Oh Canada! I still love you.
Last week, Peter and I were in Whistler Blackcomb. The trip focused on downhill skiing but we also snuck in a trip to the spa and a visit to the Whistler Sliding Centre where we hopped in a bobsleigh and rode it down the fastest track in the world.
Let’s begin with downhill skiing. The last time we were skiing was roughly four years ago in St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria but that trip sort of doesn’t count because there was almost literally no snow.
Prior to that trip was our first trip to St. Anton in December 2012 where we learned that downhill skiing is like riding a bike. With age, you become more cautious and take fewer risks but you never forget how to ski.
For this trip to Whistler and for the first time in our lives, we stayed in an apartment located at the base of Blackcomb mountain that was “ski-in, ski-out”. We arrived about 2.5 hours later than expected because of an ill-advised Sat Nav. The directions it provided took us through Vancouver and between the 45-minute wait at the primary border station (Peace Arch) and the 75 minutes we spent sitting in traffic trying to get through Vancouver (literally sat through 4 rounds of traffic lots to move one block), our trip went from an estimated four hours to six-and-a-half.
We learned a hard lesson that travel day and made sure to map out the return journey on a route that skirted Vancouver and went through the secondary (smaller but also less busy) border control station (Blaine Border).
The weather and roads on the drive to-and-fro were fantastic. The temperature was 53 degrees from Seattle to Whistler and we did not see snow until we arrived at our apartment in Blackcomb. The drive on 99 beginning at Horseshoe Bay (just outside of West Vancouver) is a feast for the eyes. It’s a winding road that hugs the coast with views of deep gorges and small islands.
Upon arrival, we parked and unloaded the car and walked down the lower section of the run to a local ski shop to pick up our rental equipment. We then hauled our gear back up the run to our apartment.
Whistler and Blackcomb were once two separate ski resorts but were merged into one company in 1997 and were fully integrated in 2003. This merged resort creatively named Whistler Blackcomb, is the largest ski resort in North America. It’s so big! Even as separate ski resorts, both reside in the top 5 as the largest resorts in North America. I want to go back right now!
I skied for three days (Peter for 3.5) and did not come close to hitting every run. Due to the size of the resort, we spent a fair amount of time waiting in chair lift/gondola queues and riding them to the peaks of the mountains. We even spent time riding a gondola down to Whistler base because Peter snatched someone else’s skis after lunch one day and did not realize it until we had ascended 454 m / 1,500 ft and went to put his skis on to traverse to the nearby chair lift.
Peter insisted on skiing down to the village with his boots in the wrong skis because “the boots fit” and I insisted that we take the gondola down so that is what we did. When we reached the base, we found a confused looking man staring at Peter’s skis. I pretended not to know Peter as he approached the man and engaged in the ski exchange.
Peter insists that it was the man who took Peter’s skis first, leaving the confused man’s skis for Peter but this mystery can never be proven. I had too much alcohol at lunch to have paid attention to anything but my own skis so I am of no use in the investigation department. Peter told me that he apologized to the confused man and the confused man said, “No problem”.
The runs of Blackcomb and Whistler face northwest and during this time of year, the operating hours are limited due to the lack of daylight. Lifts and gondolas opened at 8am and started closing at 3:30pm beginning with the highest lifts and tricking down to the bases.
Protip: The majority of people hit the slopes at 10am which causes a massive queue at the bases, so head out early to get the most of our your ski pass.
Protip: Buy your Epic ski pass online before your trip so that you do not have to stand in the massive (seriously, massive) ticket queue when you arrive. You’ll need to submit a photo along with your payment and a few days later, your pass will arrive in your Snail Mail. As per usual, Peter was not communicating with me when we were taking our pass photos and started snapping away without my knowledge:
Protip: Download the EpicMix Ski app and link it to your ski pass to track your stats like vertical feet, chairlifts/gondolas, etc.
Due to the size of the resort, we focused on Whistler runs pre-lunch and Blackcomb runs post-lunch which enabled us to ski back to our apartment. We always ate lunch in Whistler Village because of the variety (there are only 2-3 restaurants at Blackcomb base).
