Whistler steals your heart the moment you hear that first crunch of ice underfoot. Looking up you’ll find the village blanketed in snow, transporting you to a scene from a fairytale; there’s something about Whistler that just warms the soul. The snow was falling as we arrived and it made our first few moments that much more magical. As you get to know Whistler you’ll also come to appreciate why it is a popular destination and a beloved home for the ski season with Whistler winter activities aplenty. But for those visiting these magical mountains in the hotter months, this guide includes what to do in Whistler in summer too.
Getting to Whistler
- The entry rules for Canada have recently changed and you may now need an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) or a visa. Find out whether you need either here.
- The snow season runs from November until April with plenty of activities running throughout the rest of the year for locals and visitors alike. Check Whistler deals.
- Vancouver International Airport is the closest airport to Whistler. Whistler is about 2.5 hours drive north of Vancouver. The trip will fly by as you savour the incredible natural scenery along the Sea to Sky Highway from the mountains to the ocean and beautiful forests.
- Pacific Coach Lines offers daily services between Vancouver and Whistler. The Whistler Express service runs daily between December and April and (with fewer trips) between April and December from downtown Vancouver to Whistler village (or specific hotels for an added cost). The YVR to Whistler departs from the Vancouver airport (it’s more expensive) and takes you to Whistler village. The buses also have wifi. The Pacific Coach desk is located near the bottom of the escalator at International Arrivals.
- Greyhound also operates between Vancouver and Whistler. Pre-book online for a cheaper fare and book the Express service for wifi access, extra leg room and to reserve your seat so there is no aggressive sprinting competition when the coach arrives. They also offer ride and ski packages.
- We got to Whistler from Vancouver with Epic Rides, a local mini bus service. Our driver was super friendly and it was much cheaper than other services that we spotted online at about $35 CAD return. You even get one free date and time change if you decide to stay on longer in Whistler (which happens a lot). They do not offer pick ups from the airport, so you will need to take a train to a pick up location instead.
- If you are coming direct from a flight the Whistler Shuttle might suit. It is more expensive than Epic Rides but picks you up straight off your flight and takes you straight to the village, so it’s more convenient for airport arrivals. Book at least 72 hours in advance to secure their wait time guarantees.
- Hire an SUV at the airport and drive out to Whistler. This is a great idea if you are travelling as a family, staying outside of the main village or you want to head out exploring (especially in summer). Make sure you factor in parking costs when budgeting (most hotels charge extra for parking, per day).
- Avis and Budget have offices in Whistler for those who want to arrange a one-way hire or you change your mind and need a car once in the village.
- Check the weather and road conditions before you start your trip here.
- Find and book a parking station in Whistler here.
Related: Whistler Dining Guide
What to do in Whistler Canada
Make your first afternoon in town the time to get organised while strolling the village. Buy your lift passes, book lessons, organise gear hire or bike rentals, get hiking maps, check the weather forecast and pick up some groceries or snack supplies from the village. Whistler Visitor Centre is a good place to start.
Cultural Activities in Whistler
The Cultural Connector is a scenic pathway and bikeway that links six cultural Whistler institutions; Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (First Nations history), Whistler Museum (Pioneer history and the resort), Whistler Public Library, Maury Young Arts Centre, Lost Lake PassivHaus (2010 Winter Games), Audain Art Museum (below). A fun and active way to learn more about the areas history and development, perfect for families.
The 56,000 square-foot Audain Art Museum building is a work of art in itself. Designed by Patkau Architects, the museum is nestled a patch of spruces trees. Housing about 200 art works in their permanent collection, including works from the 18th century to present day. Open 10-5 daily (except Tuesday).
Book a spot on a tour of the Prior Factory Tour. Held every Wednesday at 5.30pm and every Saturday at 5pm see how their boards and skis carefully handcrafted on site. A local business, Prior has been making all of their premium products on site since 1990. I bought The Hubby a custom board from Prior many years ago and he is madly in love with it. They have demo boards and skis available for about $25 CAD per day if you’re tempted to buy your own.
Every Sunday night during winter the resort puts on a Fire and Ice Show in Skier’s Plaza. The show is free and features Whistler’s best skiers and boarders who show off their skills accompanied by fire spinners, a DJ and fireworks display. Grab a cocktail and a spot on the deck at Garibali Lift Co to enjoy the show.
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Whistler Winter Activities
Pre purchasing your Whistler Blackcomb lift tickets (min. 3 days in advance) could save you anywhere from $19 CAD to more than $500 CAD, so it’s worth buying them before you arrive. There are special multi-mountain passes, season passes and discounts for Canadian, US Washington State and Oregon State residents.
Thrill seekers can slide the newly opened baseboarding route at Whistler Olympic Park. Start with a little guidance on the 200 metre training hill and then tackle the 1.5 kilometre course. Offered on weekends and holidays, snow permitting. Check these safety requirements first.
Snowshoeing is a great family activity, particularly if you aren’t a skiing family. For the advanced, book into the Eagle Summit Tour where you’ll be taken through the stunning Callaghan valley.
