For the last 2 years, I kind of had the fortune to try out numerous ski resorts, ranging from those in Japan to several in Utah and Colorado, USA. My first time trying out winter sports was in Pyeongchang, South Korea, specifically in Yongpyong Ski Resort, a venue that would host the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, since the time I got hooked on it, I have honed my skills in Whistler Blackcomb, Cypress and Grouse Mountain, all of which are located around Vancouver. I think amongst all of them, I spent the most hours queueing for the lifts and chairs at Whistler so you can probably say it is my ‘home’ resort of some sorts and I cannot help feeling some sort of attachment towards it. And I wrote a post a few years back mentioning my love for snowboarding in Whistler.
Most skiers will find themselves starting from the Skier’s Plaza where 2 gondola systems will bring them to the mid-mountain levels of the 2 mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. Amongst these 2, I prefer the Whistler gondola that brings me higher up in the mountains, and Whistler is the milder of the 2 mountains, thus more suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers. A reason I dislike the Excalibur Gondola at Blackcomb is that there is almost always a long queue for the Excelerator Express when you disembark from the gondola. And the mountains are the most fun at the summit, which is why it is better to take the Whistler gondola so you do not need to interchange with the chairlifts to get to the top.
Another method to access Blackcomb is actually by using the Peak 2 Peak gondola that connects Roundhouse Lodge (the top of Whistler Gondola) with Rendezvous Lodge (the top of Solar Coaster and Jersey Cream chairlifts. On clear days, the views from the Whistler and Peak 2 Peak gondolas are also worth the longer travel times. As expected, it is not really feasible to cover both Whistler and Blackcomb in a single day. But the amount of terrain means one can do a different run all the time for the whole day. Even after snowboarding in Whistler Blackcomb for a long time, I have not even covered all the runs yet, but then again I am no expert and there are a lot of double black diamonds and cliffs here that ought to satisfy the daredevils!
Let’s start the review with my favourites spots to ski in, namely 7th Heaven and the Symphony Bowl area. These 2 areas have stunning vistas of each other since they overlook one another from Blackcomb and Whistler mountain respectively. To get to 7th Heaven, skiers need to take the green-marked Expressway run from the top of Solar Coaster Express chairlift. And then they need to take the 7th Heaven Express chairlift. This area closes earlier than most and do not open during harsh conditions so check the board at Rendezvous Lodge before proceeding to Expressway.
Once on top, the alpine weather gets more windy and visibility can get poor but the snow here is guaranteed to be plentiful. There are green runs all the way to lead skiers back to Rendezvous but I prefer to snowboard down the blue Panorama and Cloud Nine run back to the bottom of 7th Heaven Express. 7th Heaven is basically the equivalent of a small ski area elsewhere and the snow here is usually one of the best, though runs are somewhat short and the initial tracks can get crowded and flat.
To access Symphony Bowl, ski or snowboard down towards Harmony Express from the top of Emerald Express chairlift which is just a short walk from the top of Whistler gondola. The top of Harmony itself opens out to Glacier Bowl and there is also the Saddle run which is another amazing run that leads back to Roundhouse Lodge. Though I recommend exploring these areas later in the day since Symphony is another area that closes earlier than the rest due to its remote location. Take the green-marked run named Burnt Stew Trail to head to the bottom of Symphony Express and usually I could just spend the better half of a morning in this section alone.
From the top of Symphony Express, my favourite run is perhaps Jeff’s Ode to Joy, as the run progresses from wide bowls to a lower half that criss-crosses between the trees which create for a magical skiing experience. Again, the snow here is plentiful but the exit from this section back to Harmony Express can be quite tiring so make sure you had your fill of this area before exiting via the Burnt Stew Trail. If you miss the last chairlift back on Symphony there is a long hike back so be sure to note the closing times of the chairlifts.
