SlopeLab’s Review of Whistler Blackcomb

SlopeLab Ratings

Overall
0%

Detailed Scores:

Beginner Terrain
80%
Intermediate Terrain
100%
Advanced Terrain
100%
Expert Terrain
100%
Tree Skiing
80%
Bowl Skiing
100%
Crowds
20%
Snow Rating
70%
Ski Town
100%

Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Stats

418 inches

8,171 acres

5,020 ft

(Summit) 7,160 ft | 2,140 ft (Base)

Photo Gallery

Whistler Blackcomb Overview

Aspen… Vail… Chamonix… Whistler.

In the folklore of ski mountains, the mere mention of Whistler conjures up images of heavy storms, big peaks, and MASSIVE terrain.

That’s because in the world of big peaks, almost none sit larger. For Americans, Whistler sits like a giant to the north. But its collection of mind blowing statistics make it hard to ignore:

  • The largest ski resort in North America
  • Nearly one full vertical mile of continuous skiing
  • A two mile long Gondola (the longest in the world for 11 years)
  • 28 lifts (!!)
  • Over 200 runs

If that’s all hard to fathom, I don’t blame you. For a little help, just take a look at this monstrosity of a trail map. (And for fun, try to compare it to your usual resort, or three – you’ll probably be able to fit two or three of them inside Whistler’s boundaries.)

Whistler Blackcomb Trail Maps:

Whistler Trail Map
Whistler Trail Map (click for full size)

Whistler Lift Info

Lift High Speed? Vertical Rise (ft.)
Blackcomb Gondola
Yes
3,880
Whistler Village Gondola
Yes
3,800
Garbanzo Express
Yes
2,175
Creekside Gondola
Yes
2,113
Glacier Express
Yes
1,964
7th Heaven Express
Yes
1,932
Big Red Express
Yes
1,821
Crystal Ridge Express
Yes
1,745
Harmony Express
Yes
1,723
Excelerator Express
Yes
1,670
Symphony Express
Yes
1,667
Excalibur Gondolda
Yes
1,491
Emerald Express
Yes
1,385
Peak Express
Yes
1,317
Jersey Cream Express
Yes
1,230
Fitzsimmons Express
Yes
1,129
Catskinner Express
Yes
1,107
Franz's Chair
No
892
Olympic Chair
No
757
Horstman T-Bar
No
682
T-Bar
No
650
Showcase T-Bar
No
486
Magic Chair
No
286
Peak 2 Peak Gondola
Yes
186

Whistler Blackcomb Terrain Overview

What more can be said of Whistler’s terrain?

It’s absolutely massive, and its stats aren’t just vanity metrics either. In reality, the mountain skis just as big as it sounds. Maybe even bigger…

First time visitors will immediately find themselves struck by Whistler’s scale. No amount of words or trail map review can really prepare you for it. Sections of the mountain which look like a tiny corner of the trail map reveal themselves to be massive landscapes in person. Alone, these “small” sections are larger than most resorts.

One climb upwards from the base village, past the clouds, and higher and higher towards either of the mountain’s not one, but two massive peaks, is all it takes to convince you that you’re at a place unlike anywhere else.

Speaking of which, as a resort, Whistler is actually two mountains.

There’s the Whistler Side, highlighted by the Olympic downhill race course, the legendary one-vertical-mile-long Peak to Creek blue cruiser, and tons of extreme terrain off Whistler Peak.

Then there’s the Blackcomb side, whose highlights include a plethora of mid-mountain blue cruisers, a few extreme shots towards the top, the off-piste nirvana that is the 7th Heaven area, and the amazing hike-to-terrain of Blackcomb Glacier.

These two sides are connected by the legendary Peak 2 Peak Gondola, whose slack line hangs nearly 2 miles across the valley.

Whistler truly has it all. Because of all this, most skiers won’t find it an exaggeration, nor even controversial, to unequivocally crown Whistler as having the best terrain in North America. 

