Of all the smug utterances at the expat-in-Canada’s disposal, “we’re going to Whistler” has to be among the most powerful. It’s the ultimate weapon in your bombastic armoury, the Mario mushroom of envy provoking power ups.
It’s an unnecessarily cruel reminder to pals at home that your winters involve zipping down mountains at world class ski resorts, while theirs involve (probably) damp afternoons eating baked beans in front of The Cube. Well, there has to be an upside to walking around with nostril icicles four months of the year.
There’s no need to mention to said pal that visiting Whistler from Toronto is no cheaper than it would be from London and involves a five hour flight. Or that you still spend way too many winter evenings eating junk in front of mindless TV shows. Or that Canadian TV is, by any standard, 1,000 times shitter than British TV.
Despite the hideous costs and pain-in-the-ass distance associated with travelling to Whistler from Toronto, anyone into skiing or snowboarding will understand why we wanted to go there so badly.
But would it live up to the hype?
We were pummelled with 1.25m of powder over seven days. That’s on top of the existing 2m base, meaning we were carving fresh tracks every single morning on fluffy, tree-lined pistes.
There were some fantastically powdery gladed runs although, after face-planting at the bottom of one, I vowed never again to ski through trees without a helmet.
Being used to heaving European resorts, we were also chuffed to find the mountains empty of people; the 4pm home run, normally a terrifying gauntlet of ski school pile-ups and slush, was a long, smooth blue or black trail that took us straight to our condo.
Luckily, the mountainside isolation didn’t translate into a ghost town feeling further down in the villages, where the bars and restaurants were full to the rafters.
Thoughtful touches, like tune-up tools laid out with a “help yourself” sign, piste maps on the chairlifts, and excellent food served with a smile (and, usually, an Aussie twang), all helped to make it a truly friendly, happy place to be.
Unfortunately, few Canadian ski resorts offer catered chalets, which are, imho, the best value for money accommodation option at big resorts in the Alps.
At Whistler, you therefore choose between hotels and self catered condos/chalets, which are scattered between the main village and a range of smaller areas such as Creekside, where we stayed.
Creekside, a 10 minute bus ride from Whistler village, worked perfectly for us. Our self-catered condo at Evolution was five minutes’ walk from the normally queue-less main lift up to Whistler mountain and had a full kitchen, balcony, and a shared outdoor pool with hot tubs and a steam room/sauna.
Creekside also has a big supermarket with reasonably-priced food, a rowdy bar/BBQ restaurant (Dusty’s) at the bottom of the home-run that often has live music playing, and a great organic pizza joint, Creekbread.
It seems a bit churlish to complain about the weather at Whistler when it brought us so much lovely snow. As one skiier put it to us: “The less sun the better.” Maybe I’m a fair weather skiier, but my personal heaven is gliding along a velvety mountain ridge under a big blue sky, hot and cool air concertinaing as I drift between overhanging shadows and sunlight.
Heaven isn’t getting dizzy and disoriented in a swirling white-out, losing all concept of whether I’m skiing up or down. Or skiing through lashing rain, as on our last day, when the lack of visibility and damp conditions forced us to abandon plans for an epic finale.
Reading the ski blogs, our weather experience seems fairly standard for a week in Whistler, although we were told the clouds often lift in January.
And when the clouds dissipate and the blizzard stops, Whistler lives up to its rep for being the ultimate snow playground, offering an immense expanse of pistes and wild backcountry trails, ranging from double black diamond mogul fields to serene treeline pistes.
To demonstrate just how MUCH it snows in Whistler, I’ve put together a chart comparing its annual snowfall with that of a few North American and European resorts.
The chart also includes stats on peak mountain height and the number of pistes. This is partly to counter the irksome way in which North American resorts tend to put together similar comparisons for their own websites that downplay the impressiveness of European ski areas by using sneaky methodology.
For instance, when it comes to calculating the number of pistes/trails, some create separate entries for ski resorts that share integrated lift passes, like La Plagne and Les Arcs, or Tignes and Val D’Isere. Cheeky.
You can play about with the chart by clicking the icon below: