Double the Peaks, Double the Pleasure
Confirmation that getting there really is half the fun, the spectacular 75-mile Sea-to-Sky coastal road linking Vancouver and Whistler-Blackcomb is probably the most beautiful approach to any ski resort in the world. With the exception of Alberta, no other Canadian province comes close to matching British Columbia’s mountain beauty and grandeur, as both the highway and a day on the slopes will confirm.
The giant twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb, linked at their base by the European-style, pedestrian-only Whistler Village, are not only North America’s biggest ski destinations but are regularly ranked as the best – and their two-for-one lift tickets just sweeten the deal.
There are countless superlatives here: the greatest vertical drop (more than 5,000 feet) of any ski resort on the continent, 7,000 acres of skiable terrain (that’s 2,000 acres more than the largest U.S. resort), more than 200 marked trails, 12 massive alpine bowls, an unfathomable 30 feet of snowfall per year, and a ski season that runs from late November through May (with summer skiing on Blackcomb mid-June through August).
It would all seem overwhelming if not for an unparalleled high-speed lift system and a smiling and efficient staff (from waitresses to ski instructors). In fact, the very size of Whistler-Blackcomb allows the million-plus annual visitors to disappear on their personal favorite runs – it never really feels crowded.
The only possible downside is the weather, which is unpredictable in the extreme: With the resort base a mere 2,200 feet above sea level, it’s often raining down below, though almost always clearing as you head peakward. Go high.
Although 55 percent of the trails on both mountains are tagged for intermediates, Whistler-Blackcomb has acquired something of a cult reputation with advanced and extreme skiers – a bid for the 2010 Olympics indicates the quality of the terrain. Runs are both extensive (the longest is 7 miles) and dramatically set, with renowned views from the chairlift. Insatiable skiers can also take advantage of guided heli-skiing.
Whistler-Blackcomb boasts more slope-side lodging than any other resort in North America. Its only ski-in/ski-out property, however, is the swank Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort, a friendly, gabled fortress dominating the ski area at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and embodying the style of the grand old Canadian Pacific railroad hotels. With 560 rooms it’s not exactly intimate, and it isn’t cheap (especially for the fit-for-royalty suites), but it’s the place to ski and be seen. Its famous buffet brunch, served on Sundays, is reason enough to check in, as are superlative spa treatments that are nirvana for après-ski weariness.
As the seasons turn, Chateau Whistler effortlessly segues into a summertime playground, with its 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. course regularly ranked as Canada’s best, and three other courses lying within striking distance.