After our brief visit to Whistler, BC in late fall, we knew we had to return in winter to experience what the town is most famous for – its ski slopes. So we decided to spend a week in Whistler over Christmas, and we are so glad we did! It was amazing.
New Zealand’s ski seasons are pretty variable, with some being great and many being decidedly average. Over the years we have spent many disappointing slushy or icy days on the mountains back home (Ruapehu, I’m looking at you!). So when we heard that Whistler was one of the best places to ski in North America, and with it being so close to Vancouver, we knew we had to go!
We picked up new skis in Portland (benefitting from no sales tax and much cheaper prices than in Canada, let alone New Zealand!) and planned our trip to Whistler. Visiting over Christmas was possibly the most expensive time of the year to head there, which we found out when booking accommodation. Ouch!
Onto the Snowbus we went at 6.30 one morning, after dragging our incredibly heavy ski bag from our apartment down to the bus meeting point. Unfortunately the weather was awful and we couldn’t see the spectacular mountain scenery along the Sea to Sky Highway – we missed out last time as well, damn!
Arriving in Whistler we trundled the huge bag to our lodging for the week, ditched our bags, and headed up the mountain.
We stayed at Alpenglow Lodge in a studio apartment which turned out really well. It had a small kitchen so we could save on food costs by cooking meals and making sandwiches for lunch (as suggested in our recent post on how to save money while travelling), and the spa pool got rid of many aches and pains from those first few days up the mountain. Alpenglow was in a great location – only a minutes walk from the pedestrian-only Village Stroll (which goes right the way through Whistler Village), across the road from the IGA grocery store, and about ten minutes walk to the gondola base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
On the mountain
We skied for seven out of the eight days we were at Whistler. The snow conditions were amazing – no slush and very little ice compared to New Zealand! We were lucky that on the first few days we were visiting, the mountains received a considerable dumping of snow so the conditions were beautiful and powdery for the remainder of our visit. We loved carving down the wide slopes and swishing through the trees (a novelty for us New Zealanders as we don’t have trees on our ski fields!). Sometimes we ended up waist deep in powder, which was a fun but interesting challenge to get out of! Most of the time we skied on Blackcomb – it was much quieter than Whistler and had more runs that we liked.
We were surprised with how easy it was to get away from people, given how busy the village was. We often had runs all to ourselves and waited for a maximum of 5 minutes for chairlifts and gondolas – yet another treat for us as we are used to waiting up to half an hour in lift queues back home! Another thing we noticed was that the mountain pretty much cleared out after about 2 p.m., which we thought was strange since the lifts are open until 2.30 or 3 p.m.
Since we hadn’t been on a mountain for a year and a half (and with Shaun switching back to skiing from three years of snowboarding), it took a day to get back into the swing of it. But the excellent snow and empty runs helped to increase our confidence, and by the end of the week we were screaming down the hill.
We had a great app on our iPhones called Ski Tracks, which tracks your speed, distance, elevation, and number of runs, and plots it all on Google satellite photos. It was pretty cool to see where we went each day! On the last day, Shaun got up to a whopping 75 km/hr and I got to 64 km/hr – much faster than the 30’s and 40’s we were doing on the first few days! Over the course of the week we skied about 200 km – no wonder we were exhausted each evening!
Lift passes are pretty expensive at Whistler Blackcomb, and if you buy them individually per day they’re around $100! We bought a pass that allowed us to ski six out of seven days and it cost us about $450 each, so it saved us a huge amount of money. The lift passes give you access to a massive area of skiing terrain (about 6000 acres of terrain was open when we were there), and you can catch the fantastic Peak 2 Peak gondola between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains so you don’t have to go down to the village.
When we weren’t skiing, we spent time wandering around the village and admiring the Christmas setup – lots of pretty fairy lights adorning the trees, Christmas carols everywhere, and a Santa or two was often spotted. We found a few great places to eat and drink too, and have listed them here for you.
Great eats in Whistler
Araxi is one of Whistler’s best restaurants, and thanks to our parents we had a delicious dinner there one evening. The food is Japanese fusion style, and was outstanding. We especially enjoyed the grilled red tuna main and lemon tart dessert!
Grill & Vine
This great restaurant is located in the Westin hotel, and serves some delicious food. We usually avoid hotel restaurants but we were glad our friends took us to this one – it was awesome! I had an amazing scallop risotto and Shaun enjoyed a great steak. Unfortunately we were too full for dessert, as the menu looked so good!
El Furniture Warehouse
At the other end of the spectrum to the rather fine-dining establishments above, ‘El Furny’ (as the locals call it) prides itself on the fact that all of their meals cost an incredible $4.95 – all day, every day! We ate there twice and the food was surprisingly good considering it was so cheap. They served great burgers, salads, and even gave us free donuts for dessert as the waitress spilled one of our beers!
We visited Purebread in Vancouver and discovered they had a branch in Whistler, so we had to make it our morning coffee stop on the way to the gondola! They serve Stumptown espresso (our favourite) and a huge range of amazing cakes, brownies, pastries, and savoury items. The shop is so cute too!
Tips & tricks for visiting Whistler at Christmas
- Book accommodation as early as possible, and try to take advantage of earlybird deals or special offers. We got 10% off our stay at Alpenglow by signing up to their email list!
- Buy lift passes for Whistler Blackcomb in advance, and get multi-day passes – you can save a lot of money.
- Head up the Blackcomb side in the morning – the queue for the gondola is usually much shorter than that for the Whistler side. You can always catch the Peak 2 Peak gondola across to Whistler if you want to!
- Have lunch either early or late because the cafes up the mountain get full of people from around midday to 1 p.m.
- Stay on the mountain until the lifts close at 2.30 or 3 p.m. – you’ll have the runs pretty much to yourself after about 2 p.m.!
- You’ll need to book at many restaurants days, if not weeks, in advance. We wanted to go to Araxi on Christmas Day and the only spot left when we looked over a week in advance was at 9.45 p.m.! So we tried our luck and turned up on the 23rd at 5 p.m. and were lucky enough to get a table. So if you’re set on a particular place for a particular time, book well in advance!
We thoroughly enjoyed our winter week in Whistler and wouldn’t hesitate to return. Although perhaps next time we will visit after the busy (and expensive) Christmas/New Year period! The snow was incredible and we loved having the runs pretty much to ourselves. It was so good!
Thank you to Whistler Blackcomb for hosting us on the mountain for one of the days we skied there. As always, you receive our honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.