Located in the town of Whistler in British Columbia, Canada – Whistler’s Ski resort has almost 10,000 acres of ski terrain and is one of North America’s most popular ski destinations. If you are thinking of going for a ski trip now is the best time to go is betweeen November and April. Although there is skiing available later than April it is not for serious skiers, due to the combination of marginal snow conditions and limited mechanized uplift. Within this time, you should definitely avoid November, as although occasionally there is good snow, more often than not it is too thin on the ground. So your choice is between the months from December to April. What are the main characteristics of each month?
In early December you will find some of the slopes deserted, great deals on accommodation and restaurants and a lottery with respect to snow. If you have come in a great early snow year, this will be a fabulous time to visit. If not, bring your rock skis and plan to spend some time in Whistler’s great spas. Later in December, and especially over Christmas and New Year, you will pay the steepest prices of the season, have trouble getting a table in any of the good restaurants and stand in some brutal line-ups on the Harmony Chair. However you will experience the rush which goes with peak season in a top resort: the buzzing nightlife, the parades, the fireworks and the thrill of First Night in the Village.
January often has the best snowfalls of the year and it also offers discounted accommodation (you can safely wait to the last minute to get a great deal on a beautiful chalet or condo), and no lift lines, except on weekend powder days, when the locals will crowd the lifts lines at 8.00 to catch the fresh tracks. But it can be cold, and it gets dark early. January is the best month for hard-core skiers.
February and March are more crowded, but more mellow. Avoid Presidents Week in February and Spring Break in March and you could have the best of all worlds: plenty of time for snowfall accumulation to have built up, plenty of buzz in town but easy access to the best tables.
April is mainly for the British market, who come over in droves during their Easter holidays. The peculiarity of the April snow is that there is more of it at the top of the mountain, but less at the bottom, so don’t bother to pay the premium for a ski-in, ski-out condo as it may not be possible. Last minute Whistler accommodation discounts are widely available in April.
In the non-skiing season you can pretty much write off the autumn: too cold to swim in the lakes and too much rain. May and June can be fabulous weather-wise; perfect conditions for white-water rafting in the snow run-off and great golfing weather. But you will probably have to leave it to July and August if you are looking for warm water in Whistler’s beautiful lakes.
The Piccolo Express Lift on will run to the Piccolo peak from the bottom of Flute Bowl and will open up more than 1000 acres of the most spectacular high alpine terrain available in North America. This is terrain that has historically been available only to the hardiest of ski-mountaineers, since each vertical metre of descent into this legendary bowl had to be paid for with perhaps half a minute of hard climbing. And given that this lift will be 2112 metres long, with a vertical elevation of 509 metres – well, you can do the math. Flute Bowl will now become a hike-in, ski-out bowl thanks to the Piccolo lift.
The new acreage is a mixture of open bowls, deep snow and gladed sub-alpine terrain. It will appeal to advanced and intermediate skiers alike, since it will have both runs through the trees and wide open groomed areas. The path back to Whistler Village or Creekside will be via the Burnt Stew Trail to the bottom of Harmony Express. It is expected to provide significant relief to the frequent queues at Harmony. Plans call for construction to be completed within the summer of 2006 and for the lift, which will be a high-speed detachable quad, to be ready by November. Locals expect that the Piccolo lift will further extend the preference for Whistler over Blackcomb mountains by expert skiers.
The priciest restaurant in town is the Bear Foot Bistro, which also sports one of the world’s most extensive and exclusive wine lists. Fancy sampling the legendary Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947, or a vertical tasting of Chateau Le Pin (the minuscule vineyard which commands a price premium over Pétrus in some years)? The Bear Foot is the place to go. The food is extremely good, but it is not quite up to the standards of the wine list, and it is also exceedingly pricey.
Long-time favourite of well-heeled locals is the Rim Rock Café, a little way out of the centre, where seafood and game top the menu. The ambience here is unmatched, with post and beam construction, a couple of log fires, discreet service and consistently excellent preparation.
If you prefer a more raucous atmosphere and if you love Italian food, the Trattoria di Umberto, or The Trat as it is universally known, is the place to be. The food is good but the warmth of your welcome is better and it is almost always party time in the evening. For a more subdued, formal-dining kind of Italian, go for Quattro where linen tablecloths and a hushed atmosphere accompany the excellent cuisine. The other Italians worth visiting are Il Caminetto di Umberto and La Rua.
If steak is what you are after, Hy’s Steakhouse is unquestionably the place to be. Prime grain-fed Alberta beef finds its ideal counterpart in the subtly flavoured sauces conjured up by the Hy’s kitchen.
New in town, but by no means happy to acknowledge the superiority of more established Whistler venues, is Fifty Two Eighty (the name refers to the vertical mile of skiing available on Blackcomb Mountain) in the Four Seasons Hotel.