Photo: Tourism Whistler/Ben Girardi
How to safely ski, snack, soak and stroll with COVID still on board
Last winter I happily made plans to visit Whistler for a change-of-scene ski break. After all, what better way to ride out a pandemic than fleeing to the mountains for fresh alpine air, newly fallen snow and encounters with whisky-jacks? But thanks to fluctuating travel restrictions, I had to reschedule twice before finally postponing my dreamy peak escape.
Fast forward to winter 2022, and I and my family (husband Dan and teenage son Thomas) find ourselves motoring up the serene and serpentine Sea to Sky Highway to finally partake in that elusive ski sojourn. Sure, the pandemic drags on, but we’re free to roam from our home in Vancouver to North America’s largest ski resort some 120 kilometres away. And while things will be different from when we were here last, which was several years ago, we’re completely stoked for what our long weekend will bring.
Schussing all the way home
Tourism WhistlerI used to think hoofing it from one’s lodging to the gondola each morning was the epitome of convenient at Whistler. But I hadn’t yet stayed at one of the resort’s enviable ski-in-/ski-out accommodations.
Tucked among trees at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, the 186-unit Blackcomb Springs Suites offers forest and mountain views via floor-to-ceiling windows. From our fifth-floor perch, we also spot gondola cars zipping by just beyond the courtyard’s steaming outdoor pool and hot tubs—the latter available at reduced capacity in bookable half-hour time slots due to COVID. Bonus: the hotel is also pet-friendly, which is why we’ve brought our eight-month-old pooch Pearl along for the ride.
But the biggest perk of all is being able to pick up our skis from the hotel valet each morning and glide down Lower Merlin’s to the Blackcomb Gondola base—all within minutes after downing cereal and coffee in our slopeside suite. We can also slide home for sandwiches cobbled together in the full kitchen at lunchtime and, finally, to rest weary ski legs by the rock fireplace at the end of the day.
Double the downhill
Tourism Whistler/Mike CraneGone is the reservation system of last season, when Whistler Blackcomb pass holders and ticket buyers had to book specific ski days in advance. But with COVID still around this season, masks are required inside gondolas, where skiers share space with those outside of their bubble. Additionally, each car’s adjustable vents and windows maximize ventilation.
Though we’ve missed early January’s dump of 40 to 60 centimetres of snow in one weekend, we still find snow-dusted patches in the far reaches of Blackcomb Mountain off the Glacier Express chair and Showcase T-bar. Running into icy sections scattered with death cookies (a.k.a. lumps of frozen snow) mid-mountain, we hop on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola to check out Whistler Mountain’s conditions. Our first time on the world-record-breaking structure that connects the two crests, we soak up the treed valley view below and peak-studded horizon beyond.
Foggy at the top, the Harmony and Symphony ski areas spoil us with butter-like snow before spilling us into rolling glades on the way back down to the bottom of the lifts. En route we check the upgraded EpicMix app, which now shows lift line forecasts in addition to interactive trail maps, snow totals and skier stats—all quite handy for navigating a 200-plus trail system spanning 8,200 acres. Only five minutes to get back on the PEAK 2 PEAK? We’re on our way...
Delivery goes gourmet
Dan ToulgoetWhile most of Whistler’s on-mountain and village restaurants are open this season (including the new Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House), reservations are recommended and proof of vaccination required. Meanwhile, courtesy of COVID, takeout and delivery options have mushroomed for those who prefer to dine in their rooms.
Instead of tucking into après-ski at a pub or eatery at the end of day one, we make tracks back to our suite for a Picnic Whistler OG Box delivered right to our door. Relaxing by the fire, we dive into this artfully presented package of meats, cheeses, fresh and dried fruit, pickles, olives, nuts, crackers and condiments—a perfect finish to an outdoorsy day.
Another evening we treat ourselves to the elevated comfort food of 21 Steps Kitchen + Bar. One of several establishments available via the Whistler Dine In or Whistle Eats! delivery platforms, the casual village restaurant is also known for serving up ample portions. And tonight is no different. After feasting on tiger prawns and sea scallops with chili coconut sauce, ribeye steak with chipotle garlic butter and braised boneless beef short ribs with red wine demi sauce, plus sides of buttermilk fried chicken and warm French bread, we barely have room for dessert: cheesecake and Belgian chocolate brownie. Still, the bottle of Prosé Blanc sparkling wine, also part of our order, nicely washes it all down.
Tourism Whistler/Mike CraneLeaving the skis behind on our last day, we head down to the village hub to explore by foot—and paw. Taking turns walking a leashed Pearl, we don masks and pop into a few of the stops on the Sweet Treats tour, one of several self-guided routes on the new Go Whistler Tours app.
A must-visit for Thomas on any trip to Whistler, the Great Glass Elevator Candy Shop dishes up a kaleidoscope of confectionary. From old-school favourites like Bottle Caps to seasonal sweets like Cupid Corn and modern twists like Sour Blue Raspberry Big Foot chews, the colourful store delights kids and adults alike. That said, it’s Portobello’s cake donuts that get the thumbs up from Dan, while Crêpe Montagne lures me in with its Belle Helene offering (think pear, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream atop a sweet crêpe).
Loaded with maps, descriptions, photos and more, the new app’s expanding selection of tours also includes Craft Beer, Whistler’s Cultural Connector, Legacies of the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games and Whistler Festive Lights. Catch the latter’s 250,000 twinkling LED bulbs, on 5,000 strings of lights, before they’re taken down from the village’s trees around the end of March.