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If you’d ever told me growing up that one day I’d live a couple of hour’s drive away from Whistler I wouldn’t have believed you. Whistler was that big ski resort I’d heard of that I dreamed of visiting one day. I was lucky enough to go skiing in the Alps and spent the best part of the year living in Grenoble in France near the Alps too. Now that I live in Whistler we spend many weekends throughout the ski season skiing and snowshoeing up there. And, in the summer I’m all about that hiking and mountain biking at Whistler. But I get that not everyone’s into skiing if you’re planning on travelling to Whistler and don’t ski then check out this list of what to do in Whistler in winter for non-skiers.
If you’ve heard of Whistler you’ve surely heard about how great it is for skiing. As the largest ski area in North America, there are thousands of acres of skiable terrain between Blackcomb and Whistler mountains which are joined by the Peak to Peak gondola. Whistler Blackcomb is one of the busiest resorts on the continent often surpassing 2 million visitors a year. They don’t all come for skiing though and you’ll soon see that skiing most definitely isn’t the only thing to do in Whistler in winter.
While the village of Whistler sits at just 670m above sea level the Whistler altitude reaches 2,181m at Whistler Peak.
How to get to Whistler
Getting to Whistler can be done by driving or by taking public transport. If you’re from outside of Canada or the Pacific Northwest, you’ll likely be flying into Vancouver International Airport, and it’s about a 2.5-hour drive from there. The best way to get to Whistler from Vancouver is to drive simply as then you can do things at your own pace, but having said that the bus from Vancouver to Whistler is efficient and Whistler itself has a good public transport system too.
Flights to Whistler
The closest airport to Whistler is Vancouver International Airport. It’s the second busiest airport in Canada (just behind Toronto) so you shouldn’t have any issues finding a flight to Vancouver. I always use Skyscanner to book my flights as they make it super easy to find a great deal.
From Vancouver Airport to Whistler it’s a 2.5-hour drive and you can rent cars from the airport or book an airport transfer from YVR to Whistler.
Driving to Whistler
From downtown Vancouver, it takes about 2 hours to get to Whistler. You’ll drive along the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway/Highway 99 (check out my list of the top things to do on the way to Whistler!).
If you need to rent a car you can do so at Vancouver airport. Check with Rentalcars.com to book in advance and find the best deal.
Top tips for driving to Whistler:
- If this is the first time you’re driving this road I’d avoid doing it at night. It’s not well lit and can be icy and snowy in winter.
- You need to have winter tyres from 1st October to March 31st. These can either be winter tyres with the three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol, or mud and snow tyres. Check with your rental company to make sure they have mud and snow tires on the car.
Getting public transport to Whistler
If you’re not renting a car for your trip to Whistler then you can also catch a bus to Whistler from Vancouver.
There are two main bus companies which operate a bus to Whistler from downtown Vancouver. They’re Epic Rides and Whistler Rides with tickets from around $35 return. Both leave from downtown Vancouver and don’t charge any extra for skis, snowboards and luggage on the bus from Whistler to Vancouver or Vancouver to Whistler. You can buy your bus tickets to Whistler from Vancouver online in advance too to make sure you get the time you want.
If you want to get the bus to Whistler from YVR you’ll need to get the Skytrain (Vancouver’s subway) from the airport to Burrard Station, which doesn’t require changing lines, and then getting one of the above services from there.
You can also try Popaide which is a ride-sharing scheme. Since the Vancouver to Whistler journey is such a popular route, especially during Whistler ski season, you’re bound to find someone else going up that way.
Where to stay in Whistler
Whistler accommodation doesn’t come cheap. If you’re able to travel mid-week you may be able to find a good last-minute deal through Booking.com, but if you’re going at the weekend then expect to pay quite a lot.
Whistler is also a lot bigger than you’d first thing and the town sprawls out into different Whistler villages. While Whistler Village is the area that’s right by the ski lifts, most of the shops and restaurants, the other areas are more peaceful and there’s a shuttle service that runs from them to the village so don’t count them out.