Whistler Blackcomb for Beginners:

Beginners simply will not find a place with longer runs or better views in North America.

At Whistler, beginners have the rare ability to take the Harmony Express lift up to its 7,000 foot peak, then cruise down the green groomer Burnt Stew for miles. Along the way, a beginner will descend almost 5,000 vertical feet, all while taking in the other-worldly views of the Fitzsimmons Mountain Range. It’s an amazing experience no beginner is likely to forget.

There’s only one word of caution for beginners at Whistler. Whistler’s trail ratings are somewhat aggressive, and several green runs here would definitely be classified blue even at most Western US resorts.

Whistler Blackcomb for Intermediates:

Intermediates can keep themselves entertained for a lifetime at Whistler.

To start, Whistler claims what might be the greatest intermediate cruiser in North America. Upper and Lower Peak to Creek combine to form a nearly 4-mile-long groomer that descends a full vertical mile. Skiing down the 5,000 vertical feet, complete with its wildly changing views and conditions, is a true big mountain experience for the intermediate skier!

For more groomer zoomer fun, intermediates should take the Gondola over to the Blackcomb side. Here, the Roller Coaster Express and Excelerator Express serve fantastic mid-mountain blue groomers. These runs are perfect zoomers, with fast fall lines and a few rollers to boot!

Lastly, I won’t be able to close this section without an ode to my personal favorite area, the 7th Heaven Lift. Here, intermediates get the awesome combination of groomed cruisers mixed with easy dips into Blackcomb’s off-piste powder. Intermediates can also find similar experiences on the Whistler Side, near the Harmony Express Lift and the Symphony Express, but I prefer 7th Heaven for the better views and more wide open terrain.

Of course, these descriptions are just the tip of the iceberg. Whistler’s 8,000 acres includes countless fantastic intermediate runs.

Advanced Terrain at Whistler Blackcomb:

The advanced skier might be the luckiest Whistler visitor. That’s because Whistler’s aggressive trail rating means many of the mountain’s blue terrain skis closer to black, not to mention all the off-piste shots that can be found all over the mountain.

One area advanced skiers absolutely shouldn’t miss is Blackcomb Glacier. The area sits hidden on the backside of Blackcomb mountain, and if you’re not paying attention to the trail map, you might completely overlook it.

To get there, you’ll take a Showcase T-Bar for 500 vertical feet, then hike up another 50 vertical feet to the entrance. While the area isn’t easy to get to, Blackcomb will reward your efforts with one of the coolest bowls you’ve ever skied. The whole experience is topped with some fantastic signature Blackcomb views; the bowl is surrounded by jagged rock features, and the whole area feels like an enclosed amphitheater, playing a beautiful concert to the powder gods.

Personally, this went down as one of my most memorable runs during one weeklong trip.

Expert Terrain at Whistler Blackcomb:

Both Whistler and Blackcomb include tons of legitimate expert terrain in the high alpine regions.

Probably the most recognizable expert run is the aptly named “Couloir Extreme.” The run is exactly what is sounds like – it’s a coulor, and it’s definitely extreme!

Similarly terrifying terrain can be spotted off Whistler Peak. This area includes plenty of chutes and extra steeps. As an added bonus, much of it is visible from the Peak Express lift. So feel free to show off!

How is the snow at Whistler?

0
Averages Inches of Annual Snowfall

Whistler is prone to some mega powder dumps. Depending on which part of the mile-high mountain you plant your snow stake in, you’ll find anywhere from 200 all the way to 400+ inches of snow per year! That ultra wide range does highlight a unique characteristic of Whistler’s weather patterns though…

Because the mountain is so tall, it’s not uncommon to find completely different weather at the top of the mountain than at the bottom. While this happens at most mountains, at Whistler the effect is on steroids. A continuous descent down the signature Peak to Creek run makes this glaringly obvious – you’ll often feel the snow beneath your skis changing from beautiful packed powder at the top of the run to a soupy mess at the bottom. (Can you really complain though, when the run is 5 times as long as a typical groomer?)

