I’ll admit it. I didn’t see what the big deal was about Whistler. Yeah, I know it’s pegged as Canada’s premier ski hill, but the cynic in me wondered if it really deserved that title. How much better could it be than skiing in Banff National Park, where I consider Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village to be my own backyard. We’re a ski (technically a snowboarding) family, and yet we hadn’t skied Whistler. Somehow that just seemed wrong, so last season we went on a fact finding mission for winter fun in Whistler. Here’s what we found out.
Skiing at Whistler Blackcomb
The sheer size of Whistler Blackcomb hit me right away. First up, would we ski Whister or Blackcomb mountains? With 8171 skiable acres (the most of any resort in North America), we had to make a plan, if only so we could make the most of the variety of terrain. We opted for Blackcomb, and happily spent the morning riding its wide open powder bowls. But it’s not just a mountain for expert skiers. Designated family runs and “No fast skiing” signs are way better than merely marking runs as green or blue.
Need a lesson? They sport one of the largest snow school in the world, with instructors fluent in a wide variety of languages for all those international tourists. Children who don’t ski can be enrolled in Whistler Kids Childcare, licensed childcare for children aged 18 to 48 months and 3 to 5 years-old.
Will I sound like too much of a tourist if I admit the highlight of our day was riding PEAK 2 PEAK, the resort’s Guinness World Record breaking gondola? Delivering spectacular views, the gondola whisks skiers from one mountain to the next. Families may want to wait for one of the glass-bottomed gondolas, so you can peer through the floor at the icy creek half a kilometre below.
Even the views Rendezvous Lodge were impressive with floor to ceiling windows. This cafeterias boasts plenty of variety from its grill to ramen to a taqueria. Thoughtful family touches included sinks at kid height in restrooms and a Nintendo Gaming Lounge with complimentary Wiis set up. Another good option for picky eaters is found at Roundhouse Lodge that sports three open food courts.
Do only some members of your family ski? Tubing is a fun activity that requires zero skill, and the Coca-Cola Tube Park is located on Blackcomb Mountain. This 1,000 ft tube hill has several lanes of varying intensity level. My husband said it best after barrelling down the lanes for a good hour longer than we intended: “It’s got all of the thrill and none of the skill for non-skiers.”
Family Fun at Whistler Village
There are a staggering 170 restaurants and bars to choose from in Whistler Village. Down at the base, I highly recommend capping off your day inside Garibaldi Lift Co. The outside patio has heated lanterns, while the fireplace warms up cold toesies. In addition to a kid’s menu, you’ll notice daily drink specials.
Speaking of apres, one of the best parts of Whistler is the abundance of free family activities taking place every day in the Village – like Family Après at Whistler Olympic Plaza. Head here on Monday and Wednesdays from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. until the end of March for free entertainment and outdoor activities.
Everyday of the week you’ll find outdoor fire pits and snow slides at Whistler Olympic Plaza Snow Zone. Try ice skating under the twinkling lights. Skate rentals available on site and helmets are free.
On Sunday nights you’ll want to watch the Fire and Ice Show to see skiers and boarders jump though a flaming hoop. DJs and fire spinners add to the sizzling atmosphere and fireworks cap off the festivities.
Where to Stay
Hot tubs, hot tubs, hot tubs, all four of them are at the ready to relieve shot ski legs at Fairmont Chateau Whistler. You’ll love getting a good outdoor soak as snowflakes gently fall from the sky. There’s a heated outdoor pool, too, and you can use the indoor facilities should you be so inclined. The pool facilities are definitely one of perks of staying at this hotel, but their complimentary guided excursions are a close second. Go snowshoeing, hit a trampoline gym or learn behind the scenes secrets of this legendary hotel.
For ski families, you’ll appreciate the ski-in, ski-out accessibility. Get this, they have a Ski Valet, who greets hotel guests at the bottom of the hill (Blackcomb Mountain), collects their skis, and provide a warm cup of cocoa.
For eats, Wildflower is the place to hit for breakfast. This buffet pulls out all the stops on kid carb favourites such as waffles, french toast, homemade donuts, etc… For the savoury set, you’ll want to know they cure their own bacon (cut to order!) and there’s a good variety of smoked fish and egg dishes.
Be forewarned, you might spot a fondue cart in the lobby mid afternoon. Go ahead and plunge a piece of bread into the bubbling cheese pot, then see how fast it takes you to make dinner reservations for The Chalet. This cozy fondue restaurant backs onto golf course, but you can hitch a ride with the hotel shuttle. With its soft lighting and wood burning fire, it’s oh-so atmospheric, but also family friendly with a dedicated children’s menu (and worth the calories chocolate fondue). Heads up: a schnapps cart and ice wine wagon are apt to roll your way after dinner service.
If I had to sum up our family’s experience at Whistler in a word it would be: pampered. From the unlimited choices in the Village and on the ski hill to top notice service at Fairmont, it’s a real treat to be lavished with so many family-friendly perks. No doubt about it, Whistler is pricy, but then again, so is skiing in most places. Yes, you may pay more for your ski break here, but I’m sure you’ll find (as our family did) it’s money well spent.
Have you ever been to Whistler? What are your top recs for families there?