Whistler is in the Coastal Mountains of British Columbia, Canada’s most westerly province. It is located a two hour drive north of Vancouver, or four to five hours from Seattle, on the province’s west coast.
The resort is laid out along simple principles: Three higher-density pedestrian-oriented base villages serve the lift complexes climbing Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Highway 99 threads up the valley north-south, the main road linking all. Spread-out residential developments line the valley, outside the villages; a paved recreation trail more or less parallels the highway. Outside these developed areas, it’s wilderness in all directions except along Highway 99—head northwest from Whistler into the Coast Range and you won’t hit another road for 200 miles.
With paved pedestrian walks and plazas, and a myriad of shops, restaurants, taverns and hotel fronts, the main village at Whistler is designed to resemble an Alpine ski town. Village planners laid things out so that driving streets thread into the village like tentacles, but are not the main focus—you bring your car to your hotel, park it underground and forget it. Walking the village is one of the key pleasures of a visit to Whistler—it’s bustling, charming, scenic and very practical. And it’s built on what was once a garbage dump.
This development, uphill and up-valley a bit from the main village, is the domain of the resort’s highest-octane hotels, including the Chateau Whistler, Four Seasons, Pan Pacific and Le Chamois. Smaller than the main village, it is also less of a strolling place, with fewer shops, cafes and galleries. Blackcomb base is its center, with a huge plaza adjoining the Chateau Whistler. If you’re having an afternoon beverage outside on the plaza, it’s fun to count the limos you see pulling in and out.
Tucked amid forest and lakes on the valley floor and up the foothills a bit, this area hugs the western shores of Green Lake. Here is much of residential Whistler, plus rental homes and condominiums with peace and quiet much more reliable than in any of the three villages. It’s a 5- to 10-minute drive to the lifts; the Whistler Valley Trail threads through the area, providing ski, foot, bike and blade access.
This is where Whistler started all those years ago. Though the early developers knew the better site for a base village was farther up the valley, development rights didn’t come along for that until later. So, beneath this narrow, steep cleft at the bottom of Whistler Mountain, lodgings, cafes, bunkhouses and such sprang up beneath the first lifts. After development of the main village, Creekside became the bargain end of Whistler, with legendarily cheap lodgings, cafes and taverns. A spate of redevelopment in the early part of this century was boosted considerably when this became the finish for the men’s and women’s Olympic downhills. Today, spiffy high-rise lodges and sparkling new restaurants line the little Creekside pocket, and all that remains of the old days is Dusty’s Bar & BBQ and Southside Diner, and both those are actually new reincarnations. It’s a 5-minute drive up-valley to the main village.
Whistler’s “industrial” district is so named for its business, commercial and service tenants, though the “neighborhood” was recently gentrified by the addition of the Olympic athletes’ village on the south side of Highway 99 (technically called Cheakamus Crossing, now being turned into affordable housing). The name reflects the fast-disappearing sense of fun that prevailed before Whistler started taking itself very seriously as a Big Deal.
Whistler Weather & Climate
Whistler’s ski season is famously long, from the end of Nov. to April on Whistler Mountain and into June on Blackcomb. During the winter, storms off the coast cover the mountains with an average of 30 feet of snow a year. Temperatures don’t get too low though, even in Jan/Feb, when temps average around 0ºC, but winds can make this feel much colder.
Spring in Whistler is unpredictable, with weather ranging from cold and wet to overcast to warm and sunny. By May, snow is melting and in June lower elevation hiking/biking trails are open and snow-free. Although you can’t count on the weather, you can count on plenty of travel bargains in spring.
July/Aug. is warm; late summer into fall is pleasant with less rain and more stable conditions.