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Whistler Blackomb, Canada

Whistler Blackcomb has consistently been rated in ski and travel magazine surveys as the most popular ski resort in North America.

Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, CanadaThere are several reasons for this: two mountains with the largest vertical drop on the continent, 5,280 feet; tremendous bowl skiing; and runs that wind down the mountain seemingly forever—the longest run on each mountain is 7 miles. To top it off, the town has a people-friendly, five-village base area with lodging, restaurants and nightclubs, much of which is within walking distance. The main areas of Whistler Village are designed for pedestrian-only traffic.

The resort is huge, and its myriad attractions, both on-slope and off, have helped it to become one of North America’s favorite international ski spots. Visitors flock here from Australia, Asia, Europe and Latin America as well as North America.

The resort has plans to link its two mountain peaks with a Peak to Peak gondola which is scheduled for completion in December of 2008. It will travel 2.7 miles from Whistler’s Roundhouse Lodge to the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackomb Mountain. The new gondola will transport winter and summer guests in 28 sky cabins, two with glass floors affording views of the Fitzimmons Creek and valley between the two mountains.

While Whistler generally gets rave reviews, two drawbacks that come up most often by word of mouth sound worse than they really are. One is Whistler’s weather. Close to the Pacific Ocean at a low base altitude just over 2,000 feet, Whistler can at times get heavy rain or dense fog. But the weather at the bottom isn’t always what’s happening at the top—it may be raining in Whistler Village, but snowing (or even sunny) on the summit. Crystal-clear, sunny days are a frequent surprise, especially later in the season, and on those days skiing conditions are just awesome. Secondly, skiers will sometimes cite horrendous lift lines (primarily at base areas early in the morning) as Whistler’s other problem. In reality the few lines that develop look longer than the actual wait, thanks to high-speed lifts at the three base areas.

Whistler is a destination resort with a local population of about 10,000. But, as resorts go, this one ranks among North America’s largest. Built in a European style, it has more than 120 restaurants and bars, more than 200 shops, plus more than 100 condos, B&Bs, lodges and hotels offering nearly 5,400 units. What began as a pedestrian-oriented base village has grown into a complex that often requires a bus or taxi ride to move from place to place or from condo to the slopes. A sometimes-confusing system of free and pay buses facilitates travel throughout most of the area.

The resort is comprised of five villages. Whistler Village is the closest neighborhood to the main lifts for both mountains. Stroll the cobblestone streets, window-shop or have a latte in one of the many outdoor patios along the way. Two first-class hotels—the Pan Pacific and the Westin—provide the best access to the slopes. Village North, set north (but downhill) of Whistler Village, is where the locals go for the essentials. It holds a section called Marketplace where, along with a host of goods and services. You’ll also find the post office, a grocery store and a liquor store. Upper Village, the Blackcomb base and site of the elegant Fairmont Chateau Whistler and Four Seasons Resort Whistler, is a 10-minute walk east of the heart of Whistler Village. While it has its own public base lodge, ticket office, children’s center and shops, it’s smaller and far less active than Whistler Village. You can walk over the covered bridge to the Upper Village for some great shopping and fabulous food. Town Plaza connects Whistler Village and Village North/Marketplace and is lined with hotels, restaurants and shops. Each of these villages is about a 5- to 10-minute walk from the others. A residential section adjacent to the Upper Village is called Blackcomb Benchlands. Creekside, also known as Whistler Creek, is the original Whistler base on the south end of the valley. It’s undergone a major rejuvenation and is home to the legendary, original Dusty’s Bar & BBQ, as well as Legends and First Tracks Lodge, Whistler’s premiere suite property. The Creekside base area was redesigned with families in mind; it’s quiet at night, without the clubs and street noise of the Village. Creekside is a five-minute taxi ride south.

Now that Whistler and Vancouver have hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, their robustly upgraded Sea to Ski Highway makes driving a breeze, and the marine, coach, air and train service was vastly improved too.