|There is only
one ski resort along the Sea to Sky Highway, but it is none other
than the world-renowned Whistler Blackcomb
Ski Resort, consistently rated the top ski resort destination
in North America and the venue, with Vancouver, for the Vancouver
2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding - Whistler
Whistler Mountain (elevation 7,160 feet/2182 m) and Blackcomb
(elevation 7,494 feet/2284 m) competed with each other for two decades
before merging in the spring of 1997. Competition between the two
led to their status in the minds (and hearts) of many skiers and snowboarders
as the premier North American winter resorts. Their union merely confirmed
the impression that, for most visitors, Whistler
is a seamless valley. You can just as easily explore one mountain
as the other. Each offers a complimentary perspective on its companion
and each has a loyal following of ski and snowboard devotees.
The best answer to the question 'which is best?' is that when you're
in heaven, it doesn't matter which side of the street you walk on.
Both have been around long enough (Whistler since 1965, Blackcomb
since 1980) to have developed trails over a combined total of 7,071
acres (2,862 hectares) that over the seasons have been shaped, groomed,
and gladed to hold snow and reduce obstacles.
Some of the lengthier trails on Whistler Mountain include the Dave
Murray Downhill, one of the world's premier downhill race courses,
and Franz's, named for Franz Wilhelmsen, one of the founders
of the Garibaldi Lift Company, who originally developed the trails
on Whistler. Over on Blackcomb, Couloir Extreme and Blackcomb
Glacier are two of the more renowned runs, both of which originate
in the high alpine region of the mountain. Each year more runs are
added. Even for those who have spent many years visiting the two mountains,
constant change makes each new season seem like the first.
hosts World Cup ski and snowboard races at the beginning of the
season, while Blackcomb is the site of World Cup freestyle competition
in early January. (One of the novelties of summer is to watch freestyle
skiers practise their routines at the foot of Blackcomb in a specially
designed outdoor swimming pool.) Both mountains share a common statistic:
an average annual snowfall of 30 feet (9 m).
A total of
3 gondolas, 18 chairlifts, and 12 surface lifts ascend both mountains
from three separate locations in Whistler. Creekside (elevation
2,140 feet/653 m), at the south end of town, is the site of the
original Garibaldi Lift Company operation. The Creekside gondola
runs up the west side of Whistler Mountain to Midstation (elevation
4,265 feet/1,300 m). From here, skiers and snowboarders make their
way higher up the mountain on the Orange and Big Red Express chairlifts
or head back downhill to either Creekside or Whistler Village. From
the heart of the Whistler Village (elevation 2,215 feet/675 m) the
Excalibur gondola links with the Excelerator Express chairlift on
Blackcomb, while the Whistler Village gondola runs to Olympic Station
at midmountain (elevation 3,346 feet/1003 m) and continues up the
north side of Whistler Mountain to Pika's and the Roundhouse (elevation
6,069 feet/1850 m).
The Wizard Express quad-chair runs from the Blackcomb Day Lodge
in the Upper Village (elevation 2,247 feet/685 m) and connects with
the Solar Coaster Express quad-chair to take skiers, snowboarders,
and sightseers to the Rendezvous Lodge (elevation 6,102 feet/1860
m). A high-speed quad chair called The Peak carries skiers to the
summit in less than 4 minutes. All lifts from the village connect
with a multitude of lifts higher up each mountain, allowing skiers
and snowboarders to fan out across the slopes. The longest lineups
are at the base of the mountains. The farther uphill you go, the
more dispersed the crowds become, and lineups predictably shrink.
T-bars and chairlifts transport skiers and snowboarders to the summit
of each mountain.
It takes 30-60
minutes riding a combination of interconnecting gondolas and/or chairlifts
to reach the upper slopes of each mountain from its base. If conditions
permit, you can easily spend that much time making your way to the
bottom. Snow-making equipment installed on lower slopes helps maintain
an adequate covering so that, with the exception of the beginning
and end of the winter season, you should be able to reach the bottom
without downloading on one of the lifts. One caution: During mild
weather, icy conditions may persist at lower elevations. Unless you
have razor-sharp edges and energy to burn, download rather than ski
out at the end of the day. As attractive as the idea of skiing or
snowboarding on both mountains in a single day may be, in reality
you'll spend more time riding lifts than you will enjoying the outdoors.
