Some of the best things about Whistler are obvious and well-touted: It has more skiing than anywhere else on the continent, the lifts are fast (and there are lots of them), and there’s basically never a shortage of snow — or things to do in the powder.
But the most endearing — and enduring — aspects of this ski town and its twin mountains are less advertised. For example, the stories told over beers at Merlin’s to the sound of Guitar Doug and the Hair Farmers are as much of a draw as the runs themselves. Yes, the skiing makes you book your first trip, but the infectious culture makes you book your second. And third…
Everyone who comes here comes for a reason. Maybe they want to hit the deep powder in Harmony Bowl, or they’re a downhill mountain biker with their sights set on A-line’s jumps, or they’ve heard Whistler has some of the best sushi around (true). And once you’re in town and that mountain air enters your lungs, you’re all in. Everybody here buys into the attitude, which means that, yes, there’s the best skiing, mountain biking, and hiking — but also the food rocks, the bars are great, and the people don’t hold back…on anything.
People like that, the real aficionados — whether of pow, big jumps, or great food — build a pretty sweet town and an equally sweet mountain culture. This is the kind of place where you can catch a lift up with an Olympic athlete and then stop into an art museum après your après ski, where you can ski the Horstman Glacier in the morning, bike Schleyer in the afternoon, stop for a beer at the GLC, and then dig into oyster happy hour at the Bearfoot Bistro by nightfall.
If all that sounds just about right to you, here are a handful of spots where you can get deep into Whistler’s mountain culture.
1. Showcase T-bar and Blackcomb Glacier
Nothing beats the feeling of standing at the entrance to Blackcomb Glacier after the 50-foot hike from the top of the Showcase T-bar. You’re basically on top of the world. And getting down? A million options. The hardcore folks slip into Blowhole — a half-pipe-shaped gully to skier’s left — or pop off the cliffs above, but anyone can find their own challenge (and their own nirvana) tackling the whopping 2.24 miles’s worth of sun-softened snow below.
And if instead of feeling sated you’re left craving a higher high, there’s always 7th Heaven. It’s the highest lift-accessed point in the range, and if the views ever get old, you’d be the first to say so.
2. Crystal Hut
Among the dozen or so on-mountain dining options at Blackcomb, Crystal Hut sticks out as the one for serious skiers and boarders — and not just because the freshly made waffles will get you through a day of mind-numbing drops and face shots. The log-cabin design and glass-walled patio make it a charmer, and the small size means it’s a quick stop to get you out on the slopes before the snow even melts off your helmet. That is, it’s quick if you can navigate the throngs of pros (and waffle-lovers) who hang out there.
3. Sushi Village
The long walk to the bathroom at this restaurant is rated a double-black-diamond (per the sign), and the description seems apt, particularly when you try to find your way after a few of the house strawberry sake margaritas. Like so many places here, Sushi Village was founded by folks who arrived, fell in love with the town, and had to figure out how to make enough money to stick around permanently. It turns out the answer is that people who love superlative skiing love superlative sushi, too. The Beautiful Roll is a fan-favorite, but all the fish is that-day-fresh, straight outta Vancouver.
4. Audain Art Museum
Only in Whistler could you literally stumble on a museum holding the largest permanent collection of famed Canadian artist Emily Carr’s work in the world. Owner Michael Audain could have housed his Northwest Coast Masks and $3.3-million-dollar paintings anywhere in the province, but because it’s in Whistler, where the world-class is the everyday, the sleek, modern building camouflages right into a corner of forest in the center of town.
Pro tip: Grab a Cultural Access Pass. It gets you 15% off tickets to the museum and to the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (more on that below).
5. Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
The contemporary town of Whistler may have been founded by the same type of snowsport-obsessed, passionate folks you still find here, but they weren’t the first to appreciate the amazing intersection of soaring peaks and lush valleys. Visit the Centre to learn about the lifestyle of the people who lived here before the mountaintops were just two chair rides from the village.
Tours (every hour, on the hour) show off the legends, canoes, and art of First Nations peoples of the area — the tribes who invented the original mountain culture. There are some pretty sweet events and workshops, too, including tea offerings, weaving, and drum-making sessions.
6. The après scene
The best drink in town is always the first one after you get to the bottom of the mountain. Whistler has slopeside bars and restaurants, of course, but the plethora that await on lower ground seal in the “mountain culture” vibe. Try Dusty’s, which dates way back to 1965, though the scene has evolved a little since then (the views haven’t changed much).
And when après ski is over and you’ve switched ski boots for dancing shoes, Longhorn is the place to stretch your legs. The music and the bumpin’ crowds will make you forget the endless vertical you clocked earlier (well, almost), and the patio is always surprisingly warm for that well-deserved break.
7. The Peak Express
Look to your right as you wait to board this iconic lift and check out the kind of cliff drops and big-mountain skiing people pay money to see onscreen. Most of the ride up is over pure gnar — when the lift was first built, it was going to end at half its current height. No one thought taking it all the way to the top was possible, but in the end they went for it. That’s the level we’re talking. The Waterfall, the Air Jordan…this quad chair is for skiers with a solid Evel Knievel streak.
If you fall into this category, the lift’s steep chutes and challenging terrain will just be inspiring scenery as you board. At the top, you can choose your own adventure. Follow in former footsteps or explore your own lines. As is true everywhere in Whistler, any way down is an adventure.
8. Whistler Village
Located at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, Whistler Village is a chalet-style pedestrian hub with twinkle lights everywhere. If there’s anywhere that feels more like walking inside a snow-globe, we haven’t seen it. Go for a “village stroll,” wander the stone walkways and bridges, and take that family photo for the Christmas card while you’re at it.
And then hit up all the Village’s spots. Some we’ve mentioned — like the above — and others you’ll have to uncover for yourself. The list is long, so it’s best to get started.