Protip: The best espresso in Whistler Blackcomb is Lift Coffee Company and it is located a few steps from the Whistler Village Gondola, Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola, and Fitzsimmons Express lift.
We rode the Peak 2 Peak Gondola from Blackcomb to Whistler on our quest for Whistler peak on our second day. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola is the longest unsupported lift span in the world (3.024 km / 1.88 mi) and is the highest of its kind residing at approximately 1,800 m / 5,900 ft and having a ground clearance of 436 m / 1,427 ft. It is a high elevation express highway linking Blackcomb and Whistler mountains and it’s magnificent.
Peak 2 Peak is a must-do in Whistler, if nothing else but to experience being suspended in the valley.
I am impressed by engineering feats and Peak 2 Peak was no exception. How in the hell did they build that thing?
Protip: Join the special queue in either terminal to ride in one of two glass-bottomed gondolas.
When we arrived on Whistler mountain from Peak 2 Peak, we went down a short run to the Peak Express chairlift where we waited in a long queue for this final lift to Whistler peak (hidden from view in the photo below).
I realized how high up we were once we alighted the Peak Express chairlift and I took off my skis and walked around “the plaza”. Whistler peak is at an elevation of 2,182 m / 7,160 ft. The nearly 360-degree views are incredible.
The plaza boasts a snow-blasted Inukshuk, a set of Olympic rings and a building which I think is a weather station.
An Inukshuk is a human-made structure of stones used by the Inuit and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. Inuit marker stones were used to warn of danger, mark places of respect or simply show the way. They were conceived to resemble their makers, hence their name, “inukshuk,” which means “in human likeness”.
There are no shortage of Inukshuks in Vancouver and Whistler Blackcomb. We purchased a miniature Inukshuk at Granville Market in Vancouver and have it proudly displayed in our home! It shows the way to many things, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the rooftop deck, and most importantly, the beer and wine fridge.
We visited Whistler peak a few times. The first trip down, we took a narrow blue run that ran alongside the edge of the mountain. Basically, one wrong turn and you’re dead. Peter did not like this run because it is not wide enough to “schuss-schuss” back and forth to slow our speeds. I enjoyed the run because it gave breathtaking views.
The second trip down, Peter declared that we were going down The Saddle which is also a blue run and gets its name from its appearance from afar where it resembles the side view of a horse saddle. I declined immediately because I could see the run from the chairlift and it looked like a near-vertical drop but then I fell to peer pressure and tackled it anyway.
The Saddle is known as one of the best runs in Whistler because of the panoramic views and I agree that the view was great (when I was not staring at the ground) but the run was hell. Pure ice. Vertical drop. Too crowded. Lots of crashes. Peter fell. I cursed.
The skiers in the photo below are standing at the edge of the vertical drop. The bottom of the drop cannot be seen in this photo and what appears to be the bottom is actually another run further down the mountain.
On our third day, we ascended Blackcomb mountain as far we could which was to Hortsman Hut at an elevation of 2,284 m / 7,494 ft. Though ~300 ft higher than Whistler peak, it felt lower in elevation because we only had 180-degree views as we were not at the actual peak. Blackcomb peak is at an elevation of 2,440 m / 8,000 ft.
Fun fact: The difference between altitude and elevation is as follows…
- Altitude: The vertical distance between an object and the local surface of the Earth; typically used only to describe aircraft height
- Elevation: The vertical distance between the local surface of the Earth (or object) and sea level; typically used to describe the height of ground or a feature (mountain) fixed to the ground.
There was an actual hut (log cabin) at Hortsman Hut and another Inukshuk.
Fun fact: The Inukshuk design seen in my photos and throughout the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in the official five-colored design is named Ilanaaq.
There is no shortage of runs from Hortsman Hut. As mentioned previously, I enjoy runs with views whether that be a narrow run through trees or panoramic views of the skyline so my favorite run from Hortsman Hut was the aptly named, Upper Panorama.
Our trip to Whistler was so much fun and skiing was so easy for me this time around. I was never sore and, aside from at the end of the day, my legs never tired.
Being in an ex-winter Olympic host city during the Winter Olympics was magical. We spent our days skiing and then tuned in to watch the professionals do their thing during après ski and in the evenings. Magical. Just magical.