Better to explore one mountain per day and savour every moment you
Whistler Blackcomb's world-record-breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola is an incredible feat of engineering
that connects Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. As the gondola glides
quietly out of its station at Whistler Mountain's Roundhouse into
the spectacular vista, Whistler Village is off to the left and the
mountains to the right. The real treat comes when you slide over
the top of the ride's second tower and head down the cable's gentle
slope as it sags onto its 3-km unsupported, world-record span. The
view opens up to reach kilometres down past the village to Alta
Lake and the valley, and you can stare 436 metres down to Fitzimmons
creek below. Riding the Peak 2 Peak is included in the price of
a lift pass.
One of the best
introductions to each mountain is provided by Whistler's Mountain
Ambassadors and Blackcomb's Mountain Hosts. Stop by guest relations
at Blackcomb's Daylodge, Rendezvous Lodge, or Glacier Creek Lodge,
or the Whistler Village gondola station, the Creekside gondola station,
or the Guest Satisfaction Centre on Whistler Mountain to arrange
for a complimentary guided tour. Local volunteers will lead you
around the mountain and introduce you to runs that suit your abilities.
It's a good way to get an insider's look at the mountains and to
learn more about Whistler in general. Whistler Mountain has slightly
more terrain developed for beginners than Blackcomb (20 percent
versus 15 percent). Both mountains devote about 55 percent of their
trails to intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders, with the remainder
considered the domain of the expert (25 percent on Whistler, 30
percent on Blackcomb).
have special areas set aside for snowboarders. Blackcomb
was the first of the two mountains to welcome snowboarding, and
as a result maintains more appeal for younger boarders. Glacier
ice still cloaks the peaks of both mountains, but Blackcomb's is
much larger. Come summer, skiing and snowboarding carries on without
a pause right through August on the Blackcomb glacier. What sets
Whistler Mountain apart from Blackcomb is its series of wide alpine
bowls: Bagel, West, Whistler, Harmony, Symphony, Sun, and Burnt
Stew Bowls define the upper reaches of the mountain. Because they
are tucked away at high altitude it's difficult to appreciate their
magnificence from the valley. Lessons
and rentals can be arranged at the day lodges of both mountains.
In addition, there is a proliferation of rental shops throughout
Lessons and rentals can be arranged at the day lodges of both mountains.
In addition, there is a proliferation of rental shops throughout
Whistler Village. The best bargain on lift tickets is a five-day
and Heli-Skiing - Whistler and Pemberton
Snow-cat Skiing: Those with an aversion to flight, snow-cat
skiing and snowboarding can get you into the untracked backcountry
just as effectively as heli-skiing and snowboarding. Cat-Skiing
Heli-skiing and Snowboarding can also be arranged in Whistler.
The deep blue sky, calm conditions and comfortable temperatures
enhance the great powder experience of heli-skiing Whistler and
Blackcomb Mountains. This ultimate skiing and snowboarding experience
is no longer the preserve of expert skiers, with new fat boy powder
skis and refined snowboards making it possible for intermediates
to float on the powder and delight in the amazing experience of
heli-skiing. Heli-Skiing in Whistler
and Blackcomb Mountains
Cross-Country Skiing and Other Winter Activities - Whistler
Cross-country skiing in Whistler is all about relaxation. There's
no pressure to get in line because there are no lineups. There are
several styles of cross-country trails around Whistler. The Valley
Trail is a designated winter ski trail. You don't have to worry
about any errant golf balls heading your way during this season,
either. This mostly level loop route runs for almost 10 miles (16
km) and passes many of Whistler's neighbourhoods and Lost Lake.
The trail can be accessed from any number of places, including the
Whistler Golf Course on Hwy 99 in Whistler Village, the Meadow Park
Sports Centre on Hwy 99 in Alpine Meadows, and Rainbow Park on Alta
Lake Road. The Valley Trail also passes through Lost Lake.
(29-km) network of packed and tracked trails around Lost Lake
is easily located. Just drive into Whistler Village on Village Gate
Boulevard and turn left onto Blackcomb Way, then right into the
parking lot directly across from the municipal offices and medical
clinic. This is where the trail to Lost Lake begins. Shortly after
starting out, you will come to a log chalet, where you must pay
a fee for use of the Lost Lake trails. Skiing around the lake will
take a quick 60 to 90 minutes. The selection of approaches ranges
from beginner to expert, marked like downhill runs.
