Ski Resort Series: Blackcomb

Even though Whistler-Blackcomb is one big resort, I decided to write about them separately since it is two different mountains and I’ve spent so much time skiing both. I posted about Whistler first, so check out that post for more general info about the resort, like lift passes and parking.

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Creekside is not an option for parking if you’re skiing Blackcomb, but there is an upper parking lot for Blackcomb if you want to jump right on the Blackcomb Gondola – though I understand it fills up pretty quickly. We always park in lots 4/5 (no matter which mountain we’re skiing) and take the shuttle over to Whistler village, so we always take the Excalibur Gondola up to start. The benefit of the Blackcomb Gondola is it takes you right to Rendez-Vous, which is the main hub on Blackcomb. Excalibur only goes halfway up and then you have to switch to the Excelerator Chair.

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For a long time, Whistler was my favourite mountain. I loved going up the Peak Chair and eating at Creekside. I liked the long runs that swing you around the mountain and how many different lifts there are. But over time I’ve grown to really love Blackcomb. I don’t think I can say I like it more than Whistler, but they’re definitely tied and I try and alternate back and forth every time I visit.

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The most popular runs on Blackcomb are at the 7th Heaven chair and it’s easy to understand why. On a clear day you can see all the Black Tusk and the surrounding mountains. 7th Heaven is completely clear of trees at the top, so it has amazing views before branching off into a dozen different runs. There’s a small cafĂ© at the top and while it’s almost impossible to get a seat inside, Brandon and I have spent more than one occasion enjoying our home-packed lunches outside at the picnic tables or on the slopes. Otherwise, we usually hit up Glacier Creek for lunch. It’s large and the crowds usually clear out a bit by 1:30pm. I find it much busier at Rendez-vous and usually try and avoid eating there.

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Once we get to 7th Heaven we’ll usually spend half of the day skiing there. There are tons of runs and you can pop in and out of the glades when you reach the top of the ski-line. There’s almost always small ramps scattered throughout the top, so Grant and I usually like to play around and test our abilities (we get at most a few inches of air, but we love it!).

If the conditions are bad though, 7th Heaven can be a bit of a nightmare. With no trees to shield you from the wind and blowing snow, visibility can be really bad at the top and they’ll often close the entire chair if the conditions are dicey. But on a clear day its really the best place to hang out!

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After 7th Heaven, Glacier Chair is really popular, but it’s never been one of my personal favourites. A lot of the runs at Glacier are more advanced and though my skiing has improved in the past years, I still like to play it a little more cautious. However, I recently discovered something new in the Glacier Chair area that is totally worth checking out!

At the top of the Glacier Chair, there’s a small t-bar called the Showcase T-bar, which takes you just a little bit further up the mountain. I’ve always ignored it because I hate t-bars, but I recently learned that if you’re willing to do a short walk, there’s a run at the very top of showcase that goes down the back of Blackcomb Glacier to an ice cave! It’s shown on the printed resort map, but I guess it doesn’t see that much traffic because after the t-bar, you have to take your skis off and walk upslope about 5 minutes to get to the top of a bowl going down by Blackcomb Glacier. It only takes about 5 minutes, so it’s totally worth it in my opinion, but it is steep, so I was pretty out of breath from carrying my skis.

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Once you get to the top of the bowl there are gorgeous views looking out over the mountains. Advanced skiers will climb further up the bowl, but I think most people just ski down from there. It’s steep at the top, but nothing unmanageable. The caveat with this run though is that it does go through avalanche terrain. The resort has a warning posted at the top of the lift that you are entering avalanche terrain, so make sure to check the bulletin before going. Fortunately the risk was low when we visited.

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It’s a gorgeous run, we played it safe and followed the ski markers down the center of the bowl. When you get to the bottom of the first part of the bowl, if you look to the right, you’ll see the Blackcomb Ice Cave along the side of the run. We skied down to it and spent some time exploring and taking photos. This was my first ice cave, so it was a really neat experience, but I’m not knowledgeable about ice cave safety, so we ventured inside the opening, but not beyond as we had no idea what the risk was.

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It’s a bit of a climb uphill again after the ice cave, but no where near as steep, I was able to ski it, but Brandon walked his board out. The run continues down around the back of the mountain and connects in again at the Crystal Chair. We had perfect weather when we visited the ice cave, so it made for a really fun day. I couldn’t believe I had skied the mountain for 7 years before discovering its existence!

Crystal Ridge can be a fun place to ski and I’ll often do a run or two in that area, but Jersey Cream is probably my favourite chair after 7th Heaven. It’s a shorter chair with limited runs, but I really like the views. Otherwise, there’s a ton of fun blue runs to do around the middle of the mountain and that’s where I’ll usually finish out my day. Depending on the conditions, we will ski down to the bottom, but sometimes we’ll download the last section on the gondola. Just be careful when you ski down that you take the right run based on where you parked. One leads to Whistler Village while the other leads to Blackcomb base.