So with that, here are some of the best Whistler hotels.
- Whistler Village Inn & Suites: This Whistler hotel has a year-round outdoor pool and is right in the centre of Whistler Village, just 2 minutes’ walk away from the gondolas.
- Nita Lake Lodge: With an onsite spa, this hotel by Nita Lake in Whistler has the most incredible views in a peaceful location. It’s just 500m away from the Creekside Gondola which connects with the rest of the Whistler resort and there’s a free shuttle service to Whistler Village too.
- Pangea Pod Hotel: The best Whistler hotel on a budget is the Pangea Pod hotel which doesn’t sacrifice style either. This pod hotel in Whistler is in the middle of the village and offers both single and double pods.
- Summit Lodge Boutique Hotel Whistler: Another option that’s super close to the gondolas in Whistler Village is Summit Lodge in Whistler. The suites come with kitchenettes making them perfect as self-catering accommodation in Whistler and there’s a balcony with all suites.
Things to do in Whistler in winter that aren’t skiing
Whistler in winter for non skiers is full of things to do to. If you really can’t be tempted to try skiing or snowboarding with some lessons then check out these alternatives to skiing in Whistler. These fun things to do in Whistler in winter are sure to make your holiday extra fun whether you’re gliding down the slopes or not and should answer any questions regarding what to do in Whistler Village.
Hike some of the Whistler snowshoeing trails
You don’t have to strap skis or a board to your shoes to have fun on the snow! While summer hiking season offers one type of landscape, snowshoeing in Whistler and the Callaghan Valley offers something different (and arguably even prettier!). There are tonnes of snowshoeing trails and it’s one of my favourite activities to do in Whistler. Some of my favourites snowshoe trails in Whistler are Alexander Falls in the Callaghan Valley and Lost Lake in Whistler.
If you want to go further afield and are looking for things to do around Whistler you can head to Joffre Lakes north of Pemberton and Whistler, or into Garibaldi Provincial Park for snowshoeing. But ALWAYS check the avalanche rating here before you go.
You can rent snowshoes from many shops in Whistler, we rented from Cross Country Connection.
Try the bobsleigh at the Whistler Sliding Centre
As a legacy of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the Whistler Sliding Centre allows visitors to Whistler to try the bobsleigh. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like, now’s your chance.
The Whistler Sliding Centre is on the side of Blackcomb Mountain and is a world-class bobsleigh, skeleton and luge facility. It’s a training venue for athletes from all over the world and also hosts races each season. This year it’s hosting the Viessmann Luge World Cup in December in Whistler.
No previous experience is required as you hop into a 4 person bobsled (led by a trained pilot) and ride down the track. You’ll go through 10 twists and turns at speeds of over 125km! It’s the only place in Canada you can try the bobsleigh like this!
Watch the ski jumping
Head to Whistler Olympic Park and watch the ski jumping at Whistler. This sport is next level intense as skiers head to the top of a huge jump and speed down the slope towards the drop. In 2019, Whistler hosted the 2019 FIS North American Ski Jumping competition which we went to watch. Even if there’s no jumping happening during your Whistler vacation, just looking at the ski jumps is impressive enough and one of my favourite things to see in Whistler since it’s a bit different.
Check out the upcoming events to see if they’re running it in 2020.
Chill out at Scandinave Spa
This is the place to go to in Whistler if you’re looking to relax and definitely the best Whistler spa. The Scandinave Spa is gorgeous, peaceful and completely and utterly relaxing. You’re not allowed phones and the saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and cold pools are all accessed from the outside. In the winter there are patches of snow around the spa which makes it even more magical as you relax under the soft lights and the stars.
