Visitors can fly into Vancouver International Airport in the morning and be skiing that afternoon
It doesn’t take long for visitors to realize why Whistler Blackcomb routinely ranks as one of the world’s top ski resorts.
It’s just a two-hour drive from Vancouver along one of the most scenic routes in Canada to the slopes of the resort – and the change in terrain on the journey could hardly be more dramatic.
From Vancouver’s comparatively mild mid-winter to Canada’s deepest snowbelt is an experience that many visitors find amazing.
“There aren’t many places on earth where you have an oceanside world-class city and two hours away a major ski resort,” says Leah Adams-Chute, global ski and adventure content manager at Destination B.C., the provincial tourism promoter. “It’s certainly unique in the province.”
The resort is so close to Vancouver that a visitor can fly into Vancouver International Airport in the morning and be skiing off the 2,182-metre Whistler Peak that afternoon.
Ms. Adams-Chute says nature’s gift to Whistler Blackcomb are the huge coastal weather systems that dump significant amounts of snow on the mountains.
“In big winters the mountain receives upwards of 13 metres of snow,” says Ms. Adams-Chute who spent several years living in Whistler and remembers times when it would snow every day for weeks.
Last season it snowed consistently from November through April, giving Whistler Blackcomb one of the longest ski seasons in North America. “I was up there in early April last year snowboarding in 25 centimetres of perfect powder,” she remembers.
The reason for Whistler-Blackcomb’s abundance of snow is the result of geography.
Distance from the Pacific Ocean defines almost every ski resort in British Columbia, but nowhere is it felt more strongly than at Whistler Blackcomb. The resort is only 58 kilometres from the ocean up the aptly named Sea-to-Sky Highway.
After travelling 7,500 kilometres across the Pacific, sucking up moisture along the way, the first thing weather systems hit when they reach North America is the Coast Mountains around Whistler. As the mountains force the storms up, the moisture in the clouds condenses – at low elevations this creates a temperate rainforest. Up high, it means even more snow.
The Pacific is also a temperature modulator that’s responsible for Vancouver’s milder winters, and the warmth also permeates up to Whistler. An average winter day could hit above freezing in the village and five below at the peak – ideal skiing temperatures. With 1,500 metres of elevation in between, the snow’s always soft somewhere, says Ms. Adams-Chute.
“One of the cool things about having two big mountains, side by side, is that the weather is often really different between top and bottom and even from Whistler Mountain to Blackcomb Mountain,” she says. “If the snow’s not good in one area, you can
usually find better conditions somewhere else.”
When all that snow melts, the rushing streams carve away at the mountains in the endless process of erosion. Add glaciation and precipitation and the results are steep mountain sides, bowls and chutes that give Whistler Blackcomb its reputation for interesting, challenging and varied terrain. Off the mountain, the coastal influence continues. While the restaurant scene rivals many cities, there’s a focus on West Coast seafood and Asian fusion.
Whistler’s arts and culture scene also embraces its location. West Coast art features prominently in the galleries situated throughout Whistler’s pedestrian village and beyond. In fact, there are so many great places to soak in the creativity inspired by the area, the resort created The Cultural Connector.
One of the newest and largest stops is the Audain Art Museum. It features permanent collections of traditional and contemporary northwest First Nations art plus a gallery of work by renowned B.C. artist Emily Carr.
The walk also includes the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, a museum and archives showing and explaining the history and traditions of the people who lived in the Whistler area for millennia.
Add it all together and it’s obvious the coast plays a huge role in defining Whistler Blackcomb, both on and off the slopes.
Peruse the ski map of B.C. and it’s clear that every resort’s unique location is reflected in its character. Above the Okanagan Valley, Big White Ski Resort basks in the sunny weather the area is famous for.
A mild climate, a variety of terrain for all abilities and a huge ski-in/ski-out village makes it one of the best family destinations in the province. Kids will love the Happy Valley Adventure Centre, an outdoors wonderland with Canada’s highest-elevation outdoor skating rink.
Just a bit farther north, SilverStar Mountain Resort has a lofty perch above the valley below. Its unique position allows it to offer fat biking, ice skating and one of the biggest cross-country ski networks in the country.
Kimberley Alpine Resort enjoys the sunniest weather in the province, perfect for getting the whole family out.
The village of Kimberley calls itself the Bavarian City of the Rockies, and the town’s architecture and ambience reflect a German theme, highlighted by the largest cuckoo clock in Canada.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Revelstoke Mountain Resort attract the big-mountain crowd.
The deep-snow, long-run lovers head to Revelstoke Mountain Resort for the longest vertical in North America and the legendary snow of the Selkirk Mountains, home to many of the province’s heli-ski businesses.
Kicking Horse’s terrain has chutes, bowls and more black diamond and double-black terrain than just about anywhere else.
The geography of Panorama Mountain Resort gives it reliability. Cold continental air early in the season allows it to start making snow before most other resorts.
Many race teams rely on Panorama for early season training, and the resort employs some of the best groomers in the business. The talented drivers lay immaculate groomers top to bottom every night.
Fernie Alpine Resort, the only B.C. ski resort in the Canadian Rockies, sits in a unique, inland rainforest microclimatic zone: the shape of the valley and location of the mountain combine to create snow-bearing cloud over the resort.
Fernie’s Lizard Range gets about twice as much snow as mountains just a few kilometres away. With five alpine bowls separated by ridges and perfectly spaced giant cedar trees, the resort’s terrain is playful, challenging and unique.
And then there’s Whitewater Ski Resort located just outside Nelson, known for receiving a magic combination of light and deep snow. It has one of the most colourful collections of locals of any resort anywhere – artists, hippies, miners, tree planters, loggers and ski bums happily rub shoulders in lift lines, chase each other down powdery runs and dance together at the après bar.
British Columbia’s mountain resorts showcase skiing in all its wonderful ways.