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Whistler - Tops For Skiing
Town And Country Magazine
Winter In Whistler
Town And Country Magazine
Whistler housing prices could triple by 2010: report
Vancouver Sun Newspaper

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. 

The 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 you’re 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 you 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.

Reprinted from Town and Country Magazine, January 2002

Getting There

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 (604-984-5246).

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 continues
-- 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 family home.

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 after 2010."

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 implausible."

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 corridor.

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 market."

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 be conservative."

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."

Reprinted from The Vancouver Sun
Date of Article Monday, October 22, 2001
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