Hit the highway from Vancouver to Calgary this winter
There’s a corner of this planet where deep powder skiing is the norm, goliath rocky peaks far outnumber the people exploring them and vast wilderness reigns supreme. It’s a place that should be on the bucket list of any skier that’s ever strapped a pair of wooden planks to their feet and slid downhill on slippery, frozen flakes. We’re talking about the expansive area west of Calgary, Alberta—western Canada.
Though its status as the epicenter of North American powder skiing is a tale as old as time, what’s not common knowledge is how incredibly easy it is to link the snow-loaded ski destinations that dot western Canada’s landscape. Thankfully, FREESKIER’s editors and contributors have spent countless days and weeks exploring the region in order to report back our findings to you.
Relying on our own past visits and the knowledge of lifelong locals, we’ve constructed the western Canadian skiing road trip of your dreams. The journey will take you from Vancouver to Calgary, stopping at six resorts along the way.
Grab your gear, get your friends together and start planning, there’s no better time than now to book that one-way flight to YVR.
WORDS • MIKE BERARD
Two days in Whistler provides just a glimpse of what is possible in this world-renowned mountain town, but it’s more than enough to have a good time. It’s a town full of fun and energy. There’s little time for sleeping and—with 8,171 acres of terrain—too much skiing to be done.
But, let’s start with the mountain. Pick Blackcomb to ski on the first day, if only because Blackcomb is easier to get a feel for when you’re new, and it has all the good fall lines. Get as high as you can, ski the glacier if it’s open and hike up Spanky’s Ladder–whether there’s new snow or not. Then find these places: Blow Hole, Grey Zone, Saudan Couloir, CBC trees, Rock n’ Roll for side hits and rollers and, lastly, check out the Highest Level Park, if you’re capable and are sporting a helmet. Repeat till punched.
Follow up with après at The Handlebar for delicious B.C. craft beer and bar snacks. Do not go back to the hotel or truck to change, or you won’t get in. If you want a full meal, Sushi Village has always been, and remains, the place to party while eating sushi, but Nagomi Sushi is right next door to Handlebar and just as good. Pasta Lupino is easy, cheap and tasty as hell. With literally hundreds of eating and drinking spots, get in where you fit in. Looking ahead to the evening, getting to bed early… is something you will not do. There are no cheap places to stay in Whistler and no free parking. Don’t bother asking anyone. Industrious four-by-four owners can still potentially find places to sleep in vehicles, but don’t count on it. Splurge on a room and enjoy Whistler like an adult. Stay in the village so you can walk everywhere and never move the car. Alternatively, you could stay down the road in Squamish, where hotels are cheaper and parking is plentiful and free. Hit Copper Coil for food and craft beer, or Mag’s 99 for cheap, amazing burritos.
When the first rays of light flood your bedroom the next morning, remember, sleeping in is a crime. And Tim Horton’s sucks so go grab coffee at Mount Currie Coffee or Purebread Bakery. Hit Whistler Mountain from Creekside, to Peak Chair if you can. Dive into the trees off Garbanzo if that previous route is closed. Then, find Christmas Trees, Bagel Bowl and Peak to Creek for a 5,000-foot vertical connection. Whistler Mountain is amazing, but is harder to navigate than Blackcomb. Find a local and ask them to show you their favorites. Canadians are friendly, after all.
At Whistler, slackcountry skiing—or sidecountry, as the Americans call it—requires some guidance. Head to Extremely Canadian to demo backcountry skis, rent skins and basic avalanche safety gear; hit up Ride Whistler for snowmobile rentals and guiding; or, just book a helicopter trip with Blackcomb Aviation for a look around the Coast Range’s massive peaks without all the sweating.
On your way out of Whistler, stop by Forged Axe Throwing for some good, clean, axe-throwing fun, and then go directly to Coast Mountain Brewing for a flight of beer and some tall cans to go—it’s far and away the tastiest beer in the Sea to Sky region and the only local craft brew worth drinking in Whistler.
One last piece of advice—don’t rush it, even if you’re only there for a few days. Whistler has a frenetic energy that is capable of making the calmest of souls become froth monsters. Slow down. Take in the views, because they’re stunning. Talk to the folks sitting next to you on the lift or at the bar. Find a quiet corner of the mountain, take a deep breath and soak it up. You’re shredding the biggest and most celebrated ski resort in Canada, but your time here is fleeting. Enjoy it.
Whistler Blackcomb by the numbers
Average Annual Snowfall: 465 inches
Total Skiable Acreage: 8,171 acres
Number of lifts: 36
Vertical Drop: 5,280 feet