Skiing in Canada: For fun, all you have to do is Whistler

New lifts in the Crystal Zone enhance the appeal of this ambitious resort

There are a number of reasons why skiers might not want to go to Whistler, in British Columbia, on Canada's west coast. It's thousands of miles away, for a start: Vancouver is a 10-hour flight from Heathrow and the onward bus journey to Whistler takes a couple more hours. The resort is also notoriously damp. Clouds full of moisture are blown in from the Pacific, so rainfall is frequent in the resort and snowfall on the mountain is often heavy and sticky. And the resort base is a sort of sprawling pedestrian precinct, convenient but without charm.

But skiers are curiously deaf to the downside of Whistler Blackcomb, to give the place its full (but rarely used) name. No other North American resort is so popular among Britons. Why? Michael Bennett, managing director of Ski Independence, the UK tour operator which - according to the resort - routinely brings the most skiers to Whistler, has many answers to that question. The resort “ticks every box”, he says - except to Canadians, who are apparently unfamiliar with the idiom.

First and foremost is the lodging: “The very good four- and five-star hotels are incredible value by comparison with other North American resorts,” he says. Then there's the ski area, the biggest in the Americas: “It's vast and has glacier skiing, back-country off-piste and every other type of terrain, plus an impressive vertical drop”. The top of the ski area is almost a mile higher than the base. Other items on Bennett's list are Whistler's reliably heavy snow, plus its snow-making capability, the range of ski-in/ski-out accommodation and “the continuous, massive investment in improving the resort”.

During the summer all winter-sports resorts aim to improve their facilities for the following season. But Whistler's record of creating new reasons to visit, year after year, is unequalled. You could stay away for a while and still recognise the place on your return; Whistler's identity remains consistent. But you would certainly find it much changed.

Consider its landmark developments since the millennium. In 2000 it built a completely new village at Creekside, the original base for the ski area. In 2004 it increased the size of the ski area to 8,171 acres by adding 1,100 acres of “back-country” terrain in Flute Bowl; and two years later a new four-seat lift was installed in it.

From 2008, the rate of change accelerated, with a trio of ambitious projects in successive years. First came the 2.7-mile-long Peak 2 Peak gondola, connecting high points on its twin mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, and making civil-engineering history with its record unsupported span (1.8 miles) and gondola height (1,500ft above the ground). Next was a hydroelectric project which harnessed the Fitzsimmons Creek - which runs down the valley spanned by the Peak 2 Peak gondola - producing enough power to fulfil Whistler's year-round needs. Finally the resort hosted the Alpine Skiing and other events of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Having tried and failed to get to Whistler just before the Olympics (it's a long story, beginning with a train from the east which arrived 13 hours late), there was a lot for me to catch up on during a visit late last season. Creekside had been transformed, no longer a muddy car park but a substantial village capable of serving as the base for the Olympic skiing. The Whistler ski area was markedly bigger, better and greatly improved by the advent of the Peak 2 Peak gondola: previously skiers had to descend to the lift base to switch between the two mountains.

The gondola is an amazing engineering achievement. It is also very enjoyable - if you have a head for heights. At the lift's two entrances, alongside the line of skiers shuffling into the red cabins, there are small queueing areas: they are for the thrill-seekers waiting for one of the two silver cabins, which are glass-bottomed. Once inside, passengers crowd around the glass panel as the cabin begins to move; but quite soon the adults begin to shuffle back, to concentrate on the less alarming view from the windows. And when the ground falls away so far that Fitzsimmons Creek is a quarter of a mile below, even the chatter of the children is stilled.

The legacy of the of the 2010 Games included a range of other new facilities for thrill-seekers: the Whistler Olympic Park offers “bobsleigh rides and skeleton slides”, and a biathlon experience for those who want to combine cross-country skiing with some shooting. But for this season, the resort's investment reflects the commitment by Whistler's President and CEO, Dave Brownlie, “to continuously enhance the skiing and riding experience on both mountains”.

So on Blackcomb Mountain's Crystal Zone - a beautiful, wooded area about midway down the ski face - there is a new, high-speed four-seat lift. It replaces a slow three-seater, Crystal Chair, and has a more satisfactory alignment. The zone is a great place to spend time when fog rolls in off the Pacific and visibility is compromised; and the new Crystal Ridge Express runs up from the bottom to the top of the zone, saving skiers from what was previously a lengthy, two-lift ride. It also increases the “uplift” capacity by 65 per cent.

On Whistler, the new lift is the Harmony 6 Express, which takes skiers up to Little Whistler Peak and the Symphony Amphitheatre, replacing a four-seater which started slightly higher up the mountain. Again, capacity is increased, this time by 50 per cent.

Will you make it this season to the new, improved Whistler? If not, don't worry: it's bound to be further improved next season. One of the resort's senior managers told me that the ambition is to make Whistler the world's most popular resort. (It had 2.1 million visitors last season; La Plagne in France averages 2.5 million.) But won't that make it crowded? No. Increasing the ski area to 10,000 acres is apparently on the cards, but increasing skier-density isn't.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE

Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com) offers seven nights at the Aava Hotel in Whistler, plus return flights from Heathrow and shared transfers to the resort, from £1,146 per person, based on two sharing a double room.

MORE INFORMATION

whistlerblackcomb.com

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project