Lay of the Land
During the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Whistler was the site of electrifying alpine ski races with big names like Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, numerous Nordic events, ski jumping, bobsledding and a bounty of other sports. It dazzled visitors with its stunning natural beauty, charming pedestrian-only village and unpretentious cool. Even after the enchanted Olympic visitors went home, Whistler retained its unique cosmopolitan vibe – a unique combination of mountain friendliness and international aplomb.
With its proximity to Vancouver, it’s no surprise that Whistler is home to award-winning chefs and world-class restaurants. Toss in sensational spas, plenty of shopping, happening bars and dozens of other activities, and you can see why visitors trek to Whistler even when they have no intention of stepping into ski or snowboard boots.
Whistler Valley is nestled in the Cascade Mountain Range, about 80 miles north of Vancouver. With its proximity to the coast, which is just a few miles away, Whistler has more temperate weather than Canadian ski resorts to the east, with average winter temperatures of 22° on the mountain.
The valley floor is at an elevation of 2,214 feet. Whistler Mountain reaches a peak elevation of 7,160 feet, while its neighbor mountain, Blackcomb, has a top elevation of 2,214 feet. The relatively low village elevation makes for comfortable conditions, as there’s no need to acclimate to high altitude, yet the vertical rise of over 5,000 feet on either mountain is a boon to skiers, who can enjoy intense top-to-bottom rides at the end of the day.The elevation change can also mean very varied conditions from top to bottom. A typical winter day might include fresh powder and blazing sunshine at the peak; fog and poor visibility at mid-mountain; and heavier snow but improved visibility at the bottom.
Whistler Valley is dotted with lakes. Green Lake to the north dazzles with its milky green water, the result of minerals in glacier run-off, but is cold all year long. From the shores of Green Lake you can gaze back at the stunning peaks of Blackcomb and Whistler mountains. Lost Lake, the closest to the village, is a petite lake hidden in the forest. In winter, take an hour in the afternoon to cross country- or skate-ski around the frozen lake; in summer, it’s the warmest lake for swimming. Alta Lake is much larger than Lost Lake and offers the most possibilities for water sports in the warm summer months. Cheakamus Lake, just south of Whistler, is a stunning alpine lake reached only on foot.
Whistler has a very long ski season, which starts in late November and extends well into the spring. Skiers can usually count on good conditions any time from December through April. The very best conditions are in March, which tends to get a lot of snowfall; the days are also longer, so the lifts close a half-hour later. The summer months bring very late sunsets and opportunities for golf, hiking and swimming in the lakes.
Really, the easier question in Whistler is when not to go. October and early November may be the dreariest time, when days become gray but snowfall is several weeks away. Likewise, if you are looking for a proper summer holiday, note that in the Pacific Northwest summers arrive very late. Don’t come in June, since warm sunny days can alternate with wet, cold ones. Come in late July or August. The lakes are warmer then, too.