Symphony and 7th Heaven are just but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people’s favourite runs in these 2 huge mountain resorts. The place is just so huge that the resort gave suggestions named as ‘Wonder Routes’ for visitors to take maximize their enjoyment of the mountains, and these 2 areas that I liked are listed inside as well.
Besides the areas I just covered, there are enough variety in the trails and terrains to suit different skiers’ preferences. For those seeking long runs from the summit, there is the Peak to Creek run that leads down to the new Creekside village development, or the Sunset Boulevard run which as the name implies is most beautiful in the closing stages. The latter is also the exit trail should 7th Heaven be closed.
Other classic runs in Whistler which I liked includes the Jersey Cream trail that leads to Crystal Ridge and opens out to Crystal Ridge Express chairlift.For snowboarders into terrain parks, there are a total of 3 park areas with one being sponsored by Nintendo. For speedsters, there is the Dave Murray Downhill run leading all the way into Creekside on Whistler Mountain. And finally for those in between the beginner and intermediate stage, they might want to try out Whiskey Jack from the top of Whistler Gondola that connects to the bottom of Emerald Express to improve their skills. Even for beginners it is easy to go down all the way to the village via the green-marked Olympic run at the bottom of Emerald Express. So snowboarders who are not yet proficient could take the gondola all the way.
It is because of the versatility that the mountain provides to various types of skiers and snowboarders that brings its universal appeal, and the variety of terrain never ceases to satisfy me every time I head back to Whistler. Furthermore with the ski resort continuously upgrading, I find myself enjoying it every time I return.
On the food and beverage side, there are 3 main lodges in the mid-mountain that would have the largest dining space. Roundhouse Lodge is located at the top of Whistler Gondola, Rendezvous Lodge is located by the top of Solar Coaster and the Peak-2-Peak gondola ferries passengers between these 2 lodges. The other major lodge is the Glacier Creek lodge which is located at the base of the Jersey Cream and Glacier Express in the Blackcomb side. There are some variations in the food they serve and if I remember correctly, Roundhouse Lodge should be the most complete with Asian selections and a variety of sandwiches and salads. There are also full service restaurants if you want a more relaxed meal inside the Rendezvous and Roundhouse Lodge so by all accounts you would not probably go hungry but finding a space and queueing for food can take a while especially between noon and 1pm. My favourites to eat while in Whistler are usually the french fries with a side of gravy, a bowl of chili or their soup selections. Other times skiers might get a free cookie at certain times at Rendezvous or Roundhouse lodge.
Apart from the major lodges, there are some smaller eateries on the mountain including Crystal Hut, Horstman Hut, Raven’s Nest and Chic Pea. The former 2 are in Blackcomb at the top of Crystal Ridge and 7th Heaven respectively while the latter 2 are in Whistler at the top of Creekside gondola and Garbanzo respectively. Crystal Hut serves a pretty nice waffles which is great to enjoy on the patio during spring time!
Other amenities in the major lodges are some entertainment area for kids supplied by Nintendo, charging station for mobile phones courtesy of Telus, and glove warmers! Throughout winter and spring, there are also multiple events and performances on the mountains and in the village. During winter, there is the Fire & Ice show every sunday in Skiers’ Plaza and in spring time, the concerts and the festivals are always great after a day on the slopes.
Maybe because I have been here so many times, I am somewhat familiar with the runs and ski areas, and thus have also enjoyed the powder days and the not-so-good days. The great part of Whistler is the number of runs, meaning it is very unlikely you go down the same path again if you just have a day, and then there is the numerous activities to enjoy after skiing in the village so reserve some energy for that. The downside is the resort is crowded and sometimes waits for gondola and popular chairlifts (Emerald Express, Excelerator, Big Red Express, Harmony Express, and Solar Coaster) can be quite a pain, while the rain can dampen the mood especially when the ice becomes hard packed and slippery at the bottom. As a whole ski vacation package though, I can say that there is no other resort that matches it just yet, and that is why I still come back year after year.