EPIC ski trip: First stop is Whistler Blackcomb
Read about the planning for the trip:
Facts and stats: Whistler and Blackcomb
The resorts are situated on neighbouring mountains, offering more than 200 marked runs across 8171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls and three glaciers combined.
The average annual snowfall is 1181cm. The snow base record for Whistler Mountain was 504cm set in 1973/74.
- Highest lift-accessed elevation: 2284 metres (7,494 feet).
- Whistler Village Elevation: 675 metres (2,214 feet).
- Creekside Base Elevation: 653 metres (2,140 feet). (We have an airbnb studio flat in Creekside.)
- Number of Lifts: 37
- Lift Capacity: 69,939 skiers per hour.
- 17 mountain Restaurants
- Vertical: 1530 metres (5,020 feet).
- Top elevation: 2182 metres (7,160 feet).
- Longest Run: 11km Peak to Creek
- Skiable terrain: 4,757 acres (1,925 hectares).
- Terrain type (beginner/intermediate/advanced): 20%/55%/25%.
- Trails: 100+.
- Parks & pipes: 2 parks.
- Total Number of lifts: 19 (plus PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola) including: 2 high-speed gondolas, 1 high-speed 6-pack, 6 high-speed quads, 2 triple chairs, 8 surface lifts.
- Lift capacity: 36,148 skiers per hour.
- Mountain restaurants: 9
- Snowmaking: 315 acres (127 hectares).
- Vertical: 1609 metres (5,280 feet).
- Top elevation: 2284 metres (7,494 feet).
- Longest run: 11 kilometres, Green Road down Easy Out
- Skiable terrain: 3,414 acres (1,382 hectares).
- Terrain type (beginner/intermediate/advanced): 20%/50%/30%.
- Trails: 100+.
- Parks & pipes: 3 parks, 1 super pipe, 1 snow cross track.
- Total number of lifts: 17 (plus PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola) including: 1 high-speed gondola, 7 high-speed quads, 2 triple chairs, 7 surface lifts.
- Lift capacity: 33,791 skiers per hour.
- Mountain restaurants: 9
- Snowmaking: 382 acres (156 hectares).
Four days at Whistler
It is difficult to grasp the stats until you are in the resort. Whistler is huge! Everywhere you look, while on the fast-moving gondolas and chairlifts, there is skiable terrain.
As well as the marked ski runs, almost every inch of the landscape in between offers the opportunity for skiing.
There is plenty of skiing for all abilities although I would say this resort better suits intermediate to advanced skiers. (However, there is still plenty spread across the two mountains to suit skiers who prefer easier green and blue groomers.)
Join a free ski tour
The best way to familiarise yourself with the mountains is to join the free ski host tour. There is a daily tour on the Whistler mountain and on the Blackcomb mountain.
The Whistler tour starts at 11.30am (be there at 11.15am) from beside the large lit up ski resort map near the gondola top station (top of the Big Red Express) and in front of the Roundhouse Lodge. You’ll see the ski hosts dressed in brown.
For the Blackcomb tour, you meet at the same time at the top of the New Blackcomb Gondola, or after departing the Peak to Peak gondola between Whistler mountain and Blackcomb mountain.
The skiers are divided into ability groups and then the ski host takes you on a whistlestop tour of the mountain. They have to stick to the pisted runs but our host – Tony – showed us tons of options for off-piste skiing just off the edge of numerous runs.
He pointed out skiable bowls, gladed runs, moguls and more over more than two hours of fast-paced skiing. The hosts are volunteers who receive a season pass in return for their free guiding. It’s an excellent service and one I recommend.
On Blackcomb Mountain, Paul offered the same type of tour and showed us all the great locations for skiing both on and off-piste.
Other tips for Whistler ski resort
Cheaper accommodation: Whistler is not a cheap resort and it has a reputation for being a ski destination of the rich and famous. At first glance, all accommodation was expensive.
However, a search on Airbnb revealed some cheaper options and we ended up in a well-appointed studio apartment in Creekside, the lower village at Whistler.
Creekside is small but has everything you need for a ski base, including a supermarket, pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, petrol station and a gondola station that takes you straight up on to Whistler mountain.
The pub, Roland’s, close to our accommodation offered brilliant hospitality, superb food and cheaper drinks than most other places on the mountain.
Take a bus to Whistler: A municipal bus service operates between Creekside and Whistler village. It’s CAN$2.50 each way. Catch bus number 20. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
We enjoyed an evening in Whistler village, which is far larger than Creekside and has much more choice of places to eat, drink and shop.
Check out the origins of the ski run names: There are some great ski run names, such as Burnt Stew, McConkey’s, Franz’s Run, Jimmy’s Joker and the Dave Murray Downhill. There is a reason and history for most of these names. Find out more.
It’s not ice as we know it: Icy slopes to Europeans is ice (really scary blue-clear ice!), but when the Canadians mention icy slopes I think it’s fair to say they are talking about hard-packed snow.
Although there was little fresh snow in Whistler while we were there, the slopes were in great condition and there were only a few vaguely icy bits.
Learn the ski gradings: Ski runs in Canada and America are graded green, blue, black single diamond and black double diamond. There is no red grading.
Blue seems like a red to me, or somewhere between a blue and red in the European grades.
The black runs are often steep and include lots of moguls. I am not an advanced skier but I manage to ski black runs, both single diamond and, occasionally, double black diamond.
When you are heading into an area of “expert only” skiing, you do need to be confident and have the ability to make quick turns in steep mogul fields.
Take the Peak to Peak gondola: This gondola links Whistler Mountain with Blackcomb Mountain and it is an event in itself. It traverses high above an amazing valley.
Every so often there is a gondola car with a window in the base. A clock tells you when the next gondola with a clear base will come along. We waited for one and enjoyed (Type 2 enjoyment) seeing just how high above the ground we really were!
See through the cloud: Whistler does not always have the best weather – or so we were told – and the mountains can be covered in cloud. On day 2, looking upwards from Creekside it appeared that we would be skiing in a whiteout all day.
But we decided to take the gondola up the mountain anyway. By the time we got out of the gondola, we were above the cloud.
Throughout the day, we skied in cloud, below cloud and above cloud. The cloud actually added to the atmosphere of the resort and provided the most stunning views.
Make the most of early lift closures: Although the lifts do shut around 3pm to 3.30pm from December to February, it often means that the slopes are virtually empty later on.
Take a last lift to the top of the mountain and then ski back down on slopes and via off-piste bowls with hardly another person in sight.
Be aware of “family day”: Canada has a “family day” holiday in February and this means that many people take advantage of a long weekend for skiing. The slopes are much busier on this weekend.
However, the week before the Family Day weekend when we were in Whistler is much quieter. We rarely joined a queue for an uplift and so many times we had open slopes almost to ourselves.
Challenge yourself (if you want to): There is plenty to challenge even the most expert skier in Whistler. Hubby G can rarely let a steep slope pass him by and as soon as he saw the double black diamond Couloir Extreme Wall I knew he would give it a go.
I wish I had the guts to do the same but I still found lots of off-piste black diamond slopes to challenge myself, too.
Stay for longer: We reckon we could easily spend two weeks in Whistler exploring all the runs and the in-bounds off-piste skiing. We chatted to skiers who said there is plenty of back country to explore on touring skis, too.
Stay for as long as you possibly can. I don’t think you will get bored.
Buy an EPIC Pass: If you plan to ski the EPIC Pass resorts for more than a week it makes sense to buy a season’s pass, but buy it early when there is a decent discount available. Whistler is just one of many resorts covered by the EPIC pass.
Next stop: Revelstoke.