I split my time between Whistler and Vancouver. It really doesn’t get much better than that! For almost 20 years now, I have skied in the winter and spent weeks of my summer hiking and biking all over Whistler. My kids have grown up doing both as well. Last year, we had friends visiting Whistler to ski and snowboard. I gave them a whole rundown of what to do, where to go and what to avoid in order to get the most out of their Whistler ski days. They told me how valuable that information was and I thought that I would pass that on to you.
Whistler Ski and Snowboarding Tips
Here are the “ABCs” of Whistler ski and snowboarding.
1. Whistler Ski Resort
Whistler Resort is made up of two enormous mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb. They are each approximately 2200 metres or 7300 feet high. Of that, 8,171 acres (3307 hectares) are skiable terrain. Collectively, there are over 200 ski runs, and 36 lifts and gondolas.
2. Gondolas and ski lifts
Creekside Village is the first place that you will reach when you are driving from Vancouver to Whistler. It is a five minute drive from Creekside to Whistler Village and another three or four minutes from Whistler Village to Upper Village.
Creekside has a large indoor free parking lot so it is popular with locals and those who are driving up from Vancouver for a Whistler ski day. From here, you can access the Creekside Gondola which takes you up Whistler Mountain. Then, you can begin to ski or snowboard on Whistler Mountain or find your way to Blackcomb Mountain through various ski runs and other lifts, or with the Peak 2 Peak Gondola next to the Roundhouse Lodge.
Tip: The free parkade can fill up quite quickly on weekends and holidays. I would highly recommend parking before 9:00 am to guarantee a spot. There are very limited parking options, paid or otherwise, if the parkade is full.
Whistler Village is the main village with the most hotels, restaurants, and shops than any other part of Whistler. It has lots of paid parking within walking distance to the lifts and gondolas. There are 5 outdoor day lots next to Whistler Village next to the Audain Art Gallery or indoor lots offered by various hotels.
There are two gondolas at the base of the mountain for your Whistler ski or snowboard day. The first is the Whistler Village Gondola which takes you up Whistler Mountain to the Roundhouse Lodge. From there, you can choose from countless runs to start your Whistler ski day or walk 30 steps outside to access the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola to Blackcomb Mountain.
The second is Excalibur Gondola which goes up Blackcomb Mountain. Once you are on Blackcomb Mountain, there are also lots of ski runs to choose from or you can find your way to the Rendezvous Lodge and take the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola over to Whistler Mountain.
A third choice is Fitzsimmons Express, a four person ski lift that takes you a short way up Whistler Mountain. Here you will find many green, family or easy runs back to Whistler Village.
Upper Village is home to the new Blackcomb Gondola which takes you up Blackcomb Mountain to the Rendezvous Lodge. From there, you can access countless ski runs, including heading over to 7th Heaven Express lift to reach the upper Alpine. As mentioned before, you can also take the Peak 2 Peak Gondola from here to Whistler Mountain.
You can pay for parking in one of the five outdoor day lots next to Whistler Village and walk to Upper Village. Depending in which lot you park, your walk will take between 10-20 minutes. There are also limited paid underground parking lots under hotels in the Upper Village.
Base II is found above Upper Village and it has two free outdoor parking lots. From here, you can access the Excalibur Gondola which takes you up Blackcomb Mountain. This gondola originates in Whistler Village but it slows down for unloading and uploading passengers at Base II.
3. Times to avoid uploading
Notwithstanding there are four base locations from which you can start your Whistler ski day, uploading in the morning can be very busy with long line ups. Accordingly, on weekends or during school or statutory holidays, I would recommend that you try and upload onto the mountain before 8:30 am and do not take any runs that lead you back to any of the gondolas (except the Peak 2 Peak) until after 11:00 am. There are two reasons for this.
First, the ski day is short from November through February. Generally, daylight exists from around 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, depending on the month. Everyone needs to get off the mountain well before darkness arrives. Accordingly, everyone tries to start their Whistler ski day as early as possible.
Second, most children’s ski schools meet at one of these locations between 8:30 am -9:00 am. That means most parents have already suited up themselves for the day as well. From around 8:30 am, a huge surge of people begin to line up at the various bases. Anyone in ski lessons, adult or children, have their own ski lift lines that take priority for all gondolas and ski lifts over all of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.
4. When to purchase lift tickets and equipment rentals
If you need to purchase any lift tickets or ski lessons, sign any waivers, or acquire rentals, try to do that the night before your first Whistler ski day. There can be massive line ups or wait times to do any of these things the morning of a ski day. I have found myself in these line ups before and there is very little more frustrating to the start of your ski day than waiting in line for an hour or more to do these “administrative-type” things. Even though the ski hills close down early, many of the shops and services are open well into the evening. It is worthwhile to put dinner on hold while you get these chores out of the way.
