Words by Brian Johnston
With one of North America’s largest ski areas, including sophisticated dining and an electric nightlife, Whistler is a ski resort worthy of its Olympic credentials.
Hosting the Winter Olympics be the making of a ski resort. But when it comes to Whistler, the Games were lucky to be there. Long before the sporting razzmatazz of 2010, it was already one of the world’s premier ski destinations. What’s more, Canada’s most accessible ski area is just a two-hour drive from Vancouver on the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway.
Whistler Blackcomb is named for its two mountains. Snowboarders favour Blackcomb, since it offers fewer traverses and more fall-line runs, as do accomplished skiers due to its steeper, narrower slopes. Beginner and intermediate skiers prefer sunnier Whistler mountain with its mid-station ski school. But it has something for the experts, too, such as the fabulous Dave Murray Downhill course, which hosted the blue-ribbon Olympic alpine races. Even if you don’t hurtle down it at 120kph, you can still swoosh in the trail of champions.
Of course, most people ski the two mountains, linked both from the village and mid-slope on the scenic Peak 2 Peak Gondola. All up there are some 200 trails. Then there is Heli-skiing, which brings you to surrounding glaciers and deep-powder back-country. If you aren’t a proficient skier, a helicopter ride still provides stunning mountain scenery.
As the day winds down, the après-ski cranks up, with live music ranging from punk to traditional Irish and local bands. Whistler has a reputation as a gourmet destination, too. Indulge in a cocktail and oysters, smoked Arctic char, or French-inspired cuisine. Kick back and enjoy a Canadian ice wine for dessert, which will send you straight to heaven. The Winter Olympics may have long gone, but Whistler just keeps on winning gold.
Things to know
Average flight time: Sydney - Vancouver, 14 hours direct
Time zone: AEST-18 (18 hours behind Australia)
Currency: Canadian dollar (CAD)
Language: English, French
Must see: The free Fire and Ice show on Sunday evenings features skiers, snowboarders and fireworks.
Best time to visit: The ski season runs for 200 days from November to early June.
The cross-country trails created in the Callaghan Valley just below Whistler are among the remaining Olympic facilities. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better cross-country ski course. The 4km section called Lost Lake Loop is magically floodlit at night, when snow glitters on trees like a crystal art installation. Adrenaline junkies should head to the Olympic Sliding Centre, which still features luge, skeleton and bobsleigh competitions and boasts the world’s fastest ice track. You can take passenger skeleton and bobsleigh rides here, challenging yourself to whizz headfirst down an ice chute: a thrilling roller-coaster ride with no safety bar.