How to spend an amazing week in Whistler in winter.
You might ask why a non-skier and someone who hates the cold leaves NZ in the midst of summer, for a holiday in negative temperatures?! It was the selfless act of a mother – with 3 ‘boys’ who love to ski, it seemed like ‘almost’ the perfect family holiday. But to travel as a family and experience their joy would make it all worthwhile for me. Whistler, here we come.
But first – Vancouver
It was a bit of an impromptu trip – only decided upon 10 days before we left, so no time for the usual hours spent researching every last detail. Trip Advisor became my best friend, as we found accommodation for 3 nights in Vancouver (one when we arrived, and two at the end) and 5 nights in Whistler. We flew Air NZ directly to Vancouver – a simple 14 hours from summer to the depths of winter. It had been the coldest winter Vancouver had experienced for years. The taxi driver from the airport told tales of the chaos in the city as they experienced a couple of severe snow dumpings. Apparently it rarely snows in Vancouver, and the city doesn’t handle it very well.
On the drive from the airport to the city you pass through some exclusive neighbourhoods. Vancouver is at the top of the ‘most expensive cities to buy in’ and with homes like these, it’s easy to see why they might be expensive.
We arrive at our home for the night ‘The Burrard’. It’s a funky retro hotel – a 60’s motel given a face lift. It has real character, but even more important for us, at just $125 night a room, we were able to afford 2 rooms. When travelling with teenage boys, this is far more pleasant for everyone. The hotel rate also includes free bike hire. If you do like to ride, this is a huge bonus with your room rate. And Vancouver is a great place to ride. There are specially portioned cycle ways / routes around the CBD, and of course, through the infamous Stanley Park. We jumped on the bikes as soon as we could, making it to the waterfront at Canada Place (where the cruise ships dock) before it started to rain. The rain was a great excuse to head back, as by then our uncovered hands were freezing around the handlebars. (A novice’s mistake!)
Our rationale for having one night in Vancouver before heading to Whistler, was to be able to shop for any ‘local’ supplies that we might need on the mountain. So we headed out to the McArthurGlen Designer Outlets near the airport. The local sky train is the best way to get there. (TIP– it’s cheap getting there, but because the outlets are by the airport, there’s an additional charge to return). I’m not sure why they would make an open air mall in Vancouver (!), you move from extreme heat inside to extreme cold outside as you go from shop to shop. Our key goal was the Mountain Warehouse and it didn’t disappoint. My $30 purchase of snow boots turned out to be the best investment I could have made.
Getting to Whistler
The next day we excitedly jumped on our shuttle bus to Whistler. It’s an easy 120km drive away, but as you don’t need a car in Whistler, the shuttle buses are a great alternative. They’re also extremely reasonable. (Check out Epic Rides for the best deal). The Sea to Sky Highway route is spectacular. The only downfall of being on a bus is that you don’t get to stop for photos. This may have been a good thing, because if we’d been stopping for every photo we wanted to take, it may have made it a 2 day journey.
Our lovely driver went out of his way when we arrived, and after dropping all the other passengers at the bus stop, he made a special trip to drop us outside our condo, which is on the edge of the Whistler Village. We couldn’t be more grateful, as pulling suitcases through the snow is not easy.
We make it into our condo, and all pinch ourselves in disbelief. This is going to make a great base for our stay. Our condo is spread over 3 levels – it has heated floors, a beautiful fireplace, two bedrooms and three bathrooms – all for just $220NZ / night. It also includes the use a communal spa pool that sits in amongst the snow just outside. We are across the road from the Whistler Village and all the activity there, and the free bus to the gondola is 200m down the road. I believe I can happily support my families’ ski efforts from here!
It is an overcast day as we head out exploring – we can’t really see the mountains yet, but to be surrounded by this much snow on the ground is a new experience. The sidewalks have been groomed, but around them is at least 2 feet of snow, and all the buildings are dressed with beautiful thick white blankets that hang from their roofs.
Whistler Village is at the heart of everything that happens in Whistler, and is located at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. If you can choose accommodation that’s close to the village, (or that’s close to the bus route here), then you don’t need a car, because it really all does happen here.
The village itself is pedestrian only. Situated in the village are hotels, restaurants and bars, ski hire, and some great shops, which includes a supermarket if you’re self catering.
We head straight to a ski rental in Whistler Village to get the ‘business’ sorted – skis and passes for the next few days. Most of the staff are foreigners, including a large contingent of Aussies and Kiwis. I ask my kiwi ‘fitter’ where the best place is to eat in the village. He mistakenly thinks that his budget and mine are not aligned, but with 2 hungry teenage lads I assure him we’re very interested in where he suggests. His first pick is El Furniture Warehouse – so we head there for dinner. There’s a queue but it doesn’t last long, and the lure of all meals being $5.95!!! is too much to miss. You did read that right! Incredible huh?! And they’re good! At that price my boys are able to order 2 mains each – so 6 mains, 1 dessert, a couple of sodas, a couple of beers and a cocktail – and we’re outta there for $60!! I wonder if we’ll eat anywhere else this trip?!
We’re up early the next morning – our first real day in Whistler – and it’s an awe inspiring view we see when we open the blinds. The sky is blue, and filled with incredible mountain ranges everywhere you look. The boys are even more excited to get up there, so we are at the gondola ready to go as soon as it opens. I wave them off, and head back home via the Village.
Skiing in Whistler
Like most places we’ve skiied, ski passes don’t come cheap. On the official website it says that you get the best deal on your lift passes when you book your passes and accommodation together. This may be true if you’re purchasing upmarket accommodation, but we got such a great price on our condo, that it was much cheaper for us to purchase separately. For current prices click HERE.
Every night when my boys arrive home after a day on the slopes they are filled with stories of the powder, skiing through the trees, and the vistas – and thankfully they have photos to share. It’s all so beautiful that I’m compelled to have a day skiing myself . I mean, it’d be crazy to come all this way and not ski in Whistler right?! So I too get to experience just how magical the skiing is here. But for me the skiing is really just my vehicle to be able to get out into these vistas. Stunning does not do it justice.
Besides skiing and shopping …
Since I don’t ski the other days, I feel justified in using the $ I haven’t spent on lift passes to go towards a new experience. There were a few options for me to choose from – winter ziplining (I’ve ziplined in Mexico and New Zealand but not in winter), snowshoeing, dogsledding or snowmobiling.
I was very tempted with snowmobiling, but this time, it’s dog sledding I pick. When in Rome right?! Now it’s always seemed like quite a glamorous experience, but the reality is slightly different, when you’re sitting in a sled at eye level of 6 dogs’ bottoms! The smell is a little overwhelming, but as you head off into the Valley you soon forget about the smell, and are entranced again within the incredible landscape. The dogs are much smaller than I imagined . They’re not the full breed huskys we all think of, but are incredibly strong, and just like farm animals, live to be out ‘working’.
We each take a turn as ‘musher’ – alongside our professional musher. It’s a unique experience, but again for me, it’s the landscape that trumps all. We finish off giving the dogs a treat, and share a delicious hot apple cider before heading home.
We have been blessed with incredible weather whilst in Whistler and it’s forecast to snow heavily on our last day. It’s hilarious listening to the locals, who are not so enamoured with the blue skies, and are just hanging out for that fresh dumping of snow. And snow it does – all the way back to Vancouver.
I do hope this has given you a few tips for enjoying some time in the beautiful area of Whistler in winter.
PIN the photo below before you go, so you can find this info when you need it.