Canada has been high up on our list of places to visit for while but didn’t make it into our original very long weekend planning because of cost and visa considerations. When Phil and Miranda invited us to join them for skiing in Whistler I jumped at the opportunity, although Dave had to stay at home to work (someone has to earn some money).
Whistler-Blackcomb is a large ski resort only 2 hours outside of Vancouver. It consists of two medium sized ski areas, both easily accessible from Whistler village and linked by the spectacular Peak2Peak gondola. Although not as big as somewhere like the Three Valleys in France, the ski area is large, particularly for more advanced skiers who have miles of ungroomed black runs and back country options to explore. A few things stand out compared to the European resorts that I’m used to:
- Canadians are so polite and organized in the lift queues and every lift goes up full. Death by sarcasm if you jump the line though.
- The resort is very business orientated with everything from the transfers to the ski lessons operating on an apparent monopoly
- It’s very expensive! Lift passes are 50% higher than European resorts.
- It’s incredibly friendly, and you find yourself making small talk and getting ski advice everywhere from the chairlifts to the restaurants (once you’ve figured out some of the vocabulary!)
Visiting Whistler on a budget is quite a challenge. Accommodation in the atmospheric main village is expensive. If you opt to stay in the suburbs, there are regular buses which run till late but these cost $2.50 a shot (in exact change or buy a book of ten from the visitors centre). Whistler Creekside is a good option because it has some bars and restaurants and gondola/ski out access to the main ski area but it’s also expensive. Unlike most European resorts, there is no ‘changeover day’ and there are lots of weekenders so it can mean having to switch accommodation mid week if you’re struggling with availability. The few hostels were fully booked so I opted for AirBnB, although it is also worth looking for package deals which can be quite good as long as you are booking for two (single supplements tend to be large). There is one cheap transfer service from Vancouver called Epic Rides but they run a limited schedule so I didn’t try them out.
I really enjoyed the skiing in Whistler-Blackcomb, with a marginal preference for Blackcomb. We were very lucky with the weather, with a base of around 1.8m, a bit of fresh snow and plenty of clear weather. On the clearest days, the temperature dropped to -16 making for some challenging times! Being near the coast, Whistler does run a risk of rain with resulting ice, but we only experienced one day of this. The resort offers excellent free ski tours, which are really brilliant – they are staffed by enthusiastic volunteers and are genuinely free (no tipping).
From Whistler, it was off to Vancouver for a few days of city sightseeing. After a beautiful first day, we were hit by a massive snow dump (unusual for Vancouver) which cramped our sight-seeing style a bit. Luckily, Vancouver is mostly about the food, with a wide range of incredible restaurants ranging from top class Japanese to over-the-top Canadian diners. Some of my favourite’s were:
- Miku at the waterfront: for incredible sushi with a Canadian twist
- Salt Tasting Room in Gastown: Wine, cheese and meats, what more could you ask for?
- Nelson the Seagull: a South African owned coffee and bake shop
- Several options for ‘buck a shuck’ oysters
- The Red Wagon: worth the bus ride for pulled pork pancakes with Jack Daniels syrup
Vancouver is a buzzing, cosmopolitan city surrounded by natural beauty and is well worth a visit. I will definitely be back in summer.
Next stop: Alberta