Planning a winter trip to this remarkable world-class wonderland? I've got 12 tips that will help ensure you have the time of your life.
We love Whistler! I've been coming here every year, at least once or twice or three times each year, for, well... many years. I've enjoyed Whistler with my significant other, with several other adults couples, with just my girlfriends, and of course, as a family with the dog in tow! I never stop marveling at the beauty of it all, and feel so lucky to have the opportunity to return again and again. I've been asked many times about what I've learned, so I've made a very thorough list. Hope you find this helpful, and I hope you enjoy your time in one of my favorite places in the world!
1. What's Happening Do your research! I'm all about familiarizing myself with a place well before I travel, and Whistler, British Columbia is no exception. Even though I've been here countless times, there could always be (and likely is) something going on that you don't want to miss. Before you leave town make sure to peruse Pique Magazine for concerts, events, etc. Also, get on Instagram and follow @whistlerblackcomb and #whistlerblackcomb. It’ll keep you from missing something cool while you’re there. Once we found out the morning after arrival that one of our favorite new just-starting-out bands had JUST PLAYED in a local bar the night before... and we could have been there!! That still stings. Always check first.
2. Lift Tickets: Don't Wait
This part is sooo important. We all know how expensive skiing is no matter where you go, but at a resort this epic you're going to pay a premium. And as a family of 4, those lift ticket prices multiplied 4 times over can be quite painful! Because of this we always buy our tickets online, at least one week ahead of time. If you know the exact day you'll be skiing you can get an even deeper discount, but we feel it's worth paying the extra (I think most recently it was just a $7 difference) to have flex tickets that we can use anytime during our stay. Also, make sure to check Epic, the parent company for Whistler Blackcomb and several other world-class resorts. This site sometimes offers discounts, and consider signing up for alerts and promotions.
3. Will They Let You In?
This seems like such an obvious question, but sometimes this pesky detail sneaks up on us. You'll need a valid passport, and if you don't have one you WILL be turned away at the border. This would be so awful! We've heard so many stories, and we're always in fear of this happening to one of us. The big problem here is that getting a passport is no quick feat. Generally, it takes 6-8 weeks, so to be safe you'll want to give yourself 3 or more months! To apply for a passport here's where to start.
If you do need one in a pinch - meaning, you're within two weeks of your intended departure date - you CAN get one issued in a single day. Thiiiis we actually know firsthand, but that's a story in itself:) To do this, you need to be able to access one of the federal offices that can do this for you, and be ready to spend the entire day devoted to this task. But it's possible!
4. Loonies and Toonies
Canada has its own currency so you'll need to be familiar with their current conversion rate and remember to handle money keeping this in mind. In recent years, the U.S. dollar has been worth a bit more, so your dollars will go a little farther. In Whistler Village merchants are quite used to taking American dollars, so you will not need to exchange cash before visiting.
You do need to be aware, however, that any change you receive back from a merchant will be in Canadian money, so be prepared to accumulate some foreign pocket change! The part I always like about this is later getting home and reconciling my finances; the amount I'd subtracted from my account (that had been on my receipt) is always less in actuality because, of course, my bank calculates in American dollars. It's silly but I always feel like I got a deal:)
5. Getting There
We have been asked a million times: is it better to drive or to fly? We always drive. Here's why. A friend of mine once surprised her husband with a birthday trip to Whistler and decided to splurge and also buy airline tickets to avoid the hassle of driving. When they got home she said she regretted it. Reason? Their travel time included driving to the airport, taking the shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal, checking in, waiting for an hour for their PDX-YVR flight to leave, the actual flight time, deboarding and gathering luggage, waiting for shuttle to Whistler, then riding the shuttle up the mountain... you get my point. She said that their travel time worked out to be just about the same as my driving estimate had been, and cost 3-5 times more. For some actual figures, according to the amazing website Rome2Rio.com, drive time from Portland to Whistler is 7 hours, 22 minutes, and cost $50-80 per car. Flying is 7 hours, 24 minutes, and $132-346 per person. That settles that!
Now, since you are choosing to drive it's important to determine your route... Specifically: which border crossing? Such an important question!! We've had the best luck as follows:
U.S. to Canada - take the Truck Crossing https://goo.gl/maps/ x9C27mhLQbL2
Canada to U.S. - go through the Aldergrove Crossing https://goo.gl/maps/ 4QdjSykK33E2
Good lord never, ever the Peace Arch. Way too much traffic over there.
DON'T accidentally drive into downtown Vancouver, you will lose an hour.
Also, always plan to stop in Squamish (this is a small town north of Vancouver BC) for groceries and liquor. More about this later.
"their travel time worked out to be just about the same as my driving estimate had been, and cost 3-5 times more."
6. Getting Around the Village
One of the best parts about Whistler Village is the Free Shuttle System. Once you've arrived and unpacked your bags, you can virtually keep your car parked for almost your entire stay if you wish. Whistler Village provides a fantastic shuttle system that runs throughout most of the large village area and comes by frequently. This allows you to avoid parking hassles, navigating potentially poor road conditions, and also allows you to have a cocktail with dinner without the worry about driving after. You might also consider letting your older kids explore the Village themselves via the shuttle too!
Obviously, lodging amenities vary quite a bit based on the size of your group and how much you want to spend. There are a few things that are pretty universal though. So to be adequately prepared here are some details to consider.
