During the few months that they aren’t covered in snow, the slopes of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort come alive with locals and tourists alike enjoying hiking, guided naturalist walks, mountain biking, and horseback riding, or just marveling at the mountainscape from the comfort of the lifts. Die-hard skiers will even find glacier skiing here early in the summer. More than 50 kilometers (31 miles) of hiking trails wind around the mountains, including trails through the high alpine to destinations such as beautiful Harmony Lake (2.5 km/1.6 mi from the top of the gondola; Whistler Mountain) or to the toe of a small glacier (2.5 km/1.6 mi from the top of the gondola; Whistler Mountain). It’s also possible to rent snowshoes for $6 per hour to walk across areas of year-round snowpack.
Peak 2 Peak Gondola
The main lifts on both mountains operate mid-June through mid-October, with the classic Peak 2 Peak circuit providing a 4.4-kilometer (2.8-mile) loop connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. A day pass for unlimited lift use is $49 for adults, $42 for seniors, and $25 for children. A season pass is $80 for adults, $68 for seniors, and $44 for children. Summer lift hours are 10am-5pm daily, except during the first couple of weekends in June and October when hours are 11am-4pm. These dates vary between the mountains and are totally dependent on snow cover, or the lack of it. Dining facilities are available on both mountains, or visitors can grab a picnic basket lunch from any of the delis down in the village.
Even if it’s a beautiful day down in the valley, expect the unexpected and take a warm windor waterproof coat in anticipation of a change in the weather. Also, some of the hiking trails can be rough, so wear good hiking boots if you plan to explore away from the main trails.
Whistler Sea to Sky Climb
Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (604/606-7245 or 877/460-3200), the same company that runs train trips between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies, also operates the luxurious Whistler Sea to Sky Climb trip between North Vancouver and Whistler. The train itself is deluxe in every respect, but it’s what’s outside the large windows that is most memorable—a moving postcard of mountains, ocean, and waterfalls. The trip takes 3.5 hours each way and runs May through mid-October, with departures from North Vancouver daily at 8:30am. Adult rates are $311 round-trip or upgrade to Dome Car Service for $420. Rates include snacks and hotel transfers. You can also return to Vancouver by bus, which saves a few bucks and allows you to spend extra time in Whistler.
The easiest way to access the area’s most spectacular hiking country is to take a sightseeing lift up Whistler or Blackcomb Mountain, but many other options exist. Walking around Whistler Valley you’ll notice signposted trails all over the place. Valley Trail is a paved walk/bike path in summer and a cross-country ski trail in winter. It makes an almost complete tour of the valley, from Whistler Village to Lost Lake and Green Lake, along the River of Golden Dreams, past three golf courses to Alta Lake, Nita Lake, and Alpha Lake, and finally to Highway 99 in the Whistler Creekside area. If you’d rather do a short walk, head for Lost Lake via the 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) trail from Parking Lot East at the back of Whistler Village, or via the WAVE transit bus from the middle of the village. Once at the beautiful lake, you can saunter along the shore, picnic, swim, or (in winter) cross-country ski.
Between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, a gravel road leads 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) to the trailhead for the Singing Pass Trail. From the parking lot, this trail follows the Fitzsimmons Creek watershed for 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) to Singing Pass, gaining 600 meters (2,000 feet) in elevation; allow 2.5 hours each way. From the pass, it’s another 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to beautiful Russet Lake, where you’ll find a backcountry campground.
On the opposite side of the valley, an eight kilometer (five-mile) trail (three hours each way) leads from Alta Lake Road just north of the Whistler hostel up Twenty One Mile Creek to Rainbow Lake. The elevation gain is a strenuous 850 meters (2,800 feet).
The Whistler Valley is a perfect place to take a mountain bike—you’d need months to ride all of the trails here. Many of the locals have abandoned their cars for bikes, which in some cases are worth more than their cars! You can see them scooting along Valley Trail, a paved walk/bike path that links the entire valley and is the resident bicyclists’ freeway. Another popular place for mountain bikers is beautiful Lost Lake, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) northeast of Whistler Village.
