Visiting Whistler in Winter, What You Need to Know Before You Get Here
Interested in learning about the best Whistler winter activities? Whistler in winter just makes sense. Don’t get us wrong, the other seasons come with their own delightful attributes (see our guides to fall and summer), but coming to visit what’s been voted multiple times North America’s number one ski resort during the snowy season is a great call. Whether you are an enthusiastic snow bunny, or you prefer activities off of the slopes, the best winter activities are found in Whistler.
Whistler in Winter: The Basics
Whistler isn’t far from the coast which means that temperatures are far more amicable than Canada’s central and eastern parts. Temperatures rarely dip below minus -10’C in the valley (where you’ll be staying) and -15’C in the alpine (the slopes). The average daily alpine temperatures hover around -5’C.
Bring good layers with you for jaunting around the bustling Village or for heading up the mountain. Good quality waterproof hiking boots are a must, and since Whistler’s vibe is so casual, let these boots walk you right into one of Whistler’s fine dining options.
Are you expecting Whistler to be overcrowded in the winter? Well, Winters in Whistler are busy. As the number one ski resort in North America, that’s to be expected. However, you may be surprised to hear that more visitors actually visit Whistler in summer.
If you’re hoping to rent a beautiful home or condo in Whistler for your visit, make sure you start your search in advance. Some of the most sought-after accommodation gets booked up a year in before, that’s just how popular the winters are here! Keep in mind that some hotels also require a minimum stay of four to seven nights over the Christmas and New Year period.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Whistler has arguably the best snow, terrain and facilities in the world for all skill levels and ages. There was a reason it played host to the Winter Olympics 2010. If you are new to skiing or snowboarding, or just are travelling from afar, there are plenty of places to rent gear from including Spicy Sports and Affinity Rentals which are both reliable and more affordable options.
You’ll need to purchase lift passes or season passes. Whistler was recently acquired by Vail Resorts and the prices of season passes and lift tickets have adjusted. Something like the Epic Pass at $899 USD is a highly flexible option for the nomadic skier or rider since it lets you take to the slopes as much as you want across 65 world class resorts across North America (including Whistler, of course) and Australia. We’ve written more about lift tickets here.
If you are a confident skier or snowboarder, there are a plethora of backcountry adventure opportunities. There are even lodges, such as Journeyman Lodge, where you can stay in comfort. A word of caution: backcountry snow adventures are to be taken seriously. Only those educated in avalanche training should venture out into the wild, snowy mountains.
For an even more epic way to play on the mountains grab yourself a helicopter and explore Whistler in a breath-taking way. This has to be one of the best Whistler winter activities. First, you get to enjoy a phenomenal helicopter ride up to the peak of a mountain. Once there, you and your friends will get dropped off, and you can glide down the slopes. Just you, your tribe and fresh powder. There are some great Whistler winter packages- click here to find out about some Whistler Blackcomb heli-skiing options.
Winter Activities for the Non-skier
For a gentler pace on the mountains, why not try out snowshoeing? It works out as an affordable winter activity since usually you’ll only need to rent the snowshoes. Plus it’s an activity suitable for a wide variety of ages and abilities. Snowshoeing can take you through magical ancient forest-scapes and around lakes.
A company like Canadian Wilderness Adventures can take you on guided tours. The Medicine Trail, for example, is a three hours snowshoeing excursion that takes you through the ancient forest along an old trappers’ path. Along the way you’ll learn about traditional plant medicine and will even get to sample healing teas from plants that grow along this trail.
Ziplining In Winter
Ziplines are not just a summer activity. As one of the best Whistler winter activities, flying through some of the most dramatic valleys in Whistler is an incredible way to sample the Whistler winter experience. Ziptrek Ecotours has the longest zipline in Canada and the USA at over two km long. Ziplining is suitable for all ages and abilities, so it is a great group activity with friends or with family. Zipping past snow-covered conifers is a truly unique experience.
