With two breathtaking mountains—Whistler and Blackcomb—enviable skiing conditions, championship golf courses, more than 200 shops, 90 restaurants and bars, an array of accommodations, spas, hiking trails, and what experts consider the best mountain-bike park in the world, it's no surprise that Whistler consistently ranks as the top ski resort in North America.
Back in the early 1960s, when Whistler's early visionaries designed the ski resort as a car-free village, they had the 1968 Winter Olympics in mind. That dream was finally realized four decades later when the resort hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. With that came the widening of Highway 99 and other Olympic-size benefits, such as the Squamish-Lil'Wat Centre, a cultural focal point for these proud First Nations who have occupied and explored this wilderness region for millennia.
Whistler Resort, which includes Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, has the largest ski area and two of the longest vertical drops on the continent, as well as one of the world's most advanced lift systems. But there's more to Whistler than skiing and snowboarding; each winter people flow into the resort with no intention of riding a chairlift, preferring to explore the many spas, shops, and restaurants, as well as the varied nightlife. During the rest of the year, they come to play four championship golf courses, race down the world's largest downhill bike park, and hike the hundreds of miles of trails. Then there’s horseback riding along mountain ridges, zip-lining across Fitzsimmons Valley, or hopping aboard a helicopter ride to have lunch on one of dozens of nearby glaciers. Whistler is also now a member of The Mountain Collective, a ski- and perk-pass program that's good for half a dozen other top-notch resorts including Aspen and Jackson Hole.
The drive into the Coast Mountains from Vancouver is a stunning sampler of mainland British Columbia. You'll follow the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Highway 99) past fjordlike Howe Sound, through the historic mining community of Britannia Beach, past the logging town of Squamish, and into Whistler Resort. Once you're in Whistler, you don’t really need a car; anywhere you want to go within the resort is reachable by foot or a free shuttle bus. Parking lots ring the village, although as a hotel guest, you may have access to coveted (and often pricey) underground parking. Unless you're planning to tour the region, cars can be an expensive hindrance.
The bases of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains are just at the village edge, and many slope-side accommodations boast ski-to-the-door locations. If you can ski directly to your room, though, be sure not to miss the fun of the après-ski parade through the pedestrian-only village, a bold urban-design decision that has resulted in an incredibly accessible resort. Families take to the Village Stroll in search of Cows Ice Cream and its racks of novelty, bovine-themed T-shirts. Couples shop for engagement rings or the latest Roots sportswear styles. Skiers and snowboarders shuffle through the crowd, leaning their skis and boards against the buildings to dip into the vibrant après-ski scene on a dozen outdoor heated patios. The Village warren continues to expand, and Village North (or Marketplace) has all but been absorbed.
Against this backdrop, Whistler has also been building its identity as a progressive, livable, and sustainably green city, with programs for accessible housing and strong schools. Though only 8% of the 161 square km (100 square miles) that comprise Whistler is designated for development, North America's premier four-season resort continues to grow, especially now that the world has visited during the 2010 Winter Games.