Lifts & Terrain
Whistler Skiing and Snowboarding Review
Ski Whistler BC for the ginormous variety of terrain available! The Whistler Blackcomb ski resort is huge at 3,307 hectares and the massive network of trails can mean that you can easily ski for multiple days and not find the same run twice. There’s significant potential you’ll lose your friends or family (which can be handy on occasion!) so you’ll need a contingency plan to find them. Considering the size of the terrain, intermediate and advanced riders may want to partake in a free mountain tour with one of the friendly hosts.
Whistler Resort has a mile long vertical drop (1,609 metres). Whilst this is no longer the biggest vertical in North America, it’s still significant. Most of the skiing occurs on the top two-thirds of the mountains; the lower third is primarily a ski-out unless the Whistler snow conditions are particularly primo.
Even though the stats suggest that the Whistler skiing terrain is predominantly suited to intermediates with 55% of the terrain rated as blue, Whistler Blackcomb
is well suited to all levels because there is just sooooo much terrain to choose from. The Whistler ski terrain is so impressive that our Powderhounds resort ratings
include full marks for various categories and several best skiing in Canada
Whistler Mountain vs Blackcomb Mountain
Many years ago Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain joined forces to become the one mega Whistler Blackcomb resort. Some people prefer to ski Whistler Mountain, some favour Blackcomb, but they’re both fantastic and you can ride both mountains so you really don’t need to choose!
There are some minor differences between Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain. Whistler Mountain is bigger, but on bad weather days Whistler can feel much smaller if the bowls are closed or the visibility is not good. Blackcomb is great for inclement weather days because there are more gladed and protected runs. Whistler is awesome on fine days because it has better views and there’s lots of bowl skiing.
Whistler has a little more beginner terrain than Blackcomb and it generally caters more for low-end intermediates, whereas Blackcomb better suits strong intermediates.
Whistler BC Lifts
Whistler BC has amazing lift infrastructure with an abundance of lifts, many of which are high quality and super fast. In addition to 3 gondolas (Whistler Village, Blackcomb Excalibur, Creekside), as of 2013-14 there are 13 high-speed quad chair lifts (the slow old triple Crystal chair is replaced with a quad) and a new Harmony 6-pack chair). These fast chairs cover most of the Blackcomb and Whistler skiing terrain.
In addition to an abundance of magic carpets there are a couple of other surface lifts up high in the alpine areas on Blackcomb, but these are fairly short so they’re not tedious.
The Whistler Peak-to-Peak Gondola
is an engineering marvel and provides transport between the two mountains without having to ski the long haul down to the base area. On fine days, the views from the Peak to Peak gondola are phenomenal!
Whistler BC is amazing. The only downside is that everyone knows it, so it’s the complete antithesis of an undiscovered ski resort. During peak parts of the season (e.g. February, holidays) it can be complete mayhem at Whistler, and on powder days the freshies only last a nano-second. However during the shoulder season and early January, the crowds can be quite manageable, and fresh powder can be found for a few hours in the bowls and some nooks and crannies.
Sometimes you’ll get stuck in some ridiculous lift queues at the gondolas or the Big Red Express and Excelerator chairs. Any frustration is minimal though, because the incredibly organised and polite Canadian culture will shine through as everyone patiently queues and merges in turn.
All this amazing lift infrastructure and terrain at Whistler Blackcomb comes at a price. Adult lift tickets are way in excess of the $100 mark per day, and are $25 more expensive than the average for western Canadian ski resorts. Youth and child tickets are also incredibly pricey relative to other ski resorts. Thankfully there are small discounts for multi-day and pre-purchased lift tickets.
The Fresh Tracks lift tickets provide good value for money, but only if you actually get to use your ticket. The Fresh Tracks program involves uploading the Whistler Village gondola from 7:15 to 8am, gorging on a buffet breakfast at the Roundhouse Lodge, and then charging for the fresh powder or corduroy off the Big Red and Emerald chair lifts. They don’t sell tickets for a specific day and they limit it to only (!!) 650 people per morning, so on a powder day unless you get there super early (e.g. 6am) you may miss out.
Whistler Snow and Weather
Whistler BC has an average annual snowfall of 11.2 metres, so the chances of scoring fresh powder are pretty good. The quality of the Whistler snow is incredibly variable because the temps vary significantly, but the snow has a tendency towards being wet due to the proximity to the coast.
As to be expected for a ski resort with mile high vertical, the snow conditions between the top and bottom can be amazingly different. On the lower parts of the mountains it can be raining and the snow may be very slushy, but there is significant snowmaking capacity to ensure adequate snow coverage.