Ziptrek offers a variety of suitable Whistler winter packages including the Twilight Tour. With this tour, you can easily fit in your skiing, snowboarding or other activities during the day, and then head to Ziptrek in the late afternoon or early evening to have thrilling twilight rides along six zip lines and explore across eight treetop bridges. It’s a three-hour adventure that is a truly unique apres-ski.
Get a Taste of Axe Throwing
Okay, sure, we may be biased but really: why not axe throw with/against your friends and family over the winter period? Forged is a fantastic way to get out of the cold, and is conveniently located next to top local brewery Coast Mountain Brewing to visit after you’ve had your share of beating your competitors.
Throwing axes and hitting bullseyes gets the blood pumping, especially when you participate in a little friendly competition with your family or colleagues. Drop in sessions are happening all day everyday, and make for the best all-Canadian Apres if we do say so ourselves.
Taking in the Local Art Scene
Whistler has a selection of galleries containing a wide variety of artwork. Most recently, the Audain Art Museum was opened (in 2016). It contains artwork from Canada and further afield. At Audain you can see some First Nations artwork, both historical and contemporary. Interested in architecture?
The Audain’s building is a reason in of itself to plan a visit. The 56,000 square foot museum, designed by Vancouver based Patkau Architects, has won several architectural awards. Most recently it was awarded the 2018 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Award.
Many of Whistler’s hotels include spas, for example, the Vida Spa at Fairmont Chateau Whistler. If yours doesn’t, or if you are looking for something different, why not slip into a hot tub in one of the most beautiful spas in North America?
The Scandinave Spa has hot tubs, cold plunge pools, saunas and massages available in a beautiful, serene setting just north of the Village. A perfect way to spend a day waiting for friends who are hurtling down slopes, or, a perfect way to unwind and soothe your muscles after a long day of getting out and about yourself.
Plan to Visit Whistler for the Winter festivals
Whistler Pride 2019
Whistler Pride 2019 will be the 27th year of this epic event. Between January 20th-27th visitors will be able to see top music, attend a wide array of comedy and game nights, relax in wellness events that are part of the festivities, and take part in slope-related Pride festivities.
Early bird tickets are already on sale and prices range between $2,049.99 – $3,558.00 including accommodation (but not including lift tickets). A full detailed look at Pride in Whistler can be found here.
World Ski and Snowboard Festival
Whistler hosts North America’s top mountain festival. The World Ski and Snowboard Festival schedule is still in the works for 2019, but you can expect a variety of sports, culture, music, and art.
In terms of sports, you’ll be able to watch (or take part in?) massive ski and snowboard events, including big air competitions and hopefully the return of the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme in which skiers and snowboarders are sent down 2500 vertical feet on one of the top ten steepest inbound runs on the planet.
Great music is also on the cards! Expect to hear from some of Canada’s epic electronic music community. The talent in 2018 included DJ trio A Tribe Called Red, local whizkids Smalltown DJs, Mat the Alien and plenty more.
Christmas in Whistler
Whistler is a winter wonderland. Christmas and New Years are a most popular time to visit, and for good reason. A number of special events are run to celebrate the cheery Christmas period.
Some of the top hotels vie for visitors’ attention by putting on some festive shows and activities. Last year the Four Seasons created The Cabin– a family friendly apres ski pop-up concept where loungers could enjoy festive cocktails on an outdoor heated terrace with a fire pit. Expect carolling at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
Every Sunday during the Christmas period, a free outdoor show called Fire and Ice is held at the base of the mountains. Expect DJs, snowboard big air displays, fire spinners, and fireworks. A rowdy after-party at the Garibaldi Lift Co. is held afterwards (adults only).
Whistler even has its own winter market. It’s indoors, so you can keep out of the cold whilst perusing locally made, artisan pieces. Expect handcrafted jewellery, artwork, foods and fashions- plenty of gift ideas for loved one.
Nothing Beats Whistler in Winter
Whether you are a snow bunny, or a culture crawler, expect the best Whistler winter activities during your visit. This place truly is a year-round paradise, but there is something unique about the festivities and energy found during its snowy season.