On the mountain slopes, Whistler Mountain Bike Park (mid-May to early Oct., $61 per day) is perfect for adventurous riders to strut their stuff. Using the lifts to access a vertical drop of 1,200 meters (3,900 feet), it features three “Skill Centres” filled with obstacles for varying levels of skill, a Bikercross Course, and a variety of trails to the valley floor.
Backroads Whistler (604/932-3111) runs a variety of tours, ranging from an easy ride along the valley floor to hard-core downhill riding.
If you didn’t bring a bike, not to worry—they’re available for rent. Rental rates start at around $18 per hour, $50-135 per day with the following companies: Garbanzo Bike & Bean (Carleton Lodge, base of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, 604/905-2076), Spicy Sports (Rainbow Building, Gateway Loop, 604/905-2777), Sportstop (4154 Village Green, 604/932-5495), Whistler Bike Co. (4205 Village Sq., 604/938-9511), and Wild Willies (4321 Village Gate Blvd., 604/938-8036).
Sunbathers head for the public beaches along the shores of Alta Lake. Watching all the windsurfers whipping across the water or beginners repeatedly taking a plunge is a good source of summer entertainment. Wayside Park at the south end of the lake has a beach, a canoe launch, an offshore pontoon, a grassy area with picnic tables, and hiking/biking trails. At Alta Lake, Lakeside Park Water Sports (604/932- 3111) rents canoes and kayaks for $15 per person per hour or stand-up paddleboards for $25 per hour. You can also travel by canoe along the smooth flowing River of Golden Dreams for $69 ($99 guided) including return transportation by road.
For a little white-water excitement, try riverrafting with Wedge Rafting (604/932-7171 or 888/932-5899), which provides guided scenic and white-water tours between the end of May and early September. Outings range from an easy float down the Green River for $99 per person to the whitewater thrills of a full-day trip on the Squamish River for $165.
Whistler boasts four world-class championship golf courses, each with its own character and charm. The entire valley has gained a reputation as a golfing destination, with many accommodations offering package deals that include greens fees. Still, golfing at Whistler is as expensive as anywhere in the country. All of the following courses offer a golf shop with club rentals ($50-65) and golfing apparel, as well as a clubhouse with dining facilities. The golfing season runs mid-May to October, so in late spring you can ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon.
Designed by Arnold Palmer, Whistler Golf Club (between Whistler Village and Alta Lake, 604/932-3280 or 800/376-1777) offers large greens and narrow wooded fairways over a challenging 6,676-yard par-72 layout. Greens fees are $139 (the twilight rate of $79 is offered after 5pm) and cart rental is an additional $40.
On the other side of the village is Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club (Blackcomb Way, 604/938-2092 or 888/938-2092). Designed by renowned golf-course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., this 6,635-yard course takes advantage of the rugged terrain of Blackcomb Mountain’s lower slopes through holes that rise and fall with the lay of the land. Greens fees are $175, which includes the use of a GPSequipped cart.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Nicklaus North course (just north of Whistler Village, 604/938-9898) is an open layout holding numerous water hazards. It boasts 360-degree mountain vistas and plays to a challenging 6,900 yards from the back markers. Weekend greens fees are $185, discounted to $155 on midweek afternoons.
A 25-minute drive north of Whistler on Highway 99 is Big Sky Golf and Country Club (1690 Airport Rd., Pemberton, 604/894-6106 or 800/668-7900), a picturesque par-72 course of over 7,000 yards, where high-season greens fees are $155 (cart extra).
Nothing beats the spectacular sight of the Coast Mountains’ majestic peaks, glaciers, icyblue lakes, and lush mountain meadows from an unforgettable vantage point high in the sky. Whistler Air (604/932-6615 or 800/665-0212) will take you aloft in a floatplane from Green Lake, 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) north of Whistler Village. A 30-minute flight over the glaciers of Garibaldi Provincial Park costs $135; a 40-minute flight over the Pemberton Ice Cap goes for $165; and a two-hour flight landing on a high alpine lake runs $272. You can also charter the whole plane (minimum four people) for a remote backcountry adventure.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Vancouver & Victoria.