Whistler in British Columbia is one of my favorite ski resorts in the world. It works so well for my family and offers tremendous value, an unbeatable ambiance (we just love the Canadian friendliness) and excellent skiing, with great apres-ski and non-ski alternatives both for families and those traveling without kids. While Vail Resorts recently took over Whistler, the family-friendly vibe remains the same as always.
Lessons for preschool- and elementary-age kids are phenomenal at Whistler. They have adventure camps for ages 3 and 4, and another for 5- to 12-year-olds. These are great opportunities to make new friends and improve your skiing. My son did this a few years ago, and the instructor enabled him to conquer his fears following a ski injury the previous year.
There’s also a teen ski school and camp referred to as Ride Tribe, with some of the most dedicated instructors for teens that I have ever met. At this age, kids often feel they have outgrown the need for instruction, but here they had a great time, made new friends and improved their skiing. My son’s group included kids from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Holland. They even exchanged contact details!
Skiing at Whistler is diverse, ranging from the Blackcomb Glacier and the open bowls of Symphony and Harmony on Whistler Mountain to the open spaces of 7th Heaven and the glades and trails of Crystal Ridge (to which I am partial) on Blackcomb Mountain. Of course, you can’t overlook the bump runs on the front of both mountains, coupled with easy routes for the beginners to go from top to bottom. Creekside, the original Whistler base, has its own appeal; just be aware that you either have to return to the peak to get to the other areas, or do as we did and hop in a bus or taxi to return at the end of the day.
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For entertainment one evening, we chose to do one of four options at the Whistler Escape Room, the Pirate Ship. It was a great contrast to a day of physical activity. Located in Whistler Village, it’s convenient for grabbing a casual meal nearby beforehand.
We also took a day off from skiing and considered snowshoeing, snowmobiling or ziplining. In the end, we opted for a warmer alternative and visited the Lil’Wat Cultural Center of Squamish and Lil’Wat Native Peoples. My son was dwarfed by the totem poles on exhibit. The center reminded us of a personal favorite, the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology at U.B.C.
Family apres-ski in Whistler Village is a highlight. Wandering by the Olympic runs, we were struck by kids playing and sledding on a purpose-built snow hill (in years past my son joined them), with hot cocoa and friendly figures greeting the children on the pathway that leads through the center of town.
The food selection in the village is varied, and we revisited our favorite Continental restaurant in Creekside, RimRock, as well as sampling Japanese, Mexican, French and Indian food. Most of the restaurants are family-friendly, but during peak periods like the Christmas holidays, make dining reservations well in advance where available.
There are several on-mountain restaurants, and the sit-down options at the peak restaurants on both mountains are excellent: Christine’s and Steeps. I confess to a weakness for the waffles at the small and often crowed Crystal Lodge on Blackcomb and the chicken pot pies on the lower level of the Roundhouse Lodge.
Whistler is two hours north of Vancouver, and if you travel directly from the airport by rental car, you will cut through town on the way to Highway 99, the main road up to the mountain. There’s only one car rental company and one gas station, but you don’t really need a car once there and parking charges can be steep. Families might prefer to transfer by shuttle bus or private car. Leave plenty of time to get back and forth; we were stuck for 1 1/2 hours without moving due to an accident that blocked the two-lane highway in both directions.
If you arrive late, or have an early departure, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport is an easy and comfortable stop, directly accessible by elevator from the end of the International Departure Terminal.
Editor’s Note: Barbara received a media package in order to review Whistler for families. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photo by Barbara Weindling.
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