By Steven Hill | Images by Joern Rohde
When you think of Whistler, images of majestic mountains covered in deep, fresh powder and an endless variety of runs carved by skiers and snowboarders from all over the world are instantly conjured up in your mind’s eye. Oh, but Canada’s favourite outdoor recreation mecca offers so much more for adventurers and thrill-seekers than just skiing or riding down perfectly groomed runs. In fact, you’d have to make multiple trips to Whistler if you wanted to experience all the adventures available. So, to help you make the most of your time and let you easily schedule some “non-skiing” family fun, here are some of our favourite “must-do” things you should experience when visiting.
On The Mountain
If you want to take advantage of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains’ jaw-dropping scenery and gravity-induced thrills without having to strap on skis or a snowboard, there are several on-mountain adventures you should try. These laugh-out-loud experiences are ideal for adrenaline-loving families and groups and can be enjoyed by almost anyone, regardless of fitness level.
bubly™ Tube Park
What’s winter without tubing?
The bubly™ Tube Park on Blackcomb Mountain offers fun for both the young and the young at heart. In an inflated tube, solo or with friends, you can cruise down any of the groomed lanes and feel the exhilaration of sliding down a mountain. With the wind in your face and a great big grin on your lips, you’ll be eager to ride the magic carpet back to the top for more. Located at the Base 2 Zone, the park is open on weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and weekdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are available in one- and two-hour increments.
Peak 2 Peak Gondola & Sightseeing
Connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountain, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is the world’s highest lift of its kind. But more than just a marvel of engineering, it gives you access to more than 50 kilometres of incredible hiking trails and countless scenic vistas and viewpoints in the summer. The Winter 360 Sightseeing Experience opens at 10 a.m., but all lifts, including sightseeing, are subject to weather and can close without notice. Be sure to check the live lift status or speak to guest services staff to know what’s open.
You haven’t truly experienced thrills until you’ve been strapped into a harness and literally flown down a zipline high above the valley between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. A highly recommended and exhilarating adventure you won’t soon forget, Ziptrek Ecotours offers a variety of year-round, high-flying tours; however, during the snowy season, the company also features a unique Winter Aprés Tour. This two-hour adventure, with a series of ziplines and treetop bridges, lets you experience the stunning mountain alpenglow and the tranquillity of a forest that is silent yet magical in the evening light. But whether you decide to go during the day or at dusk, take it from someone who has tried almost every tour and experience in the area — a trip to Whistler would honestly not be complete without experiencing this one-of-a-kind adventure.
In the Village
OK, it’s time to get off the hill and head to the Village to see what fun can be had after you’ve had your fill of the shops, restaurants and cafés. You’ll discover a plethora of engaging and memorable experiences throughout the Village during the winter season, hosted by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).
Whistler Olympic Plaza.
Another truly Canadian winter pastime, outdoor skating, is now open for the season at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
“Skating admission is $2 if you bring your own skates,” said Claire Van Leeuwen from the RMOW. “Skate rentals are $8 and include the admission fee; however, capacity is limited on the ice, and spectators will not be permitted in the facility.”
The rink is open seven days a week, weather permitting, from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and the ice is closed daily for maintenance from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 to 6 p.m. Strollers are welcome, and helmets and skate aids are available for free.
Van Leeuwen said that when snow conditions permit, giggle-filled family frosty fun will be open daily at Whistler Olympic Plaza for snow play and sledding. This year, more festive lights have been added to the snow zone so that evening play will be even more enchanting and magical.
Explore & Experience Whistler
From December until March, the RMOW invites guests to discover live musical entertainment, festive lighting displays, educational animation and memorable photo opportunities all right within Whistler Village. You’ll always find something interesting happening around the Village, day or night. For the latest event listings, visit whistler.ca/events.
Whistler Valley & Beyond
Step outside the resort and explore the surrounding valley and all that the region offers. You won’t have to wander far to discover a wide variety of companies that can take you on a range of incomparable tours, adventures and experiences, that’ll thrill everyone in your group. Indeed, this is where winter memories are made.
Talk about a gravity-induced adrenaline rush! Whistler Bungee takes you on an unforgettable and genuinely unmatched experience, jumping some 160 feet (50 metres) off a bridge over the glacier-fed Cheakamus River. Some Whistler locals call it the most extreme activity you can experience in the area, but those who’ve done it say it is a “bucket list” activity for adrenaline seekers.
“Once you do it, you will be glad you did,” said Jeff Robichaud, a visitor from New Brunswick who had to try Whistler Bungee when he visited. “The scenery and whole experience was top-notch, too.”
Snowmobile, Snowshoe and Dog Sledding
You won’t find anything that says “winter” and “Canada” more than a snowmobile, snowshoe or dog sledding tour (yes, we said dog sledding tours!). And in Whistler, if you’re going to book one of these adventures, you should talk to Canadian Wilderness Adventures (CWA).
“Our snowmobile tours offer unique winter adventures for all ability levels, and no experience is necessary,” said Kristal Taylor, CWA’s director of sales and marketing. “We also offer excursions such as the Medicine Trail snowshoe tour, where you get to explore a real old-growth forest, and the Sproatt Steak Night, where guests will enjoy a gourmet dinner in an intimate setting at Sproatt Cabin in the Callaghan Valley. This is a hand-built log cabin with dinner prepared by the Bearfoot Bistro. It’s a true mountain dining adventure.”
On the company’s dog sled tours, a professional musher will teach you to harness and stage the sled dogs, learn the commands and then let them take you on a thrilling ride through the Callaghan Valley. You might even have a chance to take a turn at the controls, so you can brag that you led a dog sled through the mountains, and you’ll have pictures to prove it. The company’s Callaghan base is also where CWA hosts its Canadian Campfire Cookout, a snowshoe excursion lit by headlamp to an old trapper’s cabin in an old-growth forest. Warm up afterward with a campfire cookout, and enjoy smokies, chili, s’mores, and live entertainment.
The only way to describe Vallea Lumina is that it’s a wondrously magical and enchanting multimedia walk through the forest at night.
“The show will provide guests with an immersive multimedia experience as they set out to find two long-ago hikers who left cryptic radio transmissions about a hidden valley,” explained Jason Langlois, The Adventure Group’s director of sales and marketing. “A series of lights, projectors and speakers will lead guests through a one-of-a-kind journey in Whistler’s backcountry. Guests who are joining us for the winter show can expect to spend between 45 minutes and one hour at Cougar Mountain.”
Heli-Tours and Ice Caves
Do high-flying adventure and breathtaking, 20,000-year-old ice caves sound like a memorable Whistler winter experience to you? No Limits Heli Adventures offers a range of heli tours in the winter, including heli-fishing, and heli-drops into the backcountry for fresh powder. And, from March to September, they offer unforgettable ice cave tours.
“Guests can expect to be transported to a different time, some 12,000 to 20,000 years ago and tucked away in the Elaho Glacier,” said Operations Manager Kim Gregoire. “The 25-minute helicopter flight out of the Whistler Heliport will carry guests over the most spectacular mountaintops and longest glaciers in the area. Once they land, guests experience a guided walk-through of multiple ice tunnels of azure blue crystalline formations and impressive vaulted ceilings. Later, after a succulent Bearfoot Bistro-prepared lunch on site, they’ll fly back to the Whistler Heliport.”
So, despite Whistler’s well-earned reputation as one of the best places to ski or snowboard on the continent, its dual mountains, Village and surrounding areas offer so much more for thrill and fun-seekers. Now your only problem is deciding which ones you simply must do on this visit, and which will have to wait for next time. Happy adventuring!