcomb is two massive mountains. Don’t worry if there is only minor snow in the village, the alpine is 4,000-5,000 feet higher and a different world. You’ll mainly ski the upper 2/3rds of the mountain. They have deep snow in the alpine, including several glaciers underneath. There is an excellent lift system.
Consider the “First Tracks” program with a breakfast and an early start on the mountain, especially on a powder day. The ride up as the sun rises over the mountainous BC Coast Range is unforgettable.
Many believe wet snow or rain is the primary weather problem, but I think it is fog. Visibility can be challenging. Watch for blue and red makers to guide you in the treeless upper elevations.
Snow Forecast & Report: Whistler
Daily Snow: Whistler
There is plenty of intermediate to advanced skiing, mid to upper mountain, so no one will be whining. The advanced/expert skier will not be bored. Start your expert adventure at Spanky’s Ladder/Ruby Bowl at Blackcomb for a reality check. This is NOT like many lame ski areas, with inflated black diamond runs (groomed) for the grandma from Iowa to ski. You better bring your A game when you ski Couloir Extreme and don’t forget to set an edge. It’s a long slide.
It is such a big mountain you can hire a tour guide from Extremely Canadian to really get to know the territory, you’ll be blown away! They will show you secret powder runs and steeps that will make you tremble in fear and everything in-between.
Is Whistler or Blackcomb better?
These are two huge mountains. Ski one per day. It’s a waste of time to go back and forth. Many people download to the bottom at the end of the day, but you can ski. Your ticket allows you to ski both and they are both great mountains. Don’t forget to take the Peak Gondola to go from one to another.
I prefer Blackcomb, but I always ski both in multi-day trips. For me, Blackcomb seems to have less people. There also seems to be more diverse terrain. I love all the skiing in or near Blackcomb Bowl. I just like the classic, textbook u-shaped glacial valley with all the associated glacial features; like moraines, couloirs, and cirques. The run at Blackcomb Glacier entrance called Blowhole offers a slightly different formation and snow quality, every time I ski it. It is a uniquely wind and snow sculptured into an ever-changing “barrel” of fun.
The Peak Chair at Whistler can claim similar glacial terrain and challenging lines. You can ski Whistler and Bagel Bowls. Both are large perched cirques with terrific skiing. Do not miss it. I have been on the first dozen chairs there on a big pow day and it was pretty awesome. Another time, I found the wrong line and ended up in a very cliffy area down lower. I was forced to slog far too many upslope, side steps, to weasel my way out of that one. As you know, I am a groomer, green run guy, more comfortable watching people ski from my secure front row seat at the Longhorn Saloon. Another Irish coffee, please.
For the best deal, consider the EDGE card or the Epic Pass. Also, you can get good lodging/ticket deal combinations, which basically duplicate the EDGE card deal, in my experience. Use a variety of Internet searches to get the best deals for lodging. Best bargains are in December and April, no surprise. Some lifts can be closed at those times, so there are tradeoffs. I love April with the long days, great deals and deep snowpack. Ask any local, some of their best powder days are in April.
On the way back, if you've never checked out Vancouver, it's a great city. Check the Elbow Room for breakfast/lunch. Just hope and pray you get the original "soup nazi" guy as your server. Grandville Island, Stanley Park, Yaletown, walk Robson street, so much more. You’ll find some of the best restaurants in the world, especially Asian food. And the Northwest food, with local seafood, is outstanding. There is a cool street with many outdoor stores on it (Broadway). MEC is there and it's their version of REI. The same, but a little different.
Snow Forecast & Report: Whistler Blackcomb
GUIDE: 2017-2018 Epic Pass