Rest assured, Whistler weather is a fickle beast. On any given day, Whistler will have brutal fog at the peak yet perfect visibility at the bottom. Or sometimes, perfect visibility at the top – above the clouds!

Or the strangest Whistler phenomenon – raining at the base but dumping powder at the peak! (Whistler actually sells rain ponchos with their logo on them – a terrifying thought for the true powder hounds!)

But as the old joke at Whistler goes, “If you don’t like Whistler’s weather, just go higher or lower!”

As far as snow quality, Whistler’s spot in the Pacific Northwest means the powder here can get a bit on the heavy side.

Where is Whistler?

Whistler is Canada’s flagship ski resort. It sits in the Fitzsimmons Range of British Columbia’s Pacific Mountain Range.

By car, it’s 2 hours north of Vancouver. The drive is beautiful and scenic – route 99 wraps along the bay’s coast. Travelers are greeted with views of tree lined mountains diving into the bay, with a few islands dotting the scenery.

That said, the drive can get a little dark and curvy. Canada doesn’t seem to believe in street lights, and a wrong turn could lead to serious consequences (a plunge to ice-cold water, just feet beyond the guardrail, is what kept running through my head on one particularly hairy night…) My suggestion – make the drive during the day.  

Whistler as a ski town

Like the rest of the mountain in which it sits, everything in Whistler Village is massive. That includes the lodging options, of which there are a ton for nearly any budget, AND its parties.

Whistler is more than just Canada’s largest ski resort. It’s one of the largest ski resorts in the world, with a brand name that carries serious weight along with it. The result is an influx of tourists from all over the world who travel to this mecca of big mountain terrain, and who bring their parties right along with them.

Because of this, the village is extremely well developed, and just like the terrain, there’s far more dining options than anybody could ever conquer in one trip.

As an added bonus, you ditch the car once you get there, since the village is extremely walkable.

Make no mistake, Whistler is one of the best ski towns on earth.

When is the best time to visit Whistler?

January - April

Whistler’s northern latitude and plentiful snowfall gives it a nice and long season. For this reason, you’re making a relatively safe bet on conditions for any trip planned between January and April.

Whistler occasionally even gets blasted early season, which makes it one of the better bets for a December ski trip. Just watch the weather and stay flexible.

From there, planning a Whistler trip is more of a tradeoff game than it first seems.

Early January is a better bet compared to many other destination resorts, although the mountain is usually packed around New Year’s and MLK Day. Crowds typically die down in late January, although this usually starts the beginning of foggy season. (Which can be a real hazard here.)

Snowfall peaks from February to Mid-March, as do the crowds.

Some locals swear by skiing Whistler in April or later, due to a lack of crowds and better visibility. However; due to Whistler’s relatively low elevation, your chance of soupy conditions on the bottom of the mountain increase greatly during this time. And your chances of the big powder storm diminish significantly after March.

So, pick your poison and stay positive!

How are the crowds at Whistler?

Based on the amazing terrain, awesome ski town, and plentiful snow, if you’re wondering why every destination skier doesn’t ski Whistler exclusively, then there’s two things you need to know:

  • Many do.
  • And so, we get to the only real negative mark on Whistler’s otherwise perfect report card – the crowds.

It’s true – Whistler’s crowds can get absolutely out of control. Aside from the tourists, Vancouver also sits just 2 hours away, so locals often drive up when the conditions are nice.

(I remember one particularly awful powder Saturday. I took first chair up in the morning and still only managed 5 runs all day, thanks to 45-minute waits on every single lift. Yes, I was frustrated enough to time it.)

While this was certainly an extreme situation, it’s worth bringing up for one very simple fact. Whistler is certainly not a secret, and you should come prepared to share.