Take on Callaghan country with a local guide on a cross country skiing tour. Ski Callaghan Nordic Centre has more than 130 kilometres of trails to explore. Locals consider the Callaghan the pick of the area for cross country.
Immerse yourself in a full alpine experience with a snowmobiling tour. Canadian Wilderness Adventures offers a 3 hour après tour of the mountains up to 6000ft. The tour includes a stop at the rustic Crystal Hat with a panoramic view over the valley and the village.
Whistler Summer Activities
While Whistler winter activities are in abundance and centre around things to do in Whistler village, there are so many things to do in Whistler in summer too. Some are in the village, others are things to do around Whistler, while others are adventures that require a Whistler day trip to the surrounding mountains or waterways. Here are a few must-do activities in summer as recommended by a local.
The Alpine trails on Whistler and Blackcomb are a hikers dream. There are trails to suit all levels and each is accessed initially by jumping on the Village Gondola using a sightseeing ticket. While you are up there you can catch the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for some additional stunning vistas on the same ticket. Make sure you hike the High Note Trail for incredible views from beginning to end. Don’t forget your GoPro. Lost Lake Park is another popular hiking spot with trails suitable for most fitness levels.
Book a bike, a guide and a ride with Whistler Bike Guide. The tracks around Whistler are world-class, which means if you aren’t experienced with downhill mountain biking, you should definitely book a lesson or a guide before taking one on alone. Guides can also help with advice on trails that are suitable for children.
Literally elevate your fishing game by jumping in a helicopter to an alpine lake to fish for virgin rainbow trout. Pemberton Fish Finder offers bespoke heli fly fishing tours including everything from catering by a private chef to adding on a round of golf, to make it a more epic day out. If you’re lucky you might even see bald eagles and other wildlife while you are fishing. Heli fly fishing is available between June and October.
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If you are a keen snowboarder, head to Showcase and hire a board at their Burton Test Ride Centre. You can get any style of board that suits your needs. The boards in the Test Ride Centre are the latest on the market and you take it out brand new, professionally fitted to you. The Hubby did just that and absolutely loved the experience. Showcase is also a place where you can get some general retail therapy and the staff are very friendly.
High-end alpine fashion, the latest gear and tuning, CAN-SKI has a number of shops around Whistler and they have just opened two new stores; CAN-SKI Performance (offering tuning services on high-precision equipment, personalised boot fitting and performance rentals) and CAN-SKI Alpine housed within the Hilton.
Whistler has all the usual suspects when it comes to outdoor clothing and gear. Patagonia is the brand we used on the mountain and on many occasions beyond. We love the brand philosophy to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” They truly operate by that ethical guideline. Not only that, their products last a lifetime and we are in love with our snow gear, jackets and accessories and we use them endlessly while travelling.
Where to Stay in Whistler
Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa is located footsteps from the chair lifts that carry you up the mountain. The suites are very generously sized and it’s really a resort where you can unpack and feel at home during your time in Whistler. Read our full feature on Hilton Whistler.
For a self-contained home to impress, Alpine View Chalet might be the pick. Two friends have rented this five bedroom chalet on two seperate occasions through Whistler Platinum and they were seriously impressed.
Sweetwater Lane Farm is an idyllic mountainside retreat just outside of Pemberton and 45 minutes from Whistler Village. A 7-acre working farm, rent the entire 4 bedroom house for the family, book in for bed and breakfast or make a booking for a meal. The hosts prepare paddock to plate fare for you straight from the farm, crafted with love and care. Sweetwater is a friend’s BnB, but we had to recommend it as we loved our own stay at the property while in Whistler.
What to Eat in Whistler
Peruse our Whistler dining guide for every pub, cafe and fine dining restaurant you need to know about while in Whistler.
Scandinave Spa | 8010 Mons Rd, Whistler
Five minutes from Whistler Village you’ll find an oasis of healing, Scandinave Spa. An afternoon at Scandinave should be on your list during your Whistler stay. Set among a forest of spruce and cedar trees, the spa, which has recently undergone a substantial expansion, comprises a number of outdoor hydrotherapeutic baths at different temperatures, steam room, sauna, ice baths and waterfalls. Block out some time and book in advance for a massage before you go. It books up quickly, particularly on weekends. Spa access is about $65 CAD per person, towels are supplied but make sure you take slippers or sandals (the icy ground makes things interesting when you’re running in between an ice bath and a sauna).
A huge thank you to my friend, Gus for his amazing insider tips that helped make this an authentically local guide.
What to Pack for a Whistler Winter Holiday
Whistler is winter can obviously get very cold, so layers are key to keeping you warm when moving in and out of Whistler shops, bars and restaurants. The village is nice and compact and easy to get around so, unless you’re doing a day trip or you’re on the mountain, you won’t need to cover overboard when dressing. Also, Whistler is very much a casual environment when it comes to dressing, even when going out at night. Even if you are trying some of the fine dining restaurants in Whistler, you’ll find many others are simply dressed in jeans and apres boots.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.