The alpine areas of Whistler Blackcomb are quite exposed so on inclement weather days the visibility is often crap, and sometimes the lifts close due to wind issues. Impressively there are various electronic signs around the resort that indicate which lifts are open, the wind speed, and the visibility.
Whistler Snowboarding and Skiing for Beginners
The best area for novices is on Whistler Mountain at Olympic Station, the area at the mid-station of the Whistler Village gondola (beginners can download the gondola at the end of the day). This area has a slow zone, magic carpets, and a couple of short lifts that aren’t too daunting for beginners.
If you’re staying in the Upper Village there is a beginners’ area suitable for first timers at the base of Blackcomb (Yellow Brick Rd). The Creekside base is not set up for beginners, although the ski instructors are adept at getting the little kids up to easy areas from there.
Confident beginners can head up the two mountains to various green runs, although slow riders may find these runs to be really long and exhausting.
Intermediate Boarding and Skiing Whistler
Whistler skiing and snowboarding is bliss for intermediates. The Whistler Blackcomb ski resort has sooooooo much variety for intermediates, with plentiful wide cruisers. The blue runs on Blackcomb tend to be a little steeper than those on Whistler Mountain.
They can’t groom all the blue runs (and black runs) so check the grooming charts at the top of the lifts. The Peak to Creek run on Whistler can be super fun for racing if it’s been groomed, but otherwise this really long run can just become a grueling long hard slog.
Ski Whistler – Kids and the Family
Both Blackcomb and Whistler Mountain have child specific areas including a children’s adventure park with terrain features, a little terrain park, and a tree fort adventure playground.
One of the benefits of Whistler Blackcomb is that there are quite a few areas where riders of differing abilities can play together because a green run weaves around the mountain and crosses the more challenging blue and black runs. The Harmony Bowl is one example of an area where there’s something for everyone.
Whistler Terrain Parks
Whistler Blackcomb has so much to offer with multiple terrain parks that allow easy progression. The various terrain parks cater for novices up to those doing the most extreme tricks. Blackcomb has more terrain parks than Whistler Mountain and it’s also home to the super pipe and the pro level terrain park.
Advanced Snowboarding & Skiing at Whistler BC
A “must do” for strong intermediate and advanced riders on a pleasant weather day is the Blackcomb Glacier. Easy access is via the Showcase T-bar and a quick hike, whilst game experts can get there via Spanky’s Ladder. The trail out from the glacier is a little tediously long, but it’s worth it because the snow quality up on Blackcomb Glacier is often lovely.
If the run’s been fully groomed, the Dave Murray Downhill to Creekside is an awesome run for racing, but you’ll need to tighten your goggles as the speeds you’ll reach may be eye watering. It’s a great glory or ego boosting run, unless of course you let your friends beat you down!
The Whistler Blackcomb ski resort has plenty of bowls and steeps for advanced riders. Some of the single blacks are pretty steep, so sharpen your edges! Favourite single black runs include the Secret Bowl just around from the Extreme Couloir area on Blackcomb. The Whistler Bowl seems rather trendy so it can quickly develop nasty bumps, but if you nip around to the skiers left and give the Bagel and West bowls a go there’s less skier traffic.
Examples of enjoyable tree skiing at Whistler Blackcomb are below the 7th Heaven chair (Blackcomb) and runs such as “Where’s Joe?”. And start a love affair with the Symphony bowl - this area is fabulous.
Ski Whistler - Experts
Experts will love Whistler due to the abundance of super challenging terrain. Whistler Blackcomb ski resort scores full marks for both expert and extreme terrain, so it’s not surprising that Whistler attracts (or develops) lots of hard-core ski bums.
There are plenty of double black diamond runs in-bounds. Most of these are up in the high alpine areas, but there are a few zones for steep gnarly trees (e.g. Crystal area). Spanky’s Ladder into the glacier provides some tricky chutes and rocks to navigate, and Extreme Couloir is considered “the” expert run of Blackcomb, and many an embellished story has been told of the legends of this run. This is not the place to do a garage sale! There are usually a couple of reasonably easy entries into the couloir, or there are entries that fall into the extreme category. This run was formerly known as Saudan Couloir after an extreme skier, although I always thought it was called Saddam Couloir and that they had to change its name after Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006!!
In good visibility there are also great runs and nasty chutes off the Peak chair at Whistler.
There is additional expert skiing at Whistler in the side-country areas. One example is a hike up from the Blackcomb Glacier into the 7th Heaven area and Ziggy’s Meadow. There are various guiding and coaching services available for those wanting to explore the Whistler Blackcomb side-country.