Visit the Whistler art galleries
You don’t usually think of ski resorts as having art galleries but that’s not the case with Whistler. And, in fact, Whistler has more than 1 art gallery and a great museum all of which make great places to visit in Whistler. The Audain Art Museum is housed in a beautiful building and has a permanent collection showcasing the art of British Columbia from the late 18th century to the present, as well as changing exhibitions. Some of the best galleries are the Whistler Contemporary Gallery and the Adele Campbell Fine Art Gallery both of which are among the top places to see in Whistler.
Go ice skating in Whistler
Ice skating is a Canadian past time so you simply have to try it if you’re visiting Canada in the winter. One of the best places to go ice skating in Whistler is at the rinks in the Whistler Olympic Plaza. Here you are surrounded by mountains, the Olympic Rings and thousands of twinkling, festive lights. Alternatively, you can try skating at some of the local lakes when the weather conditions allow.
Try axe throwing
Looking for unique things to do in Whistler in winter? Head out axe throwing. This makes a great activity in Whistler that isn’t skiing and I can attest to the fact it’s great fun. Forged Axe Throwing is the place to go in Whistler and you can pay by the hour – bring your friends and prepare to have fun!
Join the après-ski
As the skiers come down from the mountains, the bars and restaurants by the gondolas start playing the music. While I personally don’t think apres-ski is anywhere near as good in Whistler as it is in the Alps (what’s with the lack of mulled wine and mountain-bars?!), Whistler still puts on a good show. Expect DJs, people downing shots and the occasional person standing on tables at the bars in Whistler Village. Whether you’ve been skiing or not, everyone can join in with a little apres!
Go tubing in Whistler
If you’re looking for what to do in Whistler with kids then check out the Whistler Tube Park. This park gives kids all the fun of sliding on snow with no skills required. Simply grab a tube and slide down the hill, there’s even a conveyor belt to take them back to the top so there’s no walking uphill required with this Whistler tubing! Plus, it’s one of the best cheap things to do in Whistler (which is a pretty expensive resort on the whole!).
Enjoy the views from the Peak 2 Peak
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola joins Blackcomb and Whistler Mountain so that you can ski on both without having to ski to the bottom and get a gondola up. However, it’s not just skiers that can take a ride on it. It’s actually one of the top Whistler attractions for non skiers.
At 4.4km long, the Peak to Peak Gondola takes 11 minutes to ride. You can get a sightseeing ticket to ride the gondolas from Whistler Village to the Peak 2 Peak and journey between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains while enjoying the incredible surrounding views.
If you’ve got time, you can also wait to bag one of the cabins with the glass floor so you can really take in the scenery from all angles.
Try bungee jumping in Whistler
If you’re after some adrenaline you could try bungee jumping in Whistler! Whistler Bungee opened in 2002 and has a perfect safety record. It’s just 20 minutes south of Whistler Village and is open every day, all year round so you can jump surrounded by snowy mountains! I did a bungee jump in Australia and it’s definitely an experience you won’t forget!
Take a snowmobiling tour in Whistler
In the winter you can head into the backcountry on a snowmobile with a guided snowmobile tour. There’s everything from an introductory 2-hour tour, to snowmobiling adventures where you’ll head out to frozen alpine lakes and hidden bowls. You can also take a tour where you ride them to a restaurant for a mountain top fondue or steak dinner.
Canadian Wilderness Tours and Adventures do a great Yukon Breakfast snowmobiling tour. On this tour you make your way through the remote backcountry of the Callaghan Valley to a cabin where you’re treated to a full Canadian Yukon breakfast which consists of Canadian back bacon, Yukon gold potatoes, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, sautéed onions, and bell peppers along with pancakes, real maple syrup and cowboy coffee. YUM! After this, you head to a frozen lake of back into the alpine before returning to base.
The Whistler Zipline park is home to the longest zipline in Canada AND the USA called The Sasquatch. While the Sasquatch doesn’t operate in winter, there are several other ziplining routes to try.
It’s got to be one of the best things to do in Whistler at night as you can ride the zipline with only a headlamp as you zoom through the old-growth rainforest of Whistler.
