Whistler — Mountain layout
Whistler Blackcomb doesn’t give you just a trail map—they give you a trail atlas. Tips: There are more tree runs, more cut trails on Blackcomb Mountain. Whistler Mountain has more Alpine bowls. If you’re facing a snowstorm, you can often navigate better on Blackcomb. On sunny days, Whistler has more spectacular views, especially in the bowls. On snowy days, if you’re skiing Whistler, just ride Big Red and Garbanzo.
But ski both mountains if you’re here for more than just a day. Part of the appeal is to stand on one mountain and look across the steep Fitzsimmons Valley at the runs of the other—to chart out where to go or enjoy the view of where you’ve been. Both mountains offer complimentary tours for intermediates and experts, which may be the best way for those new to this resort to learn their way around. Tours meet outside the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler (at the top of the Village Gondola) and at the Rendezvous on Blackcomb (at the top of the Solar Coaster) at 11:30 a.m. The tour guides are seasoned skiers at both mountains so you’ll get some history with your adventure.
|Expert, Advanced: For Whistler, start at the Whistler Village Gondola and take a speedy ride up 3,800 vertical feet to the Roundhouse Lodge. Ascending over so much terrain, you’ll think you’re at the summit, but one glance out the gondola building reveals a series of five giant bowls above the treeline. These spread out from left to right: Symphony Bowl, Harmony Bowl, Flute Bowl, Glacier Bowl, Whistler Bowl and West Bowl (plus the unseen Bagel Bowl, far to the right edge of the ski boundary), all served by the Harmony Express, Peak Chair and Symphony Express lift which serves 1,000 acres of inbounds backcountry terrain now called Symphony Amphitheatre. On busier days, take the Fitzsimmons quad out of the Village, then the Garbanzo Express to get up on the mountain. Ski the top, especially late morning. Stay in the Alpine to avoid the crowds and stop for a late or early lunch for the same reason.Experts will pause just long enough to enjoy the view and then take the Peak Chair to the 7,160-foot summit, turning left along the ridge. Navigate the tricky entrances to The Cirque or The Couloir and you’ll be on some of Whistler’s steepest terrain. Or continue down the ridge and drop into Glacier Bowl via the Saddle which is often groomed. Or turn right off the chair and drop into Whistler Bowl. There are no marked runs here—its wide open. Be creative and let fly. A groomed path rips down Whistler Bowl and Shale Slope to the bottom of the Peak Chair—the steepest winch-groomed terrain in North America. Don miss the new high speed Symphony Express which accesses 1,000 acres of high alpine. This area can be reached from the top of the Peak chair or the top of Harmony Express. Flute Peak will remain a hike-in, in-bounds backcountry experience, but this new lift eliminates the hike out. Though most of the expert playground is above treeline, the lower mountain has a few advanced challenges, most notably the Dave Murray Downhill. It starts at the top of Garbanzo Express (and Orange Chair) and drops more than 3,300 vertical feet to the Whistler Creekside base. Hook up with a local and explore the midmountain glades here—especially on snowy days. The glades are significant in this region of the mountain. Try the trees off Seppos or the glades of Club 21 and Side Order—all accessed by the under-used Garbonzo Chair.
The west side of Whistler Mountain gives you 400 acres in the Peak to Creek area. Jump into huge Alpine bowls, glades and wide runs that cut between monster trees on the ride to the valley floor. Named runs for advanced and experts here are Dusty’s Descent, Big Timber and Home Run. Peak to Creek, three and a half miles long, takes you right to the base at Creekside Village. Flute Bowl, accessed by the Symphony Express high- speed quad, is an in-bounds backcountry experience. The 700-acre bowl starts in the Alpine and transitions into glades.
