Introduction to Whistler Blackcomb
Whistler Blackcomb is everything that you’ve imagined- Epic. Gigantic. Challenging. Personally, I idolized Whistler for years before I finally made the journey up from Colorado.
Over the course of The Drop In series I’ve made it apparent that I am a huge fan of big mountain riding, and when a resort offers a large amount of wide open bowls, couloirs, and chutes that are lift-accessed, I am on board immediately. I specifically seek out these places. After watching so many video parts filmed around BC and YouTube videos of people throwing down at the resort itself, I was nervous to ride here. Fortunately, I came on a press trip for a travel magazine that I write for and they hooked me up with a pro guide to show me around.
The resort is made up of two mountains that up until 2003 were separate resorts. In fact, they were fierce competitors that consistently tried to one-up each other. In the end, this seems to have done good things because the terrain, amenities, and party scene in the village are top notch. Intrawest, the company that at that time owned Blackcomb, purchased Whistler and merged the two resorts.
Today, they are joined together by the Guinness World Record-holding and nearly unbelievable Peak 2 Peak Gondola. The mountain stats of Whistler Blackcomb are incredible- 8,171 acres of in-bounds skiable terrain. 450+ inches of annual snowfall. Expert in-bounds terrain that is on par with the best that North America has to offer, and in many respects is on par with lift accessed backcountry.
I rode Whistler Blackcomb for the first time in February 2016. It hadn’t snowed for a week prior to my arrival, so although powder stashes were few and far between I was able to find some thanks to my guide. His name was Dahj- if you are in need of a guide or a lesson while at Whistler Blackcomb, ask for him specifically and tell him I sent you. He spent the entire day telling me more information than I could retain about the mountain, interspersed with constructive criticism of my riding. He showed me a better powder riding stance and adjusted my bindings accordingly. He worked with me to help me work out a kink in my turns that I didn’t even realize I was doing.
I’ve been on a board for most of my life, long enough that progression isn’t always apparent anymore, but I can honestly say that I finished that day a better snowboarder than when I woke up that morning.
Fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVE). There is shuttle service from the airport to the town of Whistler, or take the train into downtown Vancouver and there are numerous options from there.
I recommend using Pacific Coach Lines. No matter how you get there, you’ll head 121 km north up the Sea to Sky Highway, which is a magnificent drive offering amazing views of Howe Sound and Anvil Island to the west and towering mountains including the 1788 meter Mount Brunswick.
On the coach line, the drive takes 2-2 ½ hours or so as there are a few stops along the way, but in a car, the drive is only about 90 minutes. The coach line will drop you in the Creekside Village or in the main Whistler Village. You will likely be staying in one of the three main villages that make up Whistler proper- Creekside Village, Whistler Village, or Blackcomb.
Where the locals are riding
Dahj and I started on the Whistler side, meeting in Creekside Village. We headed up the Creekside Gondola to the Big Red Express. Then, down to the Peak Express, which put us at the top of Whistler Bowl. We killed an entire morning lapping this lift, hiking from the top of the chair and dropping into Whistler Bowl, West Cirque and over to Monday’s.
The terrain was steep and challenging- even on open faces I often had to make quick, sharp cutbacks in order to maintain balance and control my speed. You’ll notice that many of the runs on Whistler Peak are musically named.
After several runs on the Peak Express we headed to the Symphony Express chair and rode Symphony Bowl and Sun Bowl. These runs seemed to be populated by locals who knew the mountain well. People less familiar with the terrain (or not lucky enough to have a local guide) seemed more inclined to ride Harmony Ridge. I made this distinction by noting how many people riding Symphony were alone or in pairs, compared to the larger groups I saw on Harmony. Not to take anything away from the Harmony lift- Little Whistler and Camel Back are great runs, and the Habitat Terrain Park can be accessed via this lift.
