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|Resort: Whistler Blackcomb
Domain: Whistler Blackcomb
Our Holiday: A delayed Honeymoon. The missus and me. I am 30 and skied since I was 14 going usually upto 3 weeks a season and the missus has been skiing for the last 6 years.
Basics: Whistler is in British Columbia (West Canada) and a 2 and a half hour transfer from Vancouver Airport on the Sea To Sky Highway. We flew BA from Heathrow to Vancouver. Be warned, there are a number of higher elevations on the route to Whistler so if hiring a car it might be worth getting some snow chains.
Lift System: The area is broken up into 2 main areas Whistler and Blackcomb. Starting with Whistler, there is 2 entry points into the ski area, Whistler village and Creekside. Whistler village has a Gondola which can be taken from the village to the Roundhouse Lodge at 1850m the total journey will take a minimum of 24 minutes so always allow plenty of time, longer if high winds. The lift can have long queues during peak times in the morning 0830-1000 especially at weekends. You can get off the Gondola at about 1/3 up but this only takes you to the nursery slopes and lower runs into the village. From Roundhouse you have access to the whole ski area. The Creekside gondola takes you about half way up and then you need to jump on the Big Red Express to get up to the Roundhouse, this can be busy at peak times. The Orange chair was never on during my visit and the Franz Chair was only used at weekends. The rest of the lifts are 4 man chairs with a couple of T-bars that only seem to be used at weekends.
Blackcomb mountain can be accessed from blackcomb village via the Wizard Express a 4 man chair, again busy at peak times. A second lift the Solar Coaster takes you to the Rendezvous Lodge at 1860m. From Here you can access the whole ski area. From Whistler you take the Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola and then the Excelerator chair and then the Jersey Cream Express to get to Rendezvous. The Crystal chair on the far left of the mountain is an old slow 3 man chair but takes you to some good runs. Most of the lifts are 4 man chairs with the exception of the T-bars on the Glacier. There will be a peak to peak gondola from Whistler to Blackcomb, which is due to open in December 2008. Hope it doesn't have the same troubles as La Plange/Les Arcs.
The Terrain: Firstly, Canada has a different grading system from Europe. Greens are for Beginners, Blue intermediate, black advanced and double black expert. Under Europe classification I would say Greens are Green/Blue, Blues are Blue/Reds, Blacks are Red/Black and Double Black are Black. Hope that makes sense.
Blackcomb has loads of Blue (Canadian) runs mostly through the trees, most of these are nice cruising runs and are fairly wide. The greens tend to be cat tracks and are narrow and flat. The best area is 7th Heaven a bowl on the back right side of the mountain. There is an open upper bowl which leads to 5 or 6 runs as well as a couple of black runs that go through the trees to the lift. A good place if there has been overnight snow. I did not ski the glacier or the bowls of the back left of blackcomb due to weather conditions, but I was told there is some great skiing for experts over this way. The piste map has most of them as double black.
Whistler again has loads of cruising green and blue runs. Be careful on the greens as these are mainly in the "learning zone" the ski police will take your pass of you if skiing to fast or out of control. There are also a number of black runs including the Dave Murray and Wild Card, which are the men’s, and women’s downhill runs. Again they are fairly wide and cruisey and can be skied by someone who is fairly confident. At the top of the peak chair you get access to the Whistler, West and Bagel Bowls, which offer good off piste, as well as the Peak to Creek run which is the longest run in North America. This take you all the way down to Creekside and on the way there a few interesting black runs through the trees. On the other side of the mountain you have the Harmony and Symphony areas. The Harmony Chair allows you into a couple of off piste bowls on the front side and Symphony Amphitheatre at the back. On powder days these areas are very busy but offer some fantastic skiing. The route back from Symphony is a cat track, which can get busy and is flat in places.
Overall there is plenty of skiing for all abilities. Before I went I read everywhere how Whistler prides it self on the amount of groomed pistes. There was only 1 day in 10 when the runs were groomed. This was probably due to the snow but the marked runs soon became lumpy and bumpy and made skiing for beginners and early intermediates hard work especially in bad light.