Lost Lake often
freezes in a way that makes it appear still to be open water. The
wind sweeps the snow into small drifts that look like whitecaps.
The setting sun reflects pink off the clouds onto the icy surface
below. An added bonus is that night skiing is also possible at Lost
Lake on the 2.5-mile (4-km) Lost Lake Loop Trail.
There are several
other locations near Whistler where cross-country skiers head. At
the north end of Green Lake on the west side of Hwy 99, the road
up 16-Mile Creek to Cougar Mountain is used by snowmobilers,
with advantages for skiers too. This is also a particularly good
place to snowshoe in dry and powdery conditions.
Watch for cars
pulled off at places like the Callaghan Lake Road or Brandywine
Mountain Forest Road, about 3 miles (5 km) south of Whistler
on the west side of Hwy 99. These are ungroomed roads in winter
and are quickly packed down by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers,
which often share the same route. The Mad River Nordic Centre is
located in the upper part of the Callaghan Valley and offers hut-to-hut
snow touring in spring months on groomed trails.
Snowmobiling is many things, including noisy, but in Whistler
one thing's for certain: it's big. For years the Showh Lakes Forestry
Road has been the winter location for Whistler Snowmobile Guided
Tours. Snowmobiles can be rented in Squamish
or in Whistler.
Dogsledding: Experience the wilds of Whistlers’ backcountry
by dogsled. Let the Mushers and the team of Alaskan Husky sled dogs
take you on a trip through the Cougar Mountain wilderness by one
of the most ancient forms of travel in the world. At the trailhead
you will meet the Musher and his team of Sled dogs. After an informative
orientation of the dogs and sleds, you will be driven by your Musher
deep into the backcountry of Cougar Mountain. During your trip you
will be treated to a complete interpretation of the surroundings,
along with a traditional Canadian snack and drink. You will also
have the opportunity to experience driving the dogsled with your
Snowshoeing: If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Some of the
most inviting trails in Whistler are those in the forest surrounding
Olympic Station on Whistler Mountain. Rentals and guided tours,
including evening outings on Blackcomb, can be arranged. Enjoy the
peaceful silence of the forest under a blanket of fresh snow. Learn
and see the wildlife activity that abounds throughout the winter.
Tours are intended to be comfortable and relaxing, focusing on enjoyment
of the outdoors.
Paragliding is certainly the most graceful way to make a descent
of a mountain. There's only one bump to contend with, and that's
when you touch down. Paragliding is a long-standing tradition on
Blackcomb Mountain's Seventh Heaven zone.
When it's cold enough, out come the snow shovels to clear a place
for ice skating on Alta Lake in Whistler. Head for Rainbow Park
on Alta Lake Road to find it (and don't forget your shovel). During
the colder winter months you can lace up your skates and head to
any one of the five lakes in the valley. If indoor skating is more
your style, head to Whistler's Meadow Park Sports Centre
for some skating fun that is geared towards the entire family. Skate
rentals are available.
Sleigh rides in whistler put the jingle bells into outdoor winter
Skiing and Other Winter Activities - Sea to Sky Highway
As soon as the snow begins to fall at higher elevations around Squamish,
cross-country skiers head for Diamond Head in Garibaldi
Provincial Park. Chances are that, beginning in late October
and lasting through May, you will find snow covering the 7-mile
(11-km), intermediate-level route that runs from the trailhead at
the 3,000-foot (900-m) level to the cabin at Elfin Lakes
(4,900 feet/1485 m). Allow four hours to make the trek one way.
Bring your skins, as it's a steady uphill for the first three hours
as far as Paul Ridge before the trail levels and then makes a gradual
descent to Elfin Lakes. If you're just here for a day trip, the
day shelter at Red Heather Meadow, a 2-mile (3-km) climb,
may be as far as you wish to go, whereas continuing up the trail
to the Elfin Lakes is more appropriate for an overnight excursion.
is also the approach to a vast backcountry region in the southwest
corner of the park. Skiers should come prepared for sudden changes
in weather. Diamond Head is the southern terminus of the Garibaldi
Neve Traverse, a classic 26-mile (42-km) ski trek to Garibaldi Lake.