But wait, there’s more—another whole mountain. Blackcomb’s gondola, Excalibur, is right next to the Whistler Village Gondola in the village. Take it to the Excelerator and Glacier Express high-speed quads. Now you’re almost at the top. Take the Horstman T-bar to reach Blackcomb’s outstanding 7th Heaven Zone. If you’re staying in the Upper Village, either ski down to the Excalibur gondola or hop on the speedy Wizard Express, a quad with an aerodynamic Plexiglas windscreen that keeps out the wind and rain, which can be a soaking menace at the 2,200-foot base area. Then hop on Solar Coaster. At Rendezvous, laze your way down Expressway to the 7th Heaven Express. This south-facing Alpine zone has advanced and intermediate terrain for sun-loving skiers and riders.
Or from the top of the Horstman T-bar, drop down onto Horstman Glacier on Blue Line. Keep to the left and peer over the cornice into the double-black-diamond chutes. Just seeing the abyss—or seeing someone hurl himself into it—gives quite a rush. The best known of these severe, narrow chutes is Couloir Extreme. The entry requires a leap of faith and skill. For chutes that will give you a thrill but not a heart attack, find Secret Chute or Pakalolo, which is narrow and steep with rock walls on either side.
Experts and advanced skiers won want to miss the Blackcomb Glacier Zone, accessed from the Showcase T-bar. Drop into the Blowhole, a wind-carved halfpipe between the glacier and a rock wall. Or if this gives you weak knees, keep heading out to the glacier itself, rated blue, but stay high and skiers left under Blowhole to get to more challenging terrain. Beware the five-kilometer runout at the end. For Blackcomb’s true extreme—considered some of the best expert skiing in North America—head to the bowls off Spanky’s Ladder.
|Intermediate: For intermediate skiers, the general rule of thumb is that Whistler Mountain caters to lower-intermediates while Blackcomb suits upper- intermediates. Therefore, the former ability group should begin its adventure on Whistler Mountain. Don’t hesitate going straight to the peak at 7,160 feet or to Little Whistler Peak at 6,939. The high Alpine terrain looks daunting from the chairlifts, but this is where you’ll find the best snow and some of the finest and most scenic blue runs.
Left off the Peak Chair is The Saddle, an ultra smooth ride on a glacier. Because glaciers keep the snow refrigerated, it stays cold and dry. To the right is Highway 86, a long ridgeline cruiser that takes you down to Big Red Express. This lift takes you to a slew of blue runs and to Harmony Express, which carries you to Harmony and Symphony Bowls, where you can happily play all day. Burnt Stew Trail skirts the upper boundary where the views are divine. You’ll want to take this again. Then sail down Harmony Ridge, and if you’re feeling frisky, drop into Low Roll for some soft, sweet bumps that provide a nice change of pace.
The Symphony Express takes you to spectacular high alpine intermediate terrain. Access it from the top of the Peak chair or Harmony Express for wide-open bowls, high-intermediate gladed areas and two conventionally cut trails for low-intermediates.
When you’re ready to ski to Creekside, take the famous Franz’s Run, a 5-mile peak-to-creek cruiser that begins above timberline and ends in the village. Look for a plaque identifying the run just to the right of the T-bar above Roundhouse Lodge. Its one of the longest runs in North America. Or carve your way from top to bottom on Peak to Creek, a 3.5-mile intermediate run that is groomed regularly.
At Blackcomb for upper- intermediates, the same rule applies: Stay high. Three express lifts—7th Heaven, Jersey Cream and Solar Coaster—will keep you smiling on appropriately named runs like Cloud Nine, Southern Comfort and Panorama. The snow on Jersey Cream and Cougar Milk is as smooth as cream cheese and the pitch of Ross’s Gold, Cruiser and Springboard is perfect for – well – cruising. If there hasn’t been any new snowfall and if hardpack or crud are not your favorite conditions, check the grooming charts at the top of each lift.
Do take at least one trip down Blackcomb Glacier via Glacier Express and Showcase T-bar. The snow on top is always light and dry, but be ready for a long runout (part of which is over a frozen lake). Take a look down the scary-looking, expert-rated Blowhole before heading into the intermediate wide-open bowl. Its steep at the top, but the width means that even lower-intermediates can manage it without too much trepidation. Horstman Glacier is another option for intermediates who want bragging rights for skiing on a glacier—a rare experience in North America. Below the glaciers, Ridge Runner provides a nice way home or access to Excelerator Chair and more blues.
