Magnificent snowcapped peaks, dense green forests, transparent lakes, sparkling rivers, and an upmarket, cosmopolitan village right in the middle of it all: Welcome to Whistler (pop. 10,000), one of the world’s great resort towns, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Vancouver along Highway 99. The Whistler Valley has seen incredible development in recent years and is now British Columbia’s third most popular tourist destination (behind Vancouver and Victoria), attracting around two million visitors annually, though this number went even higher in 2010 when the resort town co-hosted the Winter Olympic Games. The crowds and the costs might not be for everyone, but there are many things to do in Whistler. The village takes full advantage of its magnificent natural surroundings, making a trip north from Vancouver well worth it any time of year.
Best-known among skiers and snowboarders, the town is built around the base of one of North America’s finest resorts, Whistler Blackcomb, which comprises almost 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) on two mountains accessed by an ultramodern lift system. A season stretching from November to early June doesn’t leave much time for summer recreation, but in recent years the off-season has become almost equally busy. Among the abundant summertime recreation opportunities are lift-served hiking, glacier skiing, and boarding; biking through the valley and mountains; water activities on five lakes; horseback riding; golfing on some of the world’s best resort courses; and fishing, rafting, and jet boating on the rivers. The more sedentary summer visitor can simply stay in bustling Whistler Village and enjoy a plethora of outdoor cafés and restaurants.
Although the town of Whistler is spread out along the valley floor, most accommodations and restaurants are between Highway 99 and Blackcomb Way in an area known as Whistler Village, which provides access to the base area of Whistler Mountain. Other than parking at your accommodation, the best option is to leave your vehicle at one of the many surrounding lots and explore by walking along the many pedestrian plazas.
Planning Your Time
Regardless of the season, outdoor enthusiasts will want to include Whistler in their trip to Vancouver. Despite its being close enough to Vancouver for a day trip, visitors could easily spend at least a full day exploring the mountains from the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, so plan to spend at least two days in town. If you’ve never tried mountain biking, this is the place to do it, with rentals, guides, and instruction offered by many local businesses. After mountain biking all morning, head to the local fairways and play a round of golf.
It takes at least two hours to reach Whistler by road from Vancouver. An alternative is the Whistler Sea to Sky Climb, a luxurious train that operates as a day trip from North Vancouver.
Although summer in Whistler is busy, winter is definitely high season. Skiing and snowboarding season actually extends beyond the coldest months of the year, with lifts operational well into May. The least expensive way to enjoy a winter vacation in Whistler is to purchase a package that includes accommodations and lift tickets.