"Adventure is worthwhile in itself."-Amelia Earhart
When the snow descends on Whistler, it’s a magical place. That applies just as much to the myriad wintertime experiences available outdoors, on and off the mountains, as it does to the twinkling lights, cultural and culinary experiences and pulsating nightlife to be found in Whistler Village.
Whether you are a first-time or seasoned visitor, you don’t have to be a hardcore skier or snowboarder to have a good time here. Combine both outdoor and indoor pursuits, find a balance between adventure and relaxation, and you’ve got the perfect wintertime getaway. What follows is just a brief selection of the wintertime adventures available on your visit to North America’s No. 1 year- round resort.
Photo Blackcomb Cat Skiing
If you want to experience the backcountry powder skiing and snowboarding you’ve seen in those wintertime adventure films, numerous Whistler companies offer a variety of powder-fueled experiences for those with intermediate- to expert-level skills. To access the powdery slopes, you have two options: helicopters or snowcats, a.k.a. “Cats.”
Whistler Heli-Skiing boasts exclusive rights to 432,000 acres of big-mountain terrain, with 475 runs including 173 glaciers, using five- to ten-passenger helicopters. Powder Mountain Heliskiing and Catskiing also offer a variety of fresh-tracks adventures. The company specializes in day trips, and semi- private and private packages. Coast Range Heli Adventures, owned and operated by Blackcomb Helicopters, offers heli-assisted backcountry ski drops in their 200,000+ acre tenure and customized heli-skiing through their operating heli ski partner, Whistler Heli-Skiing.
If it’s Cat-assisted skiing you’re after, both Powder Mountain and Blackcomb Powdercats have you covered. Blackcomb Powdercats has a private ski area of 4,000+ acres and offers unlimited runs for a full day of un-tracked, backcountry powder skiing that you’ll long remember.
Photos Joern Rohde
It’s not hard to imagine that when the poet Robert Frost penned his classic “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he might well have been on snowshoes.
In recent years, those seeking wintertime solitude have turned to snowshoeing in increasing numbers. Whistler, famed for its abundance of snow and easily accessible trails, has become a mecca for snowshoers of all ages.
The Callaghan Valley, 15 minutes south of the Village, is the location of Whistler Olympic Park, and offers 40+ kilometres of marked snowshoe trails. Take your own equipment or rent snowshoes and poles and strike out on your own.
Canadian Wilderness Adventures runs guided excursions on what’s called The Medicine Trail, where you can learn the history of the area and sample healing teas brewed with the lichens and other plants that grow alongside the path, as you ventur deep into the snow-laden forest.
Blackcomb Snowmobile offers a variety of snowshoeing tours, including a two-hour excursion on the Trappers Trail around Lost Lake, near Whistler Village. Breathe in the cool mountain air as your guide provides a primer on the Whistler area’s history and First Nations traditions. You might even spot a snowshoe hare, pine marten or another forest-dwelling critter!
The Thrill of Tubing
What could be more Canadian than an afternoon or evening spent tubing down an icy slope, sharing stories of that last thrilling ride between runs as you sip hot chocolate?
Since 2005, Whistler Blackcomb’s Coca Cola Tube Park has offered families this quintessential wintertime experience. The park includes seven sliding lanes, six of which are around 1,000 feet (300 metres) long. The minimum sliding age is three and minimum height is 36 inches (91 centimetres); tubers between 36 and 41 inches (103 cm) tall use the Tots Mini Slide from the park’s halfway point.
Park in Day Lots 6, 7 or 8, or access the park via a free ride on the Excalibur Gondola from Whistler Village. Once there, a conveyor lift next to the sliding lanes makes getting to the top quick and easy, and lanes are rated green, blue and black based on the run’s steepness. Winter clothing, ski goggles and helmets are recommended. The park will be open daily from Dec. 10, 2016 to April 17, 2017, weather permitting.
Olympic Plaza Fun
The 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics left both lasting memories and enduring physical legacies in the resort. Those looking for après-ski family fun can enjoy one of the most unique Games venues right in the heart of Whistler Village: Whistler Olympic Plaza.
The plaza, near the Marketplace in Village North, was the location of the medal ceremonies for Whistler events during the 2010 Games. Today, the plaza includes one of Whistler’s most photographed spots: the Olympic Rings. After the Games, the area next to the rings was developed into a terraced park with an open, park-like square next to a covered concert venue and state-of-the-art playground. In winter the stage and surrounding area are converted into an outdoor ice skating rink complete with twinkling lights and full sound system that offer a magical wintertime experience for the young and young at heart. Skating, which is free (rentals available), is planned daily starting Dec. 10, 2016, weather permitting.
The open area serves the “Snow Zone,” where families can enjoy free sliding on manmade hills of snow of various sizes. At “Family Après” on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm starting Dec. 16, children can join in a variety of fun, guided outdoor activities.
Encouraging guests to get up close and personal with the eager critters powering them forward, dogsled tours offer a truly Canadian experience — following the path of the Inuit, or the early European explorers, past the snowy mountain backdrop on sleds pulled by teams of eight. Picture it: You’re gliding along a snow-covered path through old-growth forest, the sun glistening off the snow as it slants through the trees. The only sounds you hear are the muﬄed sounds of the sled’s runners, the dogs’ panting and the occasional command of your musher as he or she stands on the back of the sled’s runners.
Before the tour, guests have a chance to meet their affable, energetic canine sled-pullers.
“Guests get to help set their team up, learn about the dogs, give them snacks,” says Craig Beattie, general manager of Callaghan Wilderness Adventures, one of two companies that offer dogsled tours in the beautiful Callaghan Valley. “A big portion of the fun comes down to interaction with the dogs. I’ve been around the world for other tours and you don’t have nearly as much interaction with the dogs. These ones are just so social.”
Tours often include a stop-off at a backcountry cabin for a hot chocolate and a snack, where you can share the experience with your mushers, fellow guests, and of course, your new canine friends.
There is no easier way to get out into Whistler’s snowy backcountry than by snowmobile or snowcat. Whether you are a rank beginner or an expert operator of “snow machines,” there are a wide range of thrilling tours to suit all abilities.
Local guided tours range from two to seven hours over a variety of terrain: in the beautiful Callaghan Valley or up the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain. The three-hour Blackcomb Mountain Safari, operated by Canadian Wilderness Adventures (CWAA)), is punctuated by a visit to the mid-mouunnttaaiinn Crystal Hut, at 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) for a warming treat and magical views of the Village.
Experience CWA’s nighttime fondue tour, recognized by Canadian Tourism Commission with a Canadian Signature Experience designation. Departing at 7:30 pm by snowmobile or 8:00 pm by snowcat, guests are treated to a sumptuous fondue feast at the Crystal Hut, with views of the Village lights far below.
Blackcomb Snowmobile offers a wide range of tours including one specifically oriented toward families. The company’s most popular, the Wilderness Tour, is a two- or three-hour experience that takes you into the alpine. The two-hour tour includes a hot beverage and a snack, and the three-hour tour includes lunch at a private cabin in the picturesque Callaghan Valley. Dinner tours with choices of a traditional cheese fondue or a menu with steak or salmon are also available.