Although this tour has many extended moderate sections, do not attempt
it without a guide experienced in glacier travel.
fresh snow, stop at Brandywine Falls Provincial
Park for some ungroomed, cross-country trekking. You'll have
to cut your own track in to Swim Lake from the parking lot
but the rewards are worth it. Follow the trail markers intended
for summer hikers. This isn't a long trek, about 2 miles (3 km)
return. Crossing the bridge over Brandywine Creek is an adventure
in itself, especially if the snowpack is so deep that you ski at
the same height as the top railing. Pause in the shelter of a cedar
grove at lakeside to admire the Black Tusk, gone white with snow.
From there, retrace your tracks to Brandywine Creek and head along
the trail to the falls. Cross the BC Rail tracks and ski a short
distance to the observation platform beside Brandywine Falls.
In winter, the sound of Brandywine Creek tumbling onto the exposed
boulders below is remarkably similar to that of a jet streaking
high in the sky above. All this glory, and you may have the place
to yourself, too.
A gentle cross-country
route runs between Brandywine Falls Provincial Park and the whistle
stop of McGuire near the Cal-Cheak Forest Service Recreation
Site. From Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, the trail follows a
BC Hydro access road to McGuire (population: 1) near the Forest
Service's Cal-Cheak campground. This 5-mile (8-km) round
trip is perfect for a smooth bit of cruising, a genuinely relaxing
stretch past frozen pothole lakes with the sight of the Black Tusk
on high. To find the trail, turn left immediately after crossing
the bridge over Brandywine Creek from the parking lot in Brandywine
Fall Provincial Park. (Swim Lake and the falls lie to the right.)
You'll have to do a short bit of hill climbing at the outset before
reaching the level part of the trail. Inexperienced skiers should
be very cautious when descending this hill on the return journey:
bend the knees, mind the trees.
There are no ski resorts in the Pemberton/Lillooet area, but Pemberton
is only 23.5 miles (38 km) north of the world renowned Whistler
Blackcomb Ski Resort in Whistler,
so there is no shortage of world-class downhill skiing and snowboarding
in the area.
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing - Pemberton and Lillooet
Whistler grabs all the press for winter sports in the Sea to
Sky corridor, leaving the region between Pemberton
and Lillooet for those
who enjoy the quiet of a backcountry ski or snowshoe excursion.
It's often colder here than in Whistler, which makes for lighter,
fluffier snow conditions. Tall peaks shadow the valleys.
Places such as the north end of Pemberton Meadows hardly
receive a ray of sunshine from December to February. Up top, there's
nothing to block the sun or whatever marine system blows in from
the ocean across the Pemberton Icefield, a vast frozen pan
that stretches from the headwaters of the Squamish River to the
upper Lillooet River. This covering is a remnant of the most recent
ice age. The Varsity Outdoors Club maintains the Julian Harrison
hut on Mount Overseer as a staging point for those who undertake
a ski-touring trek here. There's no charge to use the hut, which
sleeps six to eight people comfortably. Rather than make the 36-mile
(60-km) ski-in along the Lillooet River Forest Rd, you may decide
to helicopter in from nearby Pemberton Meadows and ski out via Ring
terrain at lower elevations, but in these steep-sided valleys the
threat of avalanches is always real. Better to explore as part of
a group with knowledgeable leadership and come equipped with snow
shovels, probes, and location indicators. Several places where you
can explore comfortably on skis or snowshoes in the region without
these aids, although still on ungroomed trails, are around Blackwater
Lake (easy; 2.5 miles/4 km return) and Birkenhead Lake
(moderate; 8.5 miles/14 km return), near D'Arcy. North Joffre
Creek (easy; 4.3 miles/7 km return) on the Duffey Lake Road
is another possibility. The parking lot for North Joffre Creek is
located on the west side of the Duffey Lake Road (Hwy 99), about
2 miles (3 km) south of Joffre Lake Provincial
A good source of information on these routes, as well as a source
for guided backcountry trips for skiers and snowboarders, is the
Federation of Mountain Clubs' Canada West Mountain School
in Vancouver. Contact them for information on backcountry ski and
snowboard touring, as well as rock climbing, backpacking, mountaineering,
wilderness hiking, peak ascents, mountain rescue, custom guiding,
backcountry leadership, and wilderness first aid.