Whistler In The News
Tops For Skiing
Reprinted from Town and Country Magazine, January 2002
What makes a ski area so great that skiers will cross continents for
it? Whistler has always been a winter destination wrapped in superlatives,
but at age thirty-six, this resort, set in British Columbia’s rugged Coast
Mountains seventy-five miles north of Vancouver, has become more than just
a mountain. (Actually, the resort has two mountains: Whistler and
Blackcomb.) It’s a skier’s mecca, really, and the only resort in North
America where you can stand in lift lines abuzz with so much Spanish,
French, German and Japanese that you feel exotic to be an American.
All skiers have a favorite mountain. It might be a spot with secret
glades, which you discovered on a powder day after all the other skiers
had gone home. Or it might be a place where you fell in love with sweeping
green and blue runs groomed to perfection. My father and I, having
journeyed to Whistler last winter for a rare father-daughter ski reunion,
have our favorites too, and they span seventy-six ski seasons. (Dad has
forty-three seasons under his boots, and we calculate that since he
launched me in a snowplow back in the 1 960s, I’ve logged thirty-three ski
years.) In all that time, we’ve managed between us to ski many places.
But nowhere—not in Aspen or Vail, Taos or
Telluride, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Kitzbühel or Chamonix — have we
encountered the overall excellence of Whistler.
first thing most skiers measure when stacking one resort against another
is terrain. And Whistler has lots of it, with more than
7,000 acres (compared to Aspen’s 675)
covering two separate mountains that converge neatly at the base. After
terrain comes vertical feet, and here again, Whistler trumps the field
with the two longest vertical drops on the
continent (5,280 feet on Blackcomb Mountain and 5,020 feet on Whistler
Mountain). That means you can actually ski nearly seven miles
from top to bottom (if your thighs can stand it!), but since Whistler sits
closer to sea level than most other ski resorts, you get all that height
without the headaches of altitude adjustment. Between the two mountains
are more than 200 marked downhill trails, with more than half the runs
rated intermediate—so you will never, ever, run out of wide, well-groomed
slopes to schuss.
Nestled at the base of both mountains is Whistler Village, where
almost everyone comes to hang out, window shop, stroll the redbrick
streets or dine at any of the more than forty restaurants. The village
itself is so alluring that there is plenty to keep you amused, whether
you’re a skier or not. Winding lanes lined with stores and cafés lead to
open plazas, and, everywhere, people are walking. Whistler was designed to
virtually eliminate automobiles from its public spaces. That decision was
key, because it makes the Whistler experience (given all it offers) feel
cozy — more like a European ski hamlet than a North American resort.
Once you check into your hotel, your car is whisked away and you can
walk to your favorite café for coffee, to the gondola if
skiing, to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler for an après-ski drink, or out to
dinner in the evening. And because the Intrawest Corporation, the company
that designed Whistler Village, specializes in such “village-centered”
resorts, it seems to have thought of everything: covered walkways to
protect you from the elements; café tables elevated above the walkways (so
coffee-sippers can gaze down at the scene rather than be looked down
upon); and paths that slope ever so gently, so you never have to clomp
uphill in your ski boots.
Whistler is relatively young as ski resorts go (it marked its
thirty-fifth season last year), but it has already made history.
It was the first ski area to be voted No. 1
simultaneously by all three of the top consumer ski publications in 1996
and is consistently rated highly in travelers’ polls. Whistler was
conceived by a group of Vancouver businessmen who set out in 1960 to
develop the area as a possible site for the 1968 Winter Olympics.
Whistler never did land the games, but it kept growing, as did neighboring
Blackcomb. By 1997 both mountains had merged under Intrawest (whose resort
empire includes Tremblant in Quebec, Stratton in Vermont and Mammoth in
California, as well as more than a dozen golf resorts).
