WHISTLER Welcome to Sea to Sky Country
By David Burke / Images By Joern Rohde
A ski resort doesn’t get to be consistently ranked as one of the top resorts in North America for nothing. Truly, Whistler has something for everyone — terrific outdoor adventures, world-leading attractions such as the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, varied and vibrant restaurant and nightlife scenes, innovative spas, amazing artistic and cultural events and some of the best big-mountain skiing and snowboarding. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned regular, the sheer variety of places to visit and experiences to be had here is impressive. Each time you visit, there’s bound to be something new.
If you’ve just arrived here for the first time, you’ll likely have noticed the Herculean landscape — driving up the aptly named Sea to Sky Highway, you’ll have passed 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 lovely and fertile Pemberton Valley. The area that includes Squamish, Pemberton and Whistler is collectively known as the Sea to Sky Corridor, fast becoming known as one of North America’s top destinations for outdoor adventure-seekers.
Whistler, as many know, boasts the longest ski and snowboard season in North America, keeping powder hounds happy from November to July. Some three million guests flock to the resort each year, staying in lodgings ranging from cozy and rustic to upscale and luxurious. And the diversity of shops, restaurants, galleries and watering holes is second to none.
During the past couple of years, Whistler Blackcomb’s (WB) parent company, Vail Resorts, has added new infrastructure to complement the mountains’ incomparable 8,171 acres (3,306 hectares) of skiable terrain, the largest on the continent. Last winter, the addition of the 10-passenger 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). A new Catskinner chair on Blackcomb and Emerald Express on Whistler were part of the same upgrade, giving users access to previously underused terrain and shorter lift-line waits. Vail Resorts also added a new, 60-seat patio and Umbrella Bar at the Roundhouse Lodge; and the Cloudraker Skybridge and Raven’s Eye Cliff Walk are now open in the summer months at the peak of Whistler Mountain.
For centuries before the arrival of the first Europeans, the Whistler Valley was visited frequently by the coastal Squamish and interior Lil’wat peoples as a place for hunting, berry picking and vision quests. The vibrant lifestyles, art and cultures of the two neighbouring First Nations are proudly celebrated at the renowned Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.
In the early 20th century, the community — then known as Alta Lake — became known as a summertime fishing resort, with the opening in 1914 of Rainbow Lodge by Alex and Myrtle Philip. 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 the initial Olympic bid was unsuccessful, Wilhelmsen’s dream of hosting the Games came to fruition in 2010, as the “Host Mountain Resort.”
During the Games, Whistler hosted alpine skiing at Creekside, bobsleigh, skeleton and luge at the Whistler Sliding Centre on the lower slope of Blackcomb, and the Nordic events (cross-country skiing, biathlon, ski jumping and Nordic combined) at Whistler Olympic Park, 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 in the Village, where the medal ceremonies were celebrated, 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. On select days, the plaza hosts Family Après from 3 to 6 p.m., featuring free, family-friendly activities (including outdoor skating) and entertainment.
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. Even before the Audain’s opening, Whistler’s many and diverse private galleries made the resort one of Canada’s top destinations for art lovers.
With so much to see and do here, you’ll want to be sure your phone or camera has enough space to capture the countless memories to be made in Whistler — not to mention the stunning scenery. It’s likely that by the end of your 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.