Touching down in Vancouver I’m immediately overwhelmed with the fact that this is one of the most beautiful, most diverse, and most magnetic (and was just again ranked the most expensive) cities in North America. I love traveling in Canada. It was also refreshing to feel like the pandemic era was well in the rearview mirror.
To me Vancouver has a Barcelona type vibe, walkable, quick but laid back, an abundance of amazing small food vendors and boutiques, with access to both ocean and mountains. I really wanted to rent a high rise apartment for a month and hang out and do some yoga classes and explore the coast.
But I had skiing to do: Three days of dedicated high alpine skiing, and a little bit of five-star relaxing thrown in for good measure, just two hours from the city at the largest ski resort in North America…Whistler Blackcomb.
Whistler is located on the unceded, shared traditional territories of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation and Lil̓wat7úl (Lil’wat) Nation, and if you haven’t heard, the area is consistently ranked among the world’s top skiing, biking and golf resort towns. All visitors are encouraged to visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre for an opportunity to respectfully learn about these lands, their people and culture. Whistler is nestled in the spectacular Coast Mountains, a scenic two-hour drive basically due north of Vancouver. On the road in, you’ll pass through Squamish, another super special coastal mountain town renowned for its trails and history in freeride mountain biking. It’s spectacular.
Whistler offers distinctive natural beauty and wildlife, epic skiing, arguably the world’s best mountain bike park, and an almost limitless array of activities including ziplining, hiking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, Nordic and biathlon courses, and bobsleigh experiences. It was also the Host Mountain Resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Together, Whistler and Blackcomb form the largest ski area in North America at 8,171 acres (33 km2) with more than 200 runs, linked by a breathtaking gondola ride, also the longest span in NA. One of the greatest things about the potential for a trip here from the U.S. is that it’s owned and operated by Vail Resorts, so you can head up and use your Epic pass without a second thought (and enjoy that currency exchange rate while you’re at it). The numbers speak for themselves: one vertical mile drop; two side-by-side mountains connected by a pedestrian village; more than 200 trails; three glaciers; 37 lifts; and 16 alpine bowls. The mountains look vast, with steeps, chutes, bowls, glades, superb corduroy on long cruisers, high alpine, and gentle rollers, but everything from the base area bars and boutiques to the high rocky peaks are easily accessible by lift and by foot. Of note, over the past decade Whistler Blackcomb has received an average of 10.8 metres (35.5 ft) of snow a year — supported by an extensive snowmaking infrastructure that ensures increased snow coverage in the early and late season, and boosts the quality and coverage of our snow all winter long.
The walkable village is classic and lovely: annual food, sports, music and arts festivals abound, and the intimate village offers a city-sized selection of accommodations, shops, restaurants, cafés, bars and spas. Whistler attracts adventurous travelers from around the world. This place is magnetic. From the breathtaking alpine playground to the endless options of the Village, its diverse offering of rugged West Coast beauty, passionate community, and selection of experiences mean that no two visits are alike.
One of the other really cool things about flying in and out of Vancouver International Airport is that you clear customs at the airport. Meaning when you land it’s like a domestic arrival and you don’t have to deal with 1000 people on their way back from Cancun; you just stroll to baggage claim and get on your way back to your normal, tortuous, boring life somewhere that’s not Whistler.
A Unique Kind of Ski Lesson
Extremely Canadian is an integrated adventure travel company with a focus on unique, challenging and rewarding ski experiences. Extremely Canadian offers steep ski clinics in conjunction with Whistler Blackcomb. It hosts exclusive guided ski trips worldwide and plans customized vacations for individuals and groups.
For anyone keen to take on a big mountain adventure, Extremely Canadian’s ski and snowboard clinics will maximize what the Coast Mountains have to offer. Take one of their highly sought after Steep Skiing Clinics to unveil untouched powder, chutes you didn’t know existed, and access the technical skills to challenge tough terrain. Select from one or two-day clinics led by an instructor skilled at placing students in classes appropriate to their skill level and ensure everyone is charging lines they didn’t know they could. If you want the mountain to yourself with a guide, private clinics are also available. Extremely Canadian also offers avalanche skills training, technical education for crevasse and glacier travel, and big mountain awareness classes.
We quickly realized that there is nothing to joke about when it comes to skiing with these guides. But they’re more than guides, they are also instructors, and they will push you. Canadian guides truly seem to be the nicest yet most understated hardcore folks I ever get to interact with through my work in the mountains, and their unique in-bounds program here in Whistler is part expert lesson, two parts extreme terrain guide.