Although Whistler has always had the terrain, the snow,
a state-of-the-art high speed lift system that is
the envy of the ski world and a charming village — including
the romantic Fairmont Chateau Whistler, a destination unto itself — what
it originally lacked was the cachet of Sun Valley or Aspen. And yet, in
the last decade a decidedly international set has arrived, giving Whistler
the feeling of a hip ski town gone global. If you stop mid-mountain to
check your stock quotes at the Bloomberg Business Center in the Roundhouse
Lodge, the visitors who’ve signed in before
might be from England, Germany, Argentina, Greece, Costa Rica, Norway,
Australia or Japan (as they were the day I was there). Lately, Whistler
has also become a place for the rich and famous to ski. Mel Gibson was
reportedly slaloming alongside Dad and me, and Julia Roberts sped up the
next week. Princes Charles, William and Harry chose Whistler for their ski
holiday a few seasons ago.
The reasons Dad and I love Whistler? We made a list: the ease of
stepping out the door of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler or the new Westin
Resort & Spa and being right at the lifts; having dinner each night at a
different restaurant — all of them excellent—then walking home in the
snow: flipping a switch in our handsome suite at the Westin each morning
and having a fire blaze up instantly in the slate-faced fireplace;
knowing we could ski one day and recover the next with Ayurvedic spa
treatments at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler (from my list); spending lots
of those cheap Canadian dollars (from Dad’s list); sharing the high-speed
quad lifts with two Argentinean film makers, a Scotsman and an Irishwoman
working in Tokyo, a Brit living in Sydney, chair after chair of skiers
from London and two brothers from Northern England who, when they heard
Dad lived near L.A., asked if he was a movie star.
Then there was the afternoon we skied the Emerald Chair. The snow had
the consistency of confectioners’ sugar, and the sun illuminated each
powdery mound. Snowcapped peaks marched off into the distance, rows of
them beneath wispy clouds. Whistler and Black— comb, with their endless
terrain and lunar landscapes, felt a lot like God’s ski country that day.
You could imagine heaven as a place like that, mountains in the clouds
where interesting people from all over the world come to ski endless
slopes (without ever getting tired). New snow, intriguing people to meet,
and it was even a good deal. I’d say we found it, Dad and I.
WINTER IN WHISTLER
Reprinted from Town and Country Magazine, January 2002
Whistler is seventy—five miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
The drive from Vancouver International Airport to Whistler on the Sea to
Sky Highway (Highway 99) is a highlight in itself. Scheduled bus service
(Perimeter’s Whistler Express; 604-905-0041) runs daily from the airport
to Whistler’s major hotels. There is also B.C. Rail train service
On the Mountain
The winter ski season on Blackcomb runs from mid—November to late
April; Whistler’s ski season runs from late November until June,
conditions permitting. Lift tickets (good for both mountains) cost $40 a
day. Lessons start at $50 for full day group instruction. For more
information: Tourism Whistler -
Where to Eat
For great seafood and a menu full of inventive surprises, don’t miss
the Rimrock Café (2117 Whistler Road; 604-932-5565), a classic, located
just south of the village. The Alsatian restaurant Val d’lsère (Whistler
Village; 604-932-4666) has an impressive wine list and a romantic
atmosphere. Chef Roland Pfaff turns out lovely renditions of regional
specialties. For Italian food, our two favorites have the same owner:
Trattoria di Umberto (4417 Sundial Place; 604-932-5858) and Il Caminetto,
which is slightly more formal (4242 Village Stroll; 604-932-4442).You
can’t go wrong with either, but we preferred the Trattoria.
Where to Shop
Although you won’t find the exclusive boutiques of Aspen or Vail,
Whistler Village is fabulous for shoppers — especially when you factor in
those Canadian dollars. Three personal favorites: Lush (4308 Main Street;
604-932-5445) for fizzy bath bombs. Showcase Snowboards (4340 Sundial
Crescent; 604-938-7519) to outfit your young snowboarders with Burton
gear. Horstman Trading Company (Westin Resort & Spa; 604-905-2203) is the
only place in Whistler to pick up Prada ski wear (which you’re
hard-pressed to see on skiers here).
Whistler housing prices could triple by 2010: report
The already unaffordable town set to become Aspen-ized as growth
-- by Brian Morton, Vancouver
Sun Monday, October 22, 2001
Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun / As the town of Whistler
reaches its development limit, prices are likely to skyrocket,
with only the super-rich being able to afford even a modest
A federal survey says the average price of a single-family home in
Whistler could more than triple to $3 million by 2010, and that worries a
Whistler councilor who has lived there for 25 years.
