Newest Review: ... just starting to progress. Blackcomb immediately feels steeper and the immediate runs you will encounter on the gondula up will seem mor... more
Member Name: grahamt
Date: 27/09/11, updated on 28/09/11 (75 review reads)
Advantages: Extensive and varied skiing ; good nightlife
Disadvantages: Tragic Pound/Canadian Dollar exchange rate ; poor late season snow conditions
So, the Rockies in question were the Canadian ones and the resort we chose was Whistler, primarily because it would be easy to combine it with a week sightseeing in Vancouver, also a first for us. Our entry into Canada at Vancouver airport could not have been less traumatic; we really were made to feel welcome as visitors.
We were travelling with Inghams, our first time with this company. We were met by their local reps and soon were on our way for the 2 hour transfer to the resort, most of which was spent just trying to get out of Vancouver onto the North Shore. There are two major bridges across the bay and both are really inadequate for the amount of traffic. However, once across we were able to sit back and enjoy the amazing scenery.
Although the resort goes under the generic name of Whistler, in fact it consists of two resorts, Whistler and Blackcomb, each of which sits at the foot of its own mountain ridge, separated by a deep valley. It used to be that you skied either Whistler or Blackcomb but now there is a cable car (Peak2Peak) that runs across from ridge to ridge, over the valley, so it is possible to ski either or both, in a day, starting from either resort.
Whistler is a relatively new development as it exists today, largely as a result of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. The area, right down to Vancouver itself though, is historically that of the local indigenous tribes, primarily the Squamish. The developments throughout this region have not been entirely uncontentious but the European incomers and the tribes seem to live in peaceful co-existence these days.
We were staying in the Blackcomb half of the resort, at the Blackcomb Suites, self-catering, except for breakfast, which was included. This complex of apartments sits right at the top of the resort, at the end of bus route 6 and next to the Lower Cruiser piste down to the Wizard Express chairlift. This was the route we took each morning to take us up to the highest point and to begin our day. Our accommodation I have reviewed already.
The lifts to the main area of the Blackcomb ridge requires two separate chairlifts, Wizard Express and Solar Coaster Express, each of considerable length. It took us approaching twenty minutes to get to this point. This illustrates one of the major drawbacks of this ski area: most of the lifts are quite long so there really isn't much chance of doing short repetitive runs; all, with a couple of exceptions, are a long way up and a long way back down again.
We had also chosen a relatively late holiday, starting at the end of March and running into early April. We had imagined that this far North on the American continent, the snow would still be very reliable. It turned out that we were wrong. Perhaps the influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean had an effect but certainly we found that from midday onwards the quality of the snow tended to become somewhat iffy. In future, if we returned, we would make sure to do so earlier in the season or else venture further inland, where the influence of the Pacific would be less likely to be felt.
Most of the skiing is tree-line, with really only Seventh Heaven being mostly open space. One of our favourite runs was Jersey Cream, just long enough to enjoy without killing your legs and with a return lift journey of just a few minutes. This particular area seemed to suffer the least from the effects of less than ideal weather conditions.
However, that said, we did enjoy the skiing, on both mountains (the trip across on the gondola is spectacular and not to be missed), mostly skiing Whistler in the mornings and Blackcomb in the afternoons, as the sun swung around to light each slope. There is certainly enough skiing to fill a week without too much repetition. So long as the weather is favourable, there are pistes galore to enjoy; we certainly didn't cover them all but that was for bad weather reasons only.
Whilst out on the slopes, mostly for lunches, snacks and drinks you will likely use one of the several very large, purpose built complexes, providing self-serve and fast food meals. The food is largely American style with some strange takes on "European" dishes. It mainly seems to be "chips" with everything, even in the case of dishes which we would normally associate with rice or pasta.
For something better you have either to go further up or right down. The "Up" is to Horstman's Hut, at the top of the ski area called Seventh Heaven. This is a very good destination, both for the skiing and for the food as these slopes seem to get the most of the sunshine. Horstman's Hut is just that; you find it to the left as you come off of the 7th Heaven Express chairlift. The views from here are spectacular.
