Whistler Blackcomb

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The Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, about a two-hour drive north of Vancouver, Canada, is frequently ranked as one of the best ski resorts in North America. It also is one of the largest and busiest in North America, has the greatest uplift capacity, of 65,500 skiers per hour, and annually draws more than two million winter sports enthusiasts.

The resort at Whistler opened in 1966 as part of a failed bid for the 1968 winter Olympics, and the separate Blackcomb resort opened in 1980. The two competed intensely for years, each making upgrades and improvements that rivalled most other ski resorts. In 1997, the Blackcomb developers purchased Whistler and fully merged all operations, using this joint complex to launch a successful bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The innovation didn’t stop with the merger. In 2008, the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola opened. The gondola connects the Whistler and Blackcomb peaks with an unsupported span of 1.88 mi (3.02 km ) that runs 1,430 ft (436 m ) above the valley floor, the longest unsupported span and the highest ground clearance for a lift of its kind in the world.

Today, Whistler Blackcomb is no longer just a winter sports destination. Starting in 2000, the owners began developing the area for summer activities, notable golfing, mountain biking and hiking. The upgrades were successful and the complex now sees over 2.5 million summer visitors annually, 25% higher than in the winter.

The Whistler Blackcomb hiking trails provide an opportunity for alpine hiking without an arduous ascent. Gondolas whisk hikers to the summits where a variety of trails ranging from moderate to difficult are available, all with spectacular mountain views. And those who just want to take in the sights with a bit of a thrill can do so from the recently-opened Cloudraker Skybridge suspension bridge and the Raven’s Eye cantilevered viewing platform.

On a sunny Canada Day, we drove to Whistler Blackcomb from Seattle for a weekend of hiking . After passing through the Canadian border at the Peace Arch Crossing, we continued north across the Fraser River on the Alex Fraser Bridge, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world when completed in 1986. From there we joined the 75-mile (120 km) Sea to Sky highway between Vancouver and Whistler, with its spectacular views to Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains.

We stopped for lunch en route in Squamish at the Howe Sound Brewing Company. Surrounded by steep hills and mountains, Squamish is a world-class rock-climbing locale. Our lunch table had a great view to one of the best climbing rocks in the area, Stawamus Chief. We also enjoyed a bit of the Canada Day celebrations in town, taking place along the closed-to-traffic main street.

After lunch, we rode the Sea to Sky Gondola just outside of town. Opened in 2014, the gondola carries visitors 2,904 ft (885 m) above sea level to the top of Mount Habrich, with sweeping views to Howe Sound and the mountains on either side.

Attractions at the top include the Skypilot Suspension Bridge and several trails with viewpoints. We walked most of the shorter trails, then stopped for a beer with a view at the Edge Bar in the Summit Lodge.

In Whistler, we stayed at the centrally-located Delta Hotels Whistler Village. The booking was a little last-minute, and we were lucky to get a room with a small balcony and a bit of a mountain view. We always try to get a balcony if possible, to spend as much time outside as we can.

After a delicious meal at The Mexican Corner in Whistler Village, we spent the rest of the evening exploring the area and taking in the Canada Day celebrations.

The next morning we hiked the High Note Trail on Whistler, considered the best hike at Whistler Blackcomb. Due to construction, upload on the Whistler Gondola was reserved for mountain bikers, so we instead rode the Blackcomb Gondola up, then the PEAK 2 PEAK express across to Whistler.

The most expedient access to the trailhead is from the top of Peak Express chairlift, which opened an hour after we arrived. So we walked a short distance along Pika’s Traverse Road to a good viewpoint, where we had a quick Hobbit’s “second breakfast.” The trail to the Peak Express chairlift was open when we returned, and we joined the few hundred people that had built up at the entrance on the short walk along the Peak Express Traverse to the base of the chairlift. The winter gates there are surprisingly high off the ground, indicating the typical snow level there in winter.

The High Note Trial starts near Cloudraker Skybridge and the inukshuk-marked Top of the World summit, and runs along the southern flank of Whistler Mountain, with spectacular views to Cheakamus Lake and the Black Tusk formation on the other side. From Flute Summit, the trail loops back to the gondola along the northern flank.

The views along the way were exceptional, and we really enjoyed the hike. We were actually lucky to even be able to make the hike at all, as the trail had just opened a couple of days ago for the summer season and still had patches of snow.

We rode the Whistler Gondola down, with the gondolas heading up packed with mountain bikers who would pedal back down. By standing their bikes up, four people and their bikes can cram inside.

The one exception to the rule that only mountain bikers can upload on the Whistler gondola was for those attending the Mountain Top Feast. Dinner ticker holders can ride up on the Whistler gondola and enjoy a live music-accompanied meal at the Roundhouse Lodge. We jumped at the chance to get more mountain views and, after cleaning up at the hotel, rode the gondola back up to spend a great evening atop Whistler.

The following day, we hiked at Blackcomb along a series of looping trails off Overlord Trail, the main connecting route. The views here also were impressive, particularly to Blackcomb Peak from the Decker Loop, and Decker Tarn where the loop rejoins the Overlord Trail.

After our hike, we rested our tired feet with a drink at the Rendezvous Lodge at the top of the Blackcomb gondola before descending. James hat was very salty with sweat from the day’s effort. We finished the day with a relaxing dinner on the terrace at Caramba in Whistler Village.

We really enjoyed both hikes at Whistler Blackcomb. In addition to the spectacular scenery, we saw quite a bit of wildlife, including two bear sightings, and marmots and deer. And Wagly Pet Campus in Bellevue sent us several photos of our little “wild animal”, Spitfire.

The wildflowers also were in bloom, filling the area with color.

We returned back home the following day on the Sea to Sky Highway beside the Cheakamus River. The river drains Cheakamus Lake, that we viewed from the High Note Trial on our first hike of the weekend. We took the Port Mann Bridge over the Fraser River this time, and then passed the Peace Arch at the US border.

The Peace Arch, dedicated in 1921, stands on the Washington side of Peace Arch Park, an international park that straddles the border between the two countries. Park visitors can cross the border on foot without any immigration formalities, so long as they don’t actually leave the park. During the 16-month COVID-19 border closure, this was the only place where friends and relatives on opposite sides of the border could meet.

We arrived back home in time to take in the SeaFair Summer Fourth fireworks display at Lake Union. The rooftops in the area were filled with revelers, as was Gasworks Park across Lake Union. And Lake Union itself was packed with boats taking in the display. It was the first time we’ve watched them from our apartment and it was quite an impressive show.

Our route to Whistler is shown on the interactive map below:

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