WHISTLER Welcome to Sea to Sky Country
By David Burke / Images By Joern Rohde
If this is your first visit, you’ll have noticed the Herculean landscape in what’s known as the Sea to Sky Corridor. Driving up Highway 99 from Vancouver, you travel along the shores of Howe Sound, through Squamish and past its most distinctive landmark, the granite monolith known as the Stawamus Chief. North of Whistler, the imposing face of snow-capped Mount Currie looms like a sentinel over the picturesque and fertile Pemberton Valley.
Whistler boasts the longest ski and snowboard season in North America, keeping powderhounds happy from November to July. Some 3 million guests flock to the resort each year, staying in lodgings ranging from cozy and rustic to upscale and luxurious. The diversity of shops, restaurants, galleries, watering holes, and activities here is second to none.
During the past few years, WB’s parent company, Vail Resorts, has added new infrastructure to complement the mountains’ incomparable 8,171 acres (3,306 hectares) of skiable terrain. In 2018, the addition of the Blackcomb Gondola gave WB the distinction of having the world’s first three-gondola, continuous connection (along with the Peak 2 Peak and Whistler Mountain gondolas). For the 2022-’23 ski season, a new, 10-person Creekside Gondola and a new “six-pack” high-speed lift Big Red Express have been added on Whistler Mountain, with more lift upgrades planned for the 2023-’24 season.
The Sea to Sky Corridor is on the unceded territories of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations, whose traditional lands overlap in the Whistler area. For millennia before the arrival of the first Europeans, the Whistler area was frequented by the coastal Squamish and interior Lil’wat peoples for hunting, berry picking and vision quests. The vibrant lifestyles, art and cultures of the two neighbouring First Nations are showcased at the renowned Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre on Lorimer Road.
The community — then known as Alta Lake — became known as a summertime fishing resort when Alex and Myrtle Philip opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914. In 1960, Norwegian immigrant Franz Wilhelmsen arrived in the area with a group of business partners, looking to build a ski resort that could be part of a bid for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Whistler Mountain opened to skiers in 1966, and while that Olympic bid was unsuccessful, Wilhelmsen’s dream of hosting the Games came to fruition in 2010.
During the Games, Whistler hosted alpine skiing at the original Whistler Mountain base area at Creekside; bobsleigh, skeleton and luge athletes slid for gold at the Whistler Sliding Centre; and cross-country skiing, biathlon, ski jumping and Nordic combined took place at Whistler Olympic Park (WOP), about 15 kilometres southwest of town.
Several sets of Olympic rings and “inukshuks” — Inuit-inspired symbols of welcome used during the Games — can be found in the resort. At Whistler Olympic Plaza, where the medal ceremonies occurred in 2010, you’ll also find one of the cauldrons from which the Olympic and Paralympic flames burned brightly and a display showing all the Games medal winners. The plaza is a great place to hang out, skate on its outdoor rink, and enjoy the offerings of nearby cafés and eateries.
Opened in 2016, the Audain Art Museum features both visiting and permanent exhibitions of world-class art, including one of the world’s best collections of Northwest Coast Native art. The Audain’s opening only added to Whistler’s reputation as a destination for art lovers, adding to the richness of the resort’s many and diverse private galleries.
Looking to relax and rejuvenate after the day’s adventures? Whistler boasts a wide variety of spas, offering treatments and experiences that aim to leave you feeling hale and hearty headed into the next day’s activities.
With so much to see and do here, you’ll want to be sure your phone or camera has sufficient space to capture the countless memories to be made. It’s likely that by the end of your Whistler visit, you’ll agree with the millions of others who’ve found that when it comes to winter fun, there’s no more magical place to be.