"We call it the 'Aspen'-ization of Whistler," said Councilor
Ken Melamed, a local stonemason who lives in the same 180-square-metre
A-frame house he bought for $64,500 in 1976.
"Whistler is already becoming much more expensive and gentrified,
with long-time residents cashing out and moving to places like Pemberton
or Squamish. But we don't want Whistler to become just another Aspen,
where the locals moved out and all you have now are second and third homes
for the wealthy with nobody living there."
The Canada Mortgage and Housing report, called the Whistler Housing
Market, suggests that Whistler, which will reach a "build-out"
stage in two years (when the resort reaches its development limit), could
go the way of Aspen, the super-rich mountain resort in Colorado where the
average price of a single-family home is almost $3 million US.
"Perhaps Whistler prices will catch up to Aspen prices, or even
exceed them," concludes the report. "Even if prices in Whistler
continue to increase by a relatively modest 10 per cent per year, the
average price of a single-family home will reach almost $3 million shortly
The average price of a single family home in Whistler now stands at
$945,000 CDN, down slightly from $990,000 in December, 2000. That makes
Whistler the most expensive municipality in Canada -- but still relatively
cheap by international standards.
"The average price of a single family home in Aspen increased from
just under $1.4 million CDN in 1992 to just over $4 million CDN in 1999,
tripling in only seven years," the report adds. "In Whistler,
the average price of a single family home increased from $285,145 in 1992
to $880,000 in 1999.
The report states that if Aspen houses increased at Whistler's rate (10
per cent a year), the average single family home there would be valued at
$13 million CDN in 12 years, "which certainly does not seem
It said prices in Whistler -- which now has Canada's most expensive
listing at $11.2 million (plus $700,000 GST) -- could even exceed those in
Aspen at some point.
The 64-page survey, which was released this summer, also looked at the
possible impact of the 2010 Olympic bid on Whistler and the Sea-To-Sky
It said that because Whistler is already well known on the world stage,
"it is probable that the impact of the Winter Olympics would be more
significant for Squamish and Pemberton than for Whistler."
"In many ways, the situation of Squamish is similar to that of
Canmore, Alberta, which has experienced a housing boom since the 1988
Winter Olympics were held in Calgary. [And] it seems likely that faster
and easier commuting between Squamish and Vancouver and Squamish and
Whistler would have a positive impact on the Squamish real estate
The report notes that housing prices in communities near Aspen are also
high: single family homes in Glenwood Springs, about 65 kilometres from
Aspen, average $390,000, while similar homes in Basalt, about 35
kilometres from Aspen, average $600,000 to $1 million CDN.
The survey states that Whistler, with a permanent population of about
10,000 (up from fewer than 5,000 10 years ago) and more than two million
skier visits per year (Vail and Aspen have about 1.3 million and 1.4
million respectively), has become better known internationally.
The report notes that buyers are attracted by a number of factors,
including Whistler's increasing international exposure, the lack of good
snow in Colorado ski resorts in recent years, the low Canadian dollar,
improved infrastructure, new hotels, and the Internet, which has
revolutionized resort marketing.
Melamed said Whistler council is committed to promoting affordable
housing and, to that end, the Whistler Housing Authority helps employees
find cheaper housing.
But, he added, Whistler is beginning to lose its charm. "It
doesn't feel like a real home town like Pemberton or Squamish, where you
run into your neighbours all the time and everything isn't out of your
price range. The shops here are already catering to a more expensive
clientele and the trend is going to get worse."
He cited a new development where 29 estate homes are slated to be
built. "The lots alone will start out at $1 million. And that could
Whistler Real Estate Company president Pat Kelly agreed in an interview
Sunday that prices could triple over the next decade.
He said there's been a "wait-and-see" attitude by some buyers
since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but no substantial change in the
market. "We're just as busy as we were before Sept. 11, from a real
estate point of view. And a number of people from the U.S. and Europe now
look at Whistler as a safer place to invest in than the U.S."