Shopping in Whistler
If you love shopping you’ll have a great time in Whistler. Whistler has A LOT of shops ranging from boutique stores to Whistler ski shops and high-end fashion and it’s one of the top things to do in Whistler Village. Popular Canadian brands such as Roots and Lululemon have Whistler specific clothing which makes great souvenirs. Be sure to check out Armchair books which has a great range of bestsellers, adventure books and books on the local area.
Snowcat rides at Whistler
Ever wondered what it’s like to groom the pistes in a ski resort? Wonder no more with a snowcat tour. On a tour, you can experience the serenity of the high alpine with the twinkling lights of Whistler Village below. The snowcat for the tour is heated and takes you up the mountain to Crystal Hut where an alpine dinner awaits!
Fire and Ice Show
Still wondering what to see in Whistler, or wondering what to do in Whistler on a Sunday night then enter the Fire and Ice Show. Every Sunday night one of the best free things to do in Whistler, Canada in winter happens. The top skiers and riders in Whistler spin and twist through burning hoops from 7 pm at the Skiers Plaza in Whistler Village (and practice starts at 6.30 pm). It’s really quite something to watch!
For the first time this year, Vallea Lumina is open during the winter. It’s been open for the past 2 summer seasons and now they’re keeping their forest storytelling adventure open through the winter, albeit with a different story.
For more awesome Whistler activities, consider dogsledding. We went dogsledding in Revelstoke a few years ago and I loved it. The dogs were clearly well looked after and just LOVED running.
Dogsledding is a great activity in Whistler for non skiers. On a dog sledging tour in Whistler you’ll be pulled through the old-growth forest with the musher at the helm. You’ll get a chance to meet the dogs and help harness and stage them. It’s an exhilarating experience and a great activity for families in Whistler, as well as couples. It’s such a fun Whistler winter activity!
Where to eat and drink in Whistler
We’ve tried a fair few places in Whistler now and these are our top recommendations for where to eat in Whistler.
If you’re after a sweet treat one afternoon in Whistler there’s only ONE place you should go and that’s Purebread. The counters are stacked full of delicious cakes, bars, pastries and bread. Everything I’ve tried from here is delicious and tastes even better than they look which is saying something. I’d go as far as saying that getting cake here is an absolute must do in Whistler.
There are two locations in Whistler, one in Whistler Village and another in Function Junction. The Whistler Village location gets very busy in the morning for coffee and pastries, so be prepared for a line.
This is our go-to for coffee and a morning breakfast sandwich before catching the ski lifts. Lift Coffee gets pretty busy just before the ski lifts open but it’s one of the best places to go in Whistler for coffee and breakfast bun if you’re looking for a light breakfast.
Ingrid’s Village Cafe
Our new favourite for lunch is Ingrid’s Village Cafe. They do great sandwiches and burgers and have loads of veggie options too. You can get salads, samosas and sausage rolls in addition too. One of the cheapest places to get lunch in Whistler which is always a plus with me!
Sushi Village is a bit of a Whistler institution and is widely regarded as one of the best Whistler restaurants. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve heard talking about it. It’s always busy come dinner time but it’s worth it if you’re in the mood for some sushi! The diverse menu has everything from sushi, salads, soups, Teriyaki dinners, chicken dishes, hot pot and more.
Don’t even get Thom started on how much he loves these pies. Whilst pie over here usually means a fruit or savory pie, Peaked Pies knows what they’re talking about and this Aussie pie company satisfies our meat pie cravings. If you’re wondering where to go in Whistler for a cheap dinner then go here! A ‘Peaked Pie’ (pie with mash, mushy peas and gravy) costs around $10. Their veggie ‘mentil lentil’ pie is delicious as are their meaty ones.
Over in Creekside is Creekbread which has a fantastic range of local beers on tap and does some of the most delicious pizza we’ve had in BC. The pizza comes in huge sizes too which means it’s perfect for splitting with friends during your Whistler vacation and catching up on all the things you’ve done that day.