Many hotels offer free continental breakfast, which is super helpful if you want to eat quickly and get out onto the slopes early in the morning. Does yours? If not you may need to build in extra time to go to a restaurant, wait to get served, eat, etc. Consider buying breakfast groceries ahead of time that you can either eat in your room/suite or take with you as you head out skiing.
Consider bringing small games or a deck of cards for those quiet evenings in. Some hotels offer games that you can check out at the front desk.
Music lover? Bring a portable speaker you can plug into in the room!
It is very likely you will have access to a hot tub. There's just nothing much better than soaking in a bubbling tub after a long day skiing. As an added bonus, there are usually several other friendly, chatty guests doing the same thing, and the opportunity for conversation with others from around the world is always very high - definitely make time to do this! Therefore, remember to throw in your swimming suit and some lightweight flip flops (your snow boots could work too). Also, check to see if robes are available onsite for your use.
Also for the hot tub... bring some plastic cups! You may very well want them for your hot tub cocktail. In our experience, we have only had 'glass' glasses available (not ok around hot tubs), or puny small plastic cups. I don't know about you but if I'm going to make myself a cocktail to-go I'm going to use a big ol' cup so it'll last me.
"Music lover? Bring a portable speaker you can plug into in the room!"
Let's face it, dining out in Whistler Village can get very expensive. Don't get me wrong, sometimes that's the trip you want to take - glamorous, high-end dining, without a care in the world. Those are super fun, but we have found that the best route is to make some meals in, then eat out for others. Also - and admittedly this was a discovery I made quite by accident - some of our most favorite family memories here have been made while we enjoyed an evening in, eating a meal that we'd just made in our suite's mini-kitchen. Our first night is always spaghetti. Always.
With this in mind, here are some key things for you to remember:
Pack any seasonings, nonstick spray, olive oil, etc. Maybe bring things like microwave popcorn, etc. Even if you do have a little kitchen, these extras that we normally take for granted (who doesn't just always have olive oil at home?) will not be within reach when you need them, and not having the usual suspects like nonstick spray or garlic can really put a damper on a meal. And just to be a smart traveler... pack a mini wine opener!
Plan to buy your groceries before you get to Whistler. You should stop at Squamish (small little town partway up the hill from Vancouver to Whistler) and get all your groceries, and your liquor. Way cheaper there.
If you forget something, there are 2 big grocery stores in Whistler Village so you can still get misc stuff, but it'll cost more.
9. Take a Hike
We all know Whistler is famous for its world-class skiing. After all, it was the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics for crying out loud! But what if you don't ski? Or you don't want to necessarily spend your whole time skiing? Take a hike! There are so many options, whether it be winter or summer. It's such a great activity because you can go on your own schedule, it's totally free, and, well, it's our dog's favorite day because she gets to tag along:) Check out my 4 favorite short hikes around Whistler here and for a list of some longer ones visit Whistler's best winter hikes.
10. Eat + Drink
Eat. There is no shortage of great eating here! However, you don't need to do 'fancy' to get really good food, and we generally keep it pretty simple. From a quick coffee, to pastries, to sit-down dinners, here's a shortlist of our favorites:
Drink. Sometimes you just want to sit and people watch with a cocktail in hand. No problem, Whistler is just the place. Here are some of our all-time favorites:
Longhorn Saloon - classic spot that you must do at least once. Excellent people watching, good music. Go in the afternoon and sit outside near a heater. Premiere après ski see-and-be-seen fun, whether it's winter or summer.
El Furniture Warehouse - not a furniture store, this is a restaurant/bar. Super cheap eats (every item is $5), again great people watching, excellent music. VERY popular so if you go later you'll probably have to wait a while for a table so go there early.
Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub - live music almost every night. Super fun and lively atmosphere with great food. Be sure to check the schedule for Red Chair - such a great local band that we went home with a t-shirt!
Fairmount Chateau Whistler - when our girls were little this was our leave-them-in-the-room-and-sneak-away-for-a-nightcap spot. Beautiful building, excellent place to chill (any time of day really) so if you want to feel like a sophisticated grownup for an hour this is the place.
On the subject of cocktails but not a bar per se... you'll definitely want to experience the Ketel One Vodka Room. Expedition-grade parkas provided for all.
There are probably a dozen dance clubs in the Village. They're all underground below the shops. They seem to share business, i.e. it's understood that Wednesdays belong to this club, Thursdays to this one, etc. So, if you hit it off with a server or bartender somewhere on the first day ask their opinion of which night is which. That's always been super helpful for us. Again, as you get closer to the dates make sure to read the online Pique Magazine for upcoming events.
12. What To Wear
I'll never forget the time a group of us girlfriends all descended upon Whistler for a long party weekend. We headed out to the village the first night... wearing our amazing 'dance club' clothes. DORKS. We still crack up about it to this day, and don't worry - we still had a ton of fun, partially because we couldn't help laughing at ourselves! But it was so weird to us; even in the clubs people are wearing t-shirts, flannels, beanies, etc.
My point is don't worry for a moment about being under-dressed. And picture this: walking and waiting for the shuttle at 2 AM (or worse, having to walk back to your condo because you missed the shuttle and no taxis want to pick you up…), freezing your ass off in super cute no-traction boots and a leather jacket while it's raining/snowing makes you very, very grouchy. Dress in layers, like you're in a North Face or Columbia Sportswear catalog, or wearing my current favorite oh-so-cozy Free People parka (pictured here).
Consider yourself much better prepared for your winter excursion to beautiful Whistler Blackcomb! Got a tip you think I should have included? Please tell me - I'd always love to learn even more about this beautiful destination. Happy Canadian travels!