Mountain Review: Whistler Blackcomb
4545 Blackcomb Way
Whistler, BC V8E OX9
CATEGORY BREAKDOWNSee our criteria
GOOD TO KNOW
On-site Lodging: Yes
Pass Affiliation: Epic Pass
Recommended Ability Level:
Diverse terrain for all ability levels
Extremely demanding expert runs
Relatively variable conditions, especially in lower mountain areas
Acreage: 8,171 acres
Top Elevation: 7,494 ft
Vertical Drop: 5,280 ft
When it comes to picking a truly well-rounded ski resort, Whistler Blackcomb is hard to beat. With two mountain areas comprising the largest acreage and vertical drop in North America, this behemoth resort offers a first-class lift system, unmatched isolation, and some of the most difficult terrain you’ll find anywhere. Just don’t expect to find the same snow consistency that some other West Coast resorts offer.
You’ll probably need more than a week to fully track this massive ski area. While part of the same resort, Whistler and Blackcomb are two completely different mountains. Both peaks are huge in and of themselves, and each is large enough to provide multiple days worth of terrain. Connections between the two are only at the base or through the incredible Peak 2 Peak lift, which spans almost 2 miles between towers and has the highest point above ground of any aerial lift in the world. This tri-cable gondola provides breathtaking sights of the two behemoth mountains.
But the Peak 2 Peak is only one of several unique experiences at Whistler Blackcomb that make for an unequaled resort atmosphere. Several other lifts fly above canyons or massive cliffs. The upper mountain areas, with no trees and low crowding if you find the right place, can feel completely isolated. And you’ll find a mind-blowing ice cave if you go to Blackcomb Glacier at the right time of year.
On a clear day, you’ll feel on top of the world at the peaks of both mountains, where the views are absolutely incredible. You’ll see several other mountain ranges and valleys, and being at the top of one peak gives you a nearly complete view of the other. Sometimes, you can even see into the clouds of weather systems below.
If you can think of a category of terrain, you’ll find it at Whistler Blackcomb. Low and mid-elevation mountain areas are home to slopes for all abilities, with a variety of beginner areas, groomed cruisers, bump runs, and glades. High elevations provide a wide assortment of above-treeline bowls for intermediate-plus visitors.
With advanced terrain comprising more than a quarter of its acreage, the resort is home to an abundance of cliffs and rock areas. Small cliffs persist off many trails, and ridges along mountain ranges form large cliffs, chutes, and couloirs. Don’t even think about making a wrong move when there’s a double black diamond sign - entrances to these runs can be especially difficult with no room for error. You’ll want to check out Whistler Bowl and Blackcomb Glacier for the most extreme trails.
Unlike many of its competitors, most of Whistler’s bowls and expert terrain are directly accessible from lifts. Only a few bowls at the peaks require mild hiking, but they are consistently less tracked than other parts of the resort and well worth it. The Flute Bowl off the Symphony Chair, which requires the only lengthy hike at Whistler, tends to offer the best snow conditions at the resort.
Whistler’s top-tier avalanche control operations are worth mentioning. While the resort’s intense terrain is naturally susceptible to avalanches, the resort uses multiple control methods, including avalanche-triggering artillery and explosives dropped from helicopters, to keep the resort operating safely and efficiently after storms.
Given the resort’s magnitude, relatively low elevation, and proximity to the Pacific Ocean, snow quality and conditions can be heavily variable. Snowstorms can occur at some elevations while completely passing over others. It often gets windy at the peaks, sometimes unbearably so. On warmer days, it might rain in low elevation areas while snowing everywhere else. But while bad days may bring poor snow quality or uncomfortable conditions in many places, you’ll nearly always be able to find decent conditions somewhere. In addition, Whistler’s extensive snowmaking operations in lower mountain areas ensure a resilient base layer even when natural conditions aren’t the best.
Whistler receives heavy accumulation each season, and as such, regularly sees powder. However, the resort gets tracked quickly, and fresh powder after an overnight storm can disappear by the afternoon.
If it’s continuous untouched powder you’re looking for, Whistler’s outstanding backcountry terrain is the place to be. Access is very easy from the top of the Showcase T-Bar on Blackcomb or the Flute Bowl on Whistler. Backcountry options come with notable terrain diversity, and routes range from a few hours to a few days long. However, it’s extremely important to note that these areas aren’t officially part of the resort and accordingly aren’t patrolled for avalanches, meaning that avalanche danger can be considerable (the resort requires you to carry a transceiver and other proper backcountry gear to go through the gates, and will close the access points if deemed necessary). In addition, these vast out-of-bounds expanses are easy to get lost in, so be sure to ski with a local if you don’t know the area.
Within the resort itself, weather systems and other factors can bring modest issues with ease-of-navigation. Trail markings, warning labels, and closure signs are clearly posted on lower parts of the mountain, but things get a bit more difficult at the top. It would be nice if the trail line markers up here were bigger. At times with poor visibility or a bad sun angle, it’s easy to lose your way on above-treeline trails and end up where you don’t want to.
Luckily, you’ll end up back at the bottom of the mountain if you just keep skiing in most cases. You can ski directly to a base from almost any mountain area, which is remarkable for a resort of this magnitude. The one exception in this case is the Symphony Bowl, which you won’t want to get stuck at - you’ll have to wait an hour for a snow cat to come get you if you miss the last lift up here at 2:45.
Whistler Blackcomb's massive footprint is bolstered by its world-class lift setup. With the exception of a few high-elevation areas only reachable by t-bar, every lift-serviced area of the mountain is accessible by high-speed lifts. Two-way gondolas from every base area allow you to entirely avoid low elevation areas when conditions are poor and just stick to the good stuff; this setup partially mitigates Whistler’s issues with snow quality. However, some upper mountain trails don’t lead directly back to the lift you took to get up (although many of these runs are amazing and worth lapping anyway), and lines for popular lifts can get lengthy on busy days. Lift lines at base lifts can be crazy in the morning on powder days, but crowds tend to spread pretty quickly along the resort’s massive footprint.
Whistler Blackcomb offers multiple lodging options ranging from bargain-basement to ultra-luxury across its expansive base village. Slopeside hotels are reasonably priced; most have hot tubs and pools, and some offer free ski valet services. Hostels and pod hotels don’t have much in the way of amenities but are dirt cheap and offer social vibes.
Whistler has you covered when it comes to apres-ski and nightlife. The Blackcomb and Whistler bases are home to several slopeside bars and restaurants with sweet happy hour deals. The expansive village offers multiple nightlife options and is perfect for bar hopping. If you know where to look, you can find live music and DJs any night of the week.
Whistler Blackcomb’s lift tickets are expensive, but the price still undercuts many major American resorts with current exchange rates. Other peaks may offer less variable snow conditions, but nobody can match this exceptional resort’s combination of size, terrain diversity, lift setup, and mountain aesthetic. Apres-ski is top-tier too. It’s hard to match the all-around experience you’ll get here.