Catch the sun by heading over to the 7th Heaven Bowl (Glacier Express to the Horstman T-Bar). With options to pick the degree of steepness you want to tackle, 7th Heaven is a perfect place for a group with abilities from lower- to upper-intermediate to ski, all meeting at the 7th Heaven Express.
From the Crystal Chair, take a rollicking ride down RockNRoll—the trail starts off steep, then twists and rolls down the hill. Other great trails on this side include Twist & Shout, Ridge Runner, and Zig Zag, with the only negative being that all but Zig Zag end at the Blackcomb Glacier Road runout.
To get to the base, be sure to read the map and take the trails on skier’s right to get to the Blackcomb side or skier’s left to make your way to Whistler Village.
|Beginner, First-timer: The good news on the Whistler side is that there’s plenty of green-rated skiing higher up on the mountain. The bad news is that skiing back to the base at day’s end can be a navigation and traffic nightmare. On a beginner’s first day, its best to start with Whistler’s midmountain. Take the Whistler Village Gondola to its top at Roundhouse Lodge. Good routes can be found by following Ego Bowl under the Emerald Express lift to either Pig Alley or Lower Whiskey Jack, back to the Emerald Express chair. Ride the chair back up to Roundhouse Lodge. Other nice choices from there are, on skier’s left, Upper Whiskey Jack to Lower Whiskey Jack, which then presents two options: Continuing past the Emerald Express on down Upper Olympic to the Gondola’s midstation stop; or crossing under the Emerald Express at the top which winds into the Green Acres Family Zone that empties out onto Sidewinder and takes you back to Emerald Express. If you’re a bit more intrepid and want to see things from nearer the high peaks, you have two options: Pikas Traverse from Harmony Chair to the top of Emerald Express, or Burnt Stew, a long, winding run down the perimeter designed just so beginners can experience the Alpine. On sunny days, Burnt Stew will make a beginner’s day. You’ll find green-circle routes to the base village from the Roundhouse. But pay close attention to signs, check the daily grooming report before you launch—and take a trail map. Once you’re on an intermediate trail, there’s usually no green escape. Local tip: For the ski down to the village, Crabapple, when groomed, is a great option since few people ski it. When descending at the end of the day, however, the best advice is to download on the gondola. Legs may be tired and the descent may be unnervingly busy, so enjoy the ride and save those legs for the next morning.Blackcomb offers several exhilarating runs for the experienced beginner. Fearless adventure-seekers looking for thrilling views should make their way to 7th Heaven and take the Green Line all the way down. Green Line does get quite narrow and winds across a number of intermediate and expert runs. Just take your time. Ditto for Crystal Road, which runs from the Crystal Hut. The terrain on both these trails can be intimidating, and so can the skiers, so think before you head here.
If you need lots of room to play, ride the Solar Coaster Express lift and glide along the Expressway to Easy Out. This run ends at the top of the Wizard Express where you may pick up the tail end of Green Line to the base. For short, mellow runs take the Magic Chair at the Upper Village.
At Whistler, the first-timer area and Children’s Learning Center are at the gondola’s midstation, about 1,000 feet above the base. Although both mountains are sensitive to first-timers, this area is more secluded than Blackcomb’s. An entire class can even fit into one gondola. Its not only an easier and more secure experience for the total novice, but you get to be “up on the mountain,” something that’s relatively unusual for skiers of this level. The Olympic Chair runs at an easy-to-use slow speed and serves only first-timer terrain. Whistler’s nearby Family Zone on the Emerald Express offers great terrain for family members just starting out. Kids should check out the kids-only tree houses in the Emerald Forest.
New skiers may be overwhelmed by some of the green traverse runs on Blackcomb’s higher elevations. It’s best to build confidence by sticking to the learning areas at the Blackcomb base. When ready for traffic and quicker turns, trek to Blackcomb’s Magic Castle and Adventure Center near the Solar Coaster (especially kids).