Resort Guide: Whistler, Canada

There is no other resort in the world as hyped as Whistler, and luckily this place thoroughly deserves its reputation. However, it is not without a few faults.

Whistler village (population 10,000) is nestled in the temperate Coastal Mountains just 75 miles (or a two and a half hour drive) north of Vancouver, British Columbia. The resort, which spans two separate mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, is legendary in snowboarding circles for its consistently heavy Pacific Ocean powder dumps and moderate temperatures. The season is always at least five months long, from November to May, thanks to the resort’s phenomenal snowmaking capability. And if that’s not enough, mountaintop glacier summer freestyle riding is available every June and July.

Consistently voted the 'No. 1 Ski Resort in North America'’ in a wide variety of different surveys, Whistler is a must for everyone’s bucket list due to its sheer size. It’s got 8, 171 skiable acres, 200+ runs, and 37 lifts spread across the two mountains, which were recently connected by the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola. The diversity of terrain and consistent, deep powder conditions are the stuff dreams are made of. In fact you might need to bring a snorkel, because Whistler's snowfall record is incredible; last season they recevied 13.89 m, and the 2010/11 season hit 15.79m - which was just shy of it's all time record of 16.93m back in 1998/99. Put simply, this is pow heaven!

Its two main faults are lift pass prices and the huge numbers that visit this place, especially at weekends. A lift pass for a week will cost you over £300, and the lift system creaks under the strain of the mass of tourists and weekend Vancouverites. It is not uncommon to find queues at the bases of an hour during holiday periods, but once you're up things do begin to settle down.

Did you know? 

British surveyors originally christened the peak 'London Mountain' because of the heavy fog and cloud that regularly obscured it. The name 'Whistler' was a nickname that came from the distinctive call of the local marmot.

The Parks

Repeatedly voted Best Park in the Transworld Snowboarding magazine's resort poll, Whistler’s freestyle areas cover a massive 99 acres in total. Blackcomb is home to three parks and two pipes, and Whistler has two parks. Each has their own unique appeal.

The parks cater to all levels. They are groomed to perfection every night and immaculately maintained to world class standard. In total there are 200+ features and 100+ jumps of all types imaginable: spines, tabletops, boxes, rails, natural tree jibs and bonks, a boardercross course and an Olympic sized superpipe (cut with a 22 foot global standard pipe-cutter). Match your ability level to the park size and be aware that to ride the 'Highest Level' park you need a helmet and a signed waiver form. Avoid 'Emerald Chair' and 'Solar Coaster' at peak uploading times.

The Pistes

Wide, open pistes, a sophisticated lift system and the peak-to-peak gondola equal an epic snowboarding experience. Make sure you build up those quads before riding here; there is a vertical mile to ride on both mountains, with the longest routes down covering seven miles. The pistes are immaculately groomed with daily 'grooming maps' displayed prominently so you can avoid those moguls. Every level is catered for and all pistes are easily accessible. Bottlenecks are mainly during peak weekend and holiday times - particularly the morning - so try and avoid queuing at 9-10.30am and stay up high. Avoid Emerald Chair and Big Red Express on Whistler, and Solar Coaster and Excelerator on Blackcomb when busy. Americans form the bulk of the guests – the big US holiday of President’s Week (February 16-23 2013) is one to miss, as are Easter and Christmas.

The Powder

No avid powder hound should miss out on Whistler’s famous West Coast powder. The resort’s average snowfall is 33ft per year, and with three glaciers, 12 alpine bowls, steeps, cliffs, drops and tree runs galore, there’s literally enough of it around for everyone. Not for nothing has this place become home to some of the world's top pros, including Devun Walsh and Romain de Marchi. Don’t miss out-of-bounds waist deep face shots on the legendary Million Dollar Ridge or Khybers on Whistler – ask a local.

That ‘backcountry feel’ can be had frequently inbounds too, with both mountains offering an enormous variety of terrain. The highest areas are naturally being the most extreme. 'The Cirque' on Whistler and 'Surf’s Up Shits and Giggles' on Blackcomb’s Glacier are classics and stupendously steep. The Harmony area of Whistler (under the Harmony chair) is home to numerous windlips and couloirs. In flat light, the temperate forest that cover much of the area provide tree riding for every level. If you need to get hold of some backcountry gear try Escape Route in the village. Backcountry hiking is easily accessible and popular and free up-to-date avalanche reports are available daily. Check out - their local pro riders will guide you to hidden powder stashes even when it's not snowed for days!

The Parties

The twee, pedestrian-only Euro-style village itself was purpose built in the 1970s, and while it may lack character in comparison with some European resorts, the accessibility of everything compensates for this. Restaurants range from casual, budget-friendly dining such as Pasta Lupino, Milestone’s, and the legendary Splitz Grill to fine dining – Araxi in the Village Square was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. Do watch out for the 12% HST (VAT) which gets added on top of menu prices. Oh and like everywhere in North America, tipping is 15% minimum, and not included in your bill.

We Brits like our bars, and Whistler certainly isn’t lacking in this department. Classic après spots are the GLC, Merlin’s and Dusty’s in Creekside, all of which often host live DJs and bands. There are five nightclubs too. Tommy Africa’s is probably the pick of the bunch, with regular drum ‘n’ bass nights and big name DJs visiting – although for every ‘cool’ night there are probably five naff ones with go-go dancers! Fat Tony’s Pizza and Zog’s are the UK kebab shop equivalents, open until 3am. It has to be said, for a World Class Resort, the Whistler clubbing experience is a bit cheesy. Good for a laugh, but if you want the real deal, make friends with the locals and get yourself invited to a warehouse rave.