Space inside is limited but you can also eat outside on the sundeck, if the weather permits. If it doesn't, you probably don't want to be up here at all anyway: the weather here can get ferocious, and I do mean it literally. The food is excellent and not unreasonably priced. I do recommend at least one visit.
The "Down" is the the oddly named "Garibaldi Lift Company" at the foot of Lower Olympic piste and right next to the Whistler Village Gondola. It's up a flight of steps although there is a lift as well. This is a much larger establishment. The food, though, was good and, once again, not exorbitant. They also have home-brewed beer which, whilst quite good, was neither true real ale nor true to their descriptions. Their "IPA" most definitely wasn't! Still, once again, recommended.
Clearly very new and almost entirely pedestrianised. Buses stop at the top of the village and you walk down a flight of steps to the main square and the bottom of the pistes and to access the gondolas to the upper slopes. From here you wind your way down through the middle of the village to access all the shops, bars and restaurants. However, there are also many on the outside of the village, facing onto the ring-road so, sticking to the centre of the village you will miss a number of other possible attractions.
At the bottom of the village is the Olympic Square, with the Olympic Rings which attract many photos. Just beyond is the Market Square, with what is really the only supermarket in town - the "Market Place". If you are self-catering then this will inevitably be your destination for supplies, all except alcohol. The supermarket is large and has just about everything else you could want.
For drink you have to cross the square to the Liquor Store. It seems that the sale of alcohol in Canada is restricted to dedicated outlets. However, the choice here is extensive, including locally produced wines, some of which we tried and found pretty good, if a tad expensive.
Even when self-catering, we like to try the local eateries as much as possible. Whistler has a lot of choice, both for drinks and for meals.
Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub - Yes, even here, there's no getting away from the Irish Pub, but this one is definitely one you'll want to get away from! This is the first place you'll see as you enter the village from the bus station. My advice is, keep walking. We dropped in here for a nightcap on our way home from a meal elsewhere. The drinks came to £14 (!!!) for a whiskey and a red wine. I wouldn't have minded so much if the wine hadn't been distinctly mediocre. I have posted a fuller review on Tripadvisor.
The Brewhouse - If you want good drinks, including some pretty decent own-brew beers, good atmosphere, friendly service and reasonable prices, this is the place to go. It's down by Olympic Square. It's quite large and also serves decent meals, by the looks of the menu and by the packed tables, although we didn't have an opportunity to eat there ourselves. We did pop in for a drink several times though.
21 Steps - Definitely our favourite of all of the restaurants at which we ate. On a wet night we sat at a high table next to the second floor window, watching the [soggy] world go by below us, whilst we enjoyed an excellent meal with a good bottle of wine.
Black's - On the edge of the main square and diagonally opposite the Garibaldi Lift Company. We went there primarily because it has a first floor outside balcony from which we could watch the evening ski show on the slopes opposite, whilst we enjoyed a meal. It was a tad cold but the balcony has overhead heaters although you needed to be sitting at the inner tables in order to get the benefit of them. Once again, enjoyable food and not overly expensive. Unless you are watching a ski show though, I would recommend inside rather than out!
Earls - Nice atmosphere and reasonable food. We had lunch here one day, TexMex style. Enjoyable but there is better.
Mix by Rics - Our final meal of our stay in Whistler. Once again, very enjoyable but by far the most expensive. One of two restaurants under common ownership and with a good reputation locally. Probably one for a special occasion.
As I mentioned, this area has a history of occupation by local peoples, long before the Europeans discovered it. The Aboriginal Culture Centre, just on the outskirts of Whistler Village, is well worth a visit to see many artefacts of local tribal life. They also have a small cinema where you can watch some very interesting presentations on the area and the history of the interaction not only between the local tribes and the Europeans but also between the tribes themselves.
We enjoyed our visit to Whistler although, as mentioned, were we to return we would undoubtedly do so earlier in the ski season, so as to enjoy better quality snow conditions. Of course, the visit was an expensive one overall, due to the relative values of the Pound and the Canadian Dollar. Sadly it can no longer be said that to ski the other side of the pond is as good value for money as to ski Europe, and I suspect that will continue to be the case for many years to come. Still, I'm glad we did it, even if we never do it again.
Next stop - Vancouver.
Summary: In an ideal situation, a superb skiing destination
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