5. How to organize your Whistler ski or snowboard vacation
Whistler has many other winter activities other than ski and snowboarding. In an earlier blog called A Whistler Winter in Canada: 7 Of My Favourite Things, I highlight my favourite Whistler winter attractions that everyone should try when they visit.
If you think you might want to try one or two of them (or something else), then I would recommend doing so on a weekend, and leave your Whistler ski or snowboarding to weekdays when it is quieter on the mountain. Although Whistler has added many new high speed ski lifts or gondolas, there can still be long waits for ski lifts and gondolas over the weekends or during holidays.
6. Avalanche safety
If there is a huge amount of new snowfall during the night, the mountains may be busier than ever regardless of the day of the week. You might consider not skiing that day, or making that day a late start. Why?
First of all, many locals and Vancouverites may take an unplanned day off, drive up to Whistler, and spend the day enjoying the fresh snow.
Second of all, the upper alpine might remain closed for half the day while they “bomb” it to set off avalanches. Whistler Ski Resort takes avalanches and the risk of triggering one very seriously. They have a thorough system of deliberately triggering avalanches in the upper alpine after a heavy and extended snowfall. Depending on the amount of snow and the risks, this process might take hours. In the meantime, everyone is skiing and snowboarding in the lower alpine. Depending on the day, this could create very long lines for the lifts and the gondolas until the upper alpine opens.
7. Take a free mountain tour
Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains are truly massive. They offer countless number of ski and snowboard runs, many of which need more knowledge to access than simply getting off a gondola and turning right or left! Many of these runs are truly unbelievable. They are extremely varied in terms of type of terrain (steeps, trees, or moguls) and it would be a shame to spend a whole day on one of the mountains and be oblivious to them. Most of them are, of course, on the map. With a bit of time, you could likely figure out how to get there. However, whether you have the time, or they are the right level for you, or have the type of terrain that you want, is another thing.
Both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains offer free tours of each of the mountains. Please click on this link for more information about meeting times and locations.
8. Pay for a Whistler ski or snowboard lesson
The free mountain tour is a great resource to learn more about Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. However, even better is to take a ski or snowboard lesson.
All four of my children took weekly ski or snowboard lessons in Whistler from the age of 3 years old until around 11 years old. Suffice it to say, they are really good skiers or snowboarders. My husband I have also taken the occasional one or two day lesson over the years. Why?
Certainly, it is nice to take a lesson to try and improve our technique. However, what is even more valuable to us is that invariably the ski or snowboard teacher takes us to different parts of the mountains or on different runs that we have never tried before. Even after 18 years, there are parts of the mountains, or runs that are tucked away that we either do not about, or are unsure whether we have the ability to do them. A ski or snowboard lesson is a phenomenal way to learn more about what you are capable of and what the mountains have to offer.
9. Put your children in a Whistler ski or snowboard lesson
Skiing and snowboarding is a terrific family activity. I love spending the day on the mountain with one or all of my kids. However, it is also nice not to ski with them! This was more so when they were little and they were not the greatest skiers or snowboarders. You spend your day slowing down your pace, choosing runs that are easy and unexciting for you, and dealing with whatever emotional moment one of your kids is having. If they are really little, it can be very stressful making sure that they don’t do something erratic and get hit from behind, or blow past a lift into “out of bounds”.
It is one of life’s guilty pleasures – putting your little ones into a ski lesson and spending the day on the mountain with your spouse. Your kids will have a blast in their lesson. The ski and snowboard teachers are exceptional. And you and your spouse will get to have one of the best dates in the world!
10. Pay attention to the signs
Both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains have excellent signage on the ski and snowboard runs. Make sure that you are either very comfortable with using the map and/or pay close attention to the signs on the runs. It is very easy (and I still sometimes do it today) to think that you should just continue down the next ski run to reach a lift that will take you back up to where you started, when you really shouldn’t!
For example, in the past, I have gone down a run assuming that I was going where I wanted only to find out that I had made a huge error. Instead of going to Creekside Village where our car was parked, I was on my way to Whistler Village. Because of the size of the mountains, this type of mistake could take an hour to fix. You have to figure out the right combination of gondolas and lifts to move you across the mountains so that you can ski or snowboard down the right way.
Skiing or Snowboarding on Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains is one of the best winter experiences that you can have. The mountains are beautiful with spectacular views and the ski and snowboard runs are exceptional. As a local, I have learned a few tips and tricks to make the most of our day and to avoid long line ups and slow starts. I hope that these have been helpful and you love your day on the mountains as much as we do.
If you are interested in other articles about Whistler, please see the list below:
For dining options:
- Whistler Restaurants: Budget Friendly Choices!
- Whistler Treats: 5 Amazing Places To Wreck Your Diet
- Fine dining in Whistler: My Four Favourites
For summer activities:
- A Whistler Summer in Canada: 10 Of My Favourite Things To Do
- 4 Whistler Summer Activities That Make You Go Wow!
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