Learn how to best navigate the mountains at North America’s largest ski resort, whether you’re a ski and snowboard pro or novice.
As the biggest ski area in North America, Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia can be intimidating to first-time visitors. Located two hours from Vancouver by bus or car, the megaresort is home to the alpine ski events of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Happily, it is user-friendly, providing free guides for anyone who stares up at the twin peaks of Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain and wonders where to start.
Until this year, skiers and riders had to choose to ski one mountain or the other each day. Whistler and Blackcomb have a total of 8,171 skiable acres and a mile of vertical descent, so cruising from top to bottom on either mountain takes time. Visitors used to take a green (beginner) connector trail at the base in order to ascend the other mountain.
No longer. Starting Dec. 12, 2008, Whistler introduces the Peak 2 Peak gondola, a two-mile, 11-minute horizontal journey that joins the two mountains not far from their crests. Peak 2 Peak can move 4,100 people per hour in its 28-passenger cabins. Two cabins will have glass bottoms, so those not prone to vertigo can gaze at Fitzsimmons Creek 1,427 feet below.
Thus, groups with skiers and boarders of different ability levels can cross from one mountain to the other and meet for lunch at a spot such as Christine’s, the fine-dining restaurant within Blackcomb’s popular Rendezvous Lodge. They can ski a few runs together, then go their separate ways, all in the same day.
Newcomers who want a few hours of orientation should take the free 90-minute tour of either mountain. On Blackcomb, follow signs to “mountain hosts” once you exit the Solar Coaster express lift; on Whistler, look for signs after exiting the Whistler Village Gondola. Waiting to meet you are knowledgeable guides in red-and-white parkas who will show you some of the resorts’ 200 trails.
Experienced hands say that Blackcomb is the more difficult mountain. However, there is plenty of intermediate terrain on Blackcomb, much of it in the form of wide boulevards that lead to one of the mountain’s high-speed chairlifts. There is also glacier skiing above the tree line on Blackcomb, where Europeans say they get the same feeling as being in the Alps.
Whistler Mountain may be the more gentle of the two overall, but for experts its appeal is its steeps, including the sites of both the Olympic men’s and women’s downhill and super G race events. The Dave Murray Downhill run will bet the setting for the men’s downhill event, while Franz’s run will be the women’s course. Both are accessible from the base village via the Creekside Gondola and the Big Red Express.
The weather can be overcast. When there is poor visibility, the lower elevation runs of either mountain can be foggy while mid-mountain trails have windows of clear light. When the sun is out, advanced skiers and riders head for 7th Heaven or the Blackcomb glacier areas. Each is a mini ski area all by itself. Heaven has easy as well as difficult runs, including wide cruisers with great views of the surrounding hills. Those going to the glaciers should be advanced enough to be comfortable on ungroomed and black diamond (difficult) trails.
On Whistler Mountain, intermediates love the wide groomed runs below the Roundhouse Lodge, off the Whistler Village gondola. The Peak express chair takes you to the tippy top (7,100 feet) where the intermediate Peak-to-Creek run will make even the most enthusiastic thighs burn. Advanced boarders and freestylers can head for the Nintendo terrain park on Blackcomb. Novices and intermediates typically start at the Terrain Garden on Blackcomb or Habitat on Whistler.
Always bring goggles—the light can get very flat quickly. Everyone in a group should carry a cell phone, so when someone gets separated on these supersized hills, you’ll be able to re-connect. Finally, children who don’t want to stay with their elders might enjoy the special kids and teens ski or snowboard classes.
This year there is a silver lining to the financial crunch. The U.S. dollar has strengthened against the Canadian “loonie,” making British Columbia an excellent deal for Americans. As of Nov. 25, one Canadian dollar was worth 81 cents in U.S. currency. The result: Lift tickets and lodging are 20 percent cheaper here than a year ago.
Once you’re in Whistler Village—a bustling, mostly pedestrian town with a slew of great restaurants, shops, hotels and condos—walking paths and free shuttle buses take you quickly between your lodging, shops, restaurants and entrances to lifts.
For more information, call 866-218-9690, or visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com.
Themes: Mountain Vacations
Peak 2 Peak opening day You can check out Randal Shirley's video of Peak 2 Peak on opening day on Dec.12th. Wish I as there! %20Resorts%202008.html
Master the Slopes at Whistler Very nice article, informative, practical, and, if I may say, tidy. The writer does an excellent job of capturing and transmitting to readers the spirit and vastness of Whistler/Blackcomb. Certainly a signal expansion such as the Peak 2 Peak gondola deserves publicizing. This article gets my juices flowing to re-sample the offerings of a great resort, now that it has apparently solved the problem of transportation between the two mountains.
Succinct overview! A great overview that hits the highpoints of a great ski resort! The peak2peak chair should be a fabulous additon!
I didn't knowall that Very useful and NEW information on old standy, More, pleae!
splendid article As usual, Grace Lichtenstein tells you everything you need to know: an elegant and thorough reporting job.
Ski more mountain I’m excited about the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, this should be a fantastic addition. I’ve skied Whistler/Blackcomb and it is awesome. There are so many trails to choose from. One of my favorites is Peak to Creek - 3.4 miles long and a decent of 5,000ft. Skiing it without stopping burns your legs! The trail ends up in Creekside – the perfect spot to get a well earned beer at Dusty’s. We put our daughter in the daycare at Creekside (then only 9 months) and they did a fantastic job.