The Winter Side of Whistler
Images by Joern Rohde
Whistler locals and visitors have been obsessed with skiing for half a century, ever since the first lifts opened in 1966. Since those early days, the town’s repertoire of winter sports and activities has expanded enormously. Tubing is a wonderful place to start, as the whole family can enjoy whizzing down the hill on inflatable tubes. Simply head up to Whistler Blackcomb’s Coca-Cola Tube Park, located at the Base II Zone on Blackcomb Mountain. It’s easily accessed from the Village at no cost via the Excalibur Gondola. Be sure to wear warm winter clothing, and for your comfort, a pair of goggles.
If the Tube Park arouses a need for even greater speed, sign up for a zipline tour to soar high above Whistler's glacier-fed creeks and through cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir forests. Tours combine an exhilarating experience with fascinating and educational insights into Whistler's ecology.
For more high-speed, gravity-fed endeavours, book the Thunder on Ice (bobsleigh) or Lightning on Ice (skeleton) sliding experience at the Whistler Sliding Centre, a 2010 Olympic Winter Games venue. The programs are open to the public, and provide sport orientation, helmet fitting, track etiquette, safety guidelines and the fastest run of your life at up to 125 kilometres an hour in the bobsleigh and 100 km/h on the skeleton.
You’ll find another Winter Games legacy venue in the Callaghan Valley, 20 minutes south of Whistler. Whistler Olympic Park is a premier Nordic recreation destination, and is the home of the Olympic crosscountry, biathlon and ski-jumping facilities. Both classic cross-country and skate-ski rentals and lessons are available, as well as great starter trails on mostly flat terrain, like the 3.8-km Neverland Trail. At a 15-km round-trip, the Norwegian Woods trail and Madeley Creek Loop is a more challenging course for those who want to pump up their heart rate with rolling climbs and descents. Those who wish to try a traditional Canadian activity at a calmer pace can rent snowshoes and embark on the 35 kilometres of maintained trails. For a unique experience, test your cardio and your marksmanship by enrolling in the Discover Biathlon program. Participants learn how to combine cross-country skate skiing around a short loop with shooting a rifle in the biathlon target range.
Ice skating is a classic Canadian winter pastime, and there are three places in Whistler to glide. Meadow Park Sports Centre has an indoor rink that’s open year-round. Skating outdoors in the heart of the Village is quite magical with the twinkling lights of Whistler Olympic Plaza, where you can rent skates, cruise around with your friends, and strike up a casual game of shinny. And if the weather is cold, dry, and the conditions are safe, it’s sometimes possible to blissfully skate across the local lakes.
For a truly romantic winter experience, take an old-fashioned sleigh ride. Cozy up to loved ones under warm blankets, as two magnificent Percheron horses pull your sleigh smoothly on snowcovered trails and through majestic forests. Dog sledding is an authentically Canadian way to explore the trails of the Callaghan Valley. Learn to mush your own team, or relax and enjoy the ride, led by an expert guide.
One way to make the most of your time in Whistler is to access the surrounding backcountry quickly via snowmobile. Several operators offer scenic, guided tours for the new rider and families, adventure tours that speed over frozen lakes and into high alpine bowls, and extreme riding tours for the experienced, big mountain enthusiast.
Heli-skiing is the ultimate skiing or boarding experience. Led by experienced, certified instructors, you will venture into the vast wilderness of the B.C. backcountry aboard five- to 10-passenger helicopters. Untouched big mountain powder skiing and secluded tree skiing in small groups, spectacular scenery and a gourmet alpine lunch combine to complete your unforgettable backcountry ski day. A variety of tours is offered, from intermediate-advanced to expert. Another backcountry option is cat-skiing, where after each adrenaline-fueled, powder-shred down untracked slopes, you have the comfort of warming up in the heated snowcat, re-fueling with snacks and a hot drink as it tracks up to the next peak. It is recommended that you have strong, intermediate skills with experience in trees, powder and steep terrain.
Without a doubt, Whistler's reputation as a world-class winter recreation mecca is a result of its two massive mountain playgrounds, Whistler and Blackcomb. Their combined 8,171 acres of terrain, 37 lifts, 200+ marked runs, and 1,163 centimetres of annual snowfall are enticing statistics. However, true appreciation of these numbers is enhanced by taking a snow-school lesson to discover the sweet spots on the mountains. If you're unable to roam the runs on planks or a board, be sure to put the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola sightseeing experience on your must-do list to view the spectacular alpine environment and its snow-covered peaks, forested valleys and glacier-fed rivers.
Since its one-sport offering in the ’60s, Whistler’s come a long way. And we’re almost certain that next time you visit there will be even more thrilling wintertime activities to try.