In many ways the in-resort skiing is the better option anyway for a short trip because you get right to it. You ski more, are safe from unregulated mountain hazards, and the terrain in-bounds is just as breathtaking and extreme as anything in the coast range you could access by foot or snowmobile.
A Stay at the Fairmont Chateau Slopeside on Whistler-Blackcomb
An all-season resort destination, The Fairmont Chateau Whistler hotel offers a seamless blend of year-round adventure and unsurpassed guest service for business or pleasure. But most importantly: ski-in / ski-out, with ski valet and overnight heated boot storage. I found this to be one of the most pleasant, best appointed, clean, accessible, and friendly hotels I’ve ever stayed at.
The mountainside classic elegance of this award-winning Whistler hotel offers a modern alpine setting featuring exceptional dining, full resort amenities, a Vida Spa, and for both families and luxury travelers, Fairmont Gold is Fairmont’s exclusive lifestyle hotel experience. The rental shop Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Products downstairs at the Chateau is literally the best set up and most convenient, helpful, high-end rental shop I’ve ever dealt with.
There’s truly nothing like soaking in natural outdoor hotsprings while the snow falls down around you. And this one is done right: silent, clean, easy to make your way around and feel comfortable. Set within a spruce and cedar forest, overlooking Whistler’s mountain vistas, this 20,000 square foot outdoor day spa is a Nordic-inspired oasis of calm
in the heart of nature. To make everyone’s experience equal and pleasant, silence is mandatory on the spa grounds, and the utter and complete quiet is one of the things that makes this place so unique. Allow at least two hours to follow the recommended cycle of hot / cold / relax to soothe tired muscles, purge toxins and restore circulation. Hot cycles take place in eucalyptus steam rooms, outdoor hot baths, Finnish wood burning saunas and dry saunas.
Cold cycles are bracing but a necessary step to achieving the full benefits of this hydrotherapy experience, as refreshing Nordic waterfalls, rain showers and cold plunges set the stage for total rejuvenation. The final stage of rest offers choice of lounging peacefully in your robe beside an outdoor firepit, in one of the solariums, in a quiet room in front of the fireplace, or in the new, fully-stocked multipurpose yoga studio. There are also complementary apples and a full coffee shop upstairs in the lobby/lounge. Who knew that a little downtime could be the highlight of a visit to Whistler.
What We Wore
Columbia Sportswear is one of the most unassuming and versatile global apparel brands ever created. Their scope and commitment to people getting outdoors, from backyard picnics to the Olympics, is staggering. And because of their less heralded dedication to supporting guides and athletes around the world, they’ve been able to get out in real testing with product testers, brand leaders, media and ambassadors who work on new product development each season.
In the U.S. ,Columbia is often first considered an every-man’s brand, and deservedly and purposely so. The brand has been a “gateway to unlock the outdoors…from park to peak,” since 1938, they said. But it is also used by many exclusive guiding operators around the world, especially with the Titanium line. And believe me, if it’s good enough for Extremely Canadian, it will be good enough for you.
Bearfoot Bistro (adjacent to the Listel Hotel in the village) is the resort’s premier fine dining restaurant. Enjoy a spectacular meal created by award winning Executive Chef Melissa Craig, try your hand at sabering a bottle of Champagne in the 20,000-bottle wine cellar and visit the Ketel One Ice Room: the coldest vodka tasting room in the world. Take a seat at the pewter bar in the Champagne Lounge with a spectacular rail of ice designed to hold and keep your glass of Champagne perfectly chilled while enjoying fresh oysters shucked before your eyes. The Bearfoot Bistro team believes beautiful food and great wine shared with friends and family is always a celebration, from live music to table side ice cream, their team creates your perfect experience, for après, dinner or late night cocktails.
Down the lane at Sushi Village, you’ll find a more casual yet vibrant atmosphere, incredible sushi, and legendary sake margaritas. Have you ever had a two-hour time limit on a table at a restaurant? Well you’ll quickly understand why this policy is necessary, as Sushi Village is as famous in some circles as the world-class ski resort itself. Sushi Village is as much a social experience as it is a dining one. Visitors and locals alike repeatedly make the trip to what has become an icon of the Whistler scene.
–Photography in this story was provided by Whistler Blackcomb/VR, Scandinave Spa, Fairmont, and Columbia Sportswear. Follow author Aaron Bible @definitelywild for more related content and adventure.