After lunch, we headed across the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, one of the coolest experiences of my life. On the other side, Dahj took me up the Glacier Express lift where we then headed over the ridge onto Blackcomb Glacier. Here, it is imperative that you stay on the trail and follow signs- I ended up stuck above a 30-meter rock cliff and had to hike out because I made the poor decision not to follow Dahj down the right path on Garnet Bowl. Still, the run was amazing after I got back on track. On the traverse to the Excelerator Chair, there is a stopping point where skiers and riders can feed the wild birds. Carry a couple crackers or pieces of bread for this and film it- a great way to impress people at the après-ski party.
The following morning I rode with a PR rep from the resort and she took me around the terrain accessed via the 7th Heaven Express lift. This area was much more mellow but very enjoyable. Glade runs, cruisers, and more of an easy flow that doesn’t require quite as much focus as the more extreme stuff.
Where to Eat and Drink
On the Mountain
Rendezvous, Blackcomb Peak– Rendezvous is located near the Blackcomb Peak 2 Peak terminal. They have a food court, but the food is actually good- unlike most ski resort cafeterias. Made to order burritos, sandwiches, and the great Canadian tradition of Poutine. Also available is a full-service coffee bar. Beer and wine can be purchased from the cafeteria. Prices are what you’d expect on-mountain but you can get yourself a full meal and a beer for under about $20 USD. What I really liked about this place was that I was actually full when I left.
Chrystal Hut – Try a Belgian Waffle here. You won’t be disappointed.
Roundhouse Lodge – If you find yourself starving on Whistler Peak, eat here. It is located near the Whistler Peak 2 Peak terminal. But honestly, if you’re not eating at Rendezvous, I would wait until you get back to town. The Roundhouse, however, is a solid spot to grab a drink and recharge.
Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub – Located in Whistler Village with a patio facing the mountain. Great fish and chips and beer specials, plus live music. I was in here for dinner on a Tuesday night and the place was popping- seemed to be a good mix of locals and tourists and the vibe was incredibly friendly.
Black’s Pub – I never expected to have one of the best pizzas in my life in Whistler. Maybe it’s because I was drunk, but I had a BBQ prawn pizza here that was absolutely amazing. It’s almost worth going back just for another. They have a full menu that also includes pasta, sandwiches, and pub fare, and a great Scotch list.
El Furniture Warehouse – The place to eat for broke ski bums. Super cheap pub fare. Be sure to dine-in- the drinks are cheap as well.
Where to Party
Garibaldi Lift Co – The GLC hosts touring musical acts and has plenty of room for dancing and debauchery. I recommend getting in there early, by 10 o’clock, to guarantee yourself admission and perhaps a table or seat at the bar. Do your pre-gaming somewhere else in the village, then get in there before the show starts.
Fitzsimmons Pub – ‘The Fitz’ is the local’s beer bar. With constantly rotating taps and a great vibe, this is the place to hang out near the base of Blackcomb.
Tommy Africa’s – Great nightclub with EDM and live music. Tommy Africa’s attracts a trendy crowd and is the best place in town to hook up.
Where to Stay
Hi-Whistler – Here, a bed will run you about $30 USD. Upgrades to private rooms jump the price up significantly, to over $100. They’ve got free Wi-Fi, common areas, and a café.
The Whistler Lodge – An awesome 42-room hostel, and a bed will run you about $35 USD, give or take a few bucks. I spoke with several people who stayed here and each one of them had nothing but good things to say about the experience.
Adara Hotel – If you are on a holiday with a significant other or family and looking to upgrade from the hostel situation, the Adara will run between $170-250 per night. It is located right in Whistler Village within walking distance of the base lifts, restaurants, and nightlife.
I met many friendly people in Whistler, several of whom were Australian. Lots of Aussies and people originally from bigger Canadian cities in Whistler, and they all seem to know how to party. The Après scene rolls hard and gets going mid-afternoon. Each night I was there, no matter which village I was in, the pubs were filled up by the time the lifts closed at 4:00.
As far as gear goes, bring your best stuff- it is worth it to pay the extra fee to fly your skis or board up as opposed to renting. With top-notch terrain, you’ll want to be as comfortable as possible when dropping in.