We skied with a number of boarders who enjoyed the terrain as well, but found there are a lot of flat spots at the top of lifts and on some runs, get ready to unbuckle and walk.
The Snow: We had snow 4 out of the first 5 days and again on the last 2. So in a word plenty.
Off Piste: Whistler and Blackcomb both offer a vast number of areas were you can ski/board off piste safely. Before the lifts are opened for the day all areas are checked by the ski patrol and you hear them blasting most mornings. The main areas for off piste are Blackcomb glacier and 7th Heaven on Blackcomb and Symphony, Harmony, Whistler, West and Bagel Bowls on Whistler. On powder days these are very busy and become tracked out. There are a few places where you have to do a bit of hiking to get to the virgin powder, Flute Bowl and the Bowls of Spankys Ladder.
The Village: Whistler has a vast number of bars, restaurants and shops. The apres ski starts early about 3pm as the lifts close at 3.30pm The bar prices are cheap compared to Europe with most bars offering a 4 pint pitcher for around $14-18 dollars. The restaurants range from cheap and cheerful to expensive with menus for all tastes. The shops are mainly ski/ board shops with some of the big brands having there own outlets. There a number of other shops as well art galleries. There are plenty of other activities on offer from snow shoeing to heli skiing.
Food: This is not Whistler's strong point. On the mountains there are only about 6-7 mountain restaurants and most of them are self service. The main choices are burger and chips, pizza slices, soup, chilli other junk food. They are all very busy between 11.30 and 2 so finding a seat can be a challenge. Some of them do have serviced eating areas but we didn't use these but the prices look similar to Europe for a main meal.
At Creekside there is Dustys a busy bar restaurant which again offers the above mentioned food as well as some wraps and sandwiches. We went here 3 times but on the last occasion the service was very poor and the waitress chased us for a tip!!!! I hate paying for bad service, some should tell the North American's to stop this begging process. Overall the food was good. There is also a subway here if you are missing it!
At Blackcomb village there is Merlins it offers the same food as Dustys and prices are the same. The service was good here. Both Merlins and Dustys get very busy.
Whistler village has everything from deli's to Mcdonalds to sushi to fine dinning. We ate at Earls one evening, which offered a wide range of things, the food was good and not to expensive. We had to wait for abbot 20 mins for the table but the bar man sorted us out with a drink at the bar.
We also ate at The Old Spaghetti Factory. You choose a main dish and get a free bowl of soup and ice cream. A 3 course meal for about $13. Food and service was ok.
Accommodation: We stayed in Crystal Finest Chalet, which was located at Nickulas North. It was a 10 minute bus ride into town. The bus service was very well run. The Chalet was being run by a 19 year old girl who was doing her first ski season and an ozzie guy (the chef) who use to drill for oil. The chalet was comfortable but would have been better if it had been run by a seasoned chalet host. The chef severed up some strange food considering it was minus 10 outside and we had been on the slopes all day.
Costs: For an 11 night holiday including flights, accom, and food in the chalet with wine was about £1000. Lift Pass $83 For 1 Day we arranged a 10 day pass before we went and received a discount so only paid £250. Check with the Whistler website or your tour operator. Beer $3-8 a pint or $14-18 for a 4 pint pitcher better value than buying single pints. Shots were about $6 upwards and wine from about $17 upwards in restaurants but local stuff in bottle shop $7. Food from about $3 upwards. A burger and chips at Merlins was $12.95 and a single slice of pizza on the mountain $4.50.
Conclusion: I really enjoyed my first trip to Whistler and I am sure I will go again but not for at least 5 years. I don't understand people who tell you once you ski in North America you will never ski in Europe again. Europe has lots of great resorts with different characters and skiing for all abilities. I actually found most of the skiing unchallenging in Whistler with the exception of some black/double black diamonds and I know some areas of Europe where you can get a better challenge on a good red or black run. Overall, I think Whistler has a very good PR machine, some good skiing, and great snow but lacks some character of some of the European resorts.
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