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And that about sums up my thoughts on Blackcomb and Whistler. It’s definitely not cheap to ski there, but I keep coming back every year because there’s such a wide diversity of runs, the snow is usually better than the local mountains, and it’s much closer driving distance than going all the way to the interior. I still ski Cypress a lot too, but I always have the best time at Whistler-Blackcomb! However, be aware that with covid, reservations are now required prior to arriving and all the restaurants are operating as booking only. So unless you bring your own lunch to eat outside, plan ahead! Otherwise, have fun!

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Ski Resort Series: Whistler

What to say about Whistler. It’s a world renown ski-resort for a reason.

Skiing Whistler was definitely one of the things I was most excited about when I first moved to Vancouver. Since moving here I’ve probably skied Whistler-Blackcomb somewhere between 15-20 times and it’s been a different experience every time.

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The mountain and the views are incredible, but Vancouver’s milder winters definitely results in inconsistent skiing experiences. My first season skiing Whistler was in 2015, which was extremely disappointing because the whole region barely got any snow the entire season, so it was pretty wet on the mountain and not all the chairs were able to open. However the years that followed were a huge contrast and I had some really excellent powder days on the mountain, especially in 2017.

The biggest downside to skiing Whistler is by far the cost. It seems like tourists just accept the high price tag that comes with staying at a resort like Whistler, but for locals, it’s expensive. We always drive up and back from Vancouver on the same day to avoid paying for an overpriced hotel room. Plus is seems that the lift passes get more and more expensive every year; after Veil bought out the resort in 2018, it really felt like they were trying to the locals out. These days it’s somewhere around $180 to buy a single day lift pass at the bottom of the mountain, which is absolutely ridiculous for a mountain with limited skiing hours (8:30am-3pm at it’s shortest).

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The price tag has been a deterrent for a lot of my friends in recent years, but personally I love this mountain, so I keep coming back every year. The trick is to buy an Edge Card in advance of the season to save on lift tickets. The cards vary every year and you can usually choose anywhere from 2 to 10 days, meaning you can ski any day of the season for that number of days. This year I got a 2 day card for $220, so significant savings over buying it the day of. Other years I’ve gotten 3 day cards and once I even got a 6 day card. The more days you buy, the better the value.

But let’s talk about the actual mountain. Whistler Blackcomb is made up of two mountains that have been merged into 1 big resort. I’ve decided to write about them separately, so I’ll just talk about Whistler in this post. There is a peak to peak gondola going between the two, but we usually just pick one mountain and ski there for the day.

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Whistler is the larger of the two mountains and is favoured more by skiers then snowborders. You can upload onto the mountain either from the main lift in the village, or from Creekside, which is a few kilometers before the main village along the highway. I’ve heard it’s nice to upload from Creekside, but there’s a lot more parking at the main village, so we always start from there. It can be a long wait for the first gondola up, so we usually do the singles line to beat the crowd.

When I first started skiing Whistler, I spent a lot of time near the Harmony Express lift. It’s a good area for intermediate skiers and there are amazing views from the top of the lift, plus a good variety of runs. If you’re just visiting though, your top priority should be making sure you head up to the Peak Lookout. As far as the skiing goes, it’s not my favourite area, but it’s by far the best view on the mountain, so make sure to do at least one run up there to catch the view! It’s also the place to go if you want to do the longest possible run on the mountain. We rarely ski down past mid station as the snow is just not that good and you don’t want to have to wait to upload again, but if the conditions are good, it can be fun to ski some of the lower runs later in the day when there are no waits at the bottom.

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In more recent years though, Symphony Express has by far become my favourite part of the mountain. It’s a bit of a trek to get over there at the start of the day because you have to upload on a few different lifts to make it to that side of the mountain, but once you get over there, there’s great skiing in Symphony Bowl. Plus there’s usually less line ups and still a great view from the top of Symphony Chair. So these days we usually make a beeline over to that area.

Since Whistler is such a big mountain, there are lots of easy runs criss-crossing the mountain as well. It’s why snowboarders tend not to like Whistler as much as Blackcomb, so we usually have to convince Brandon to come over there with us (he’s our only boarder). But no matter what part of the mountain you ski, there’s tons of great runs and amazing views. Although sometimes they won’t open Peak or Symphony Chair on snowy or windy days.

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A few more tips if you’re visiting Whistler. The lines for food at Roundhouse can get really crazy during peak lunch hours, so we usually try and eat a little later to avoid the crowds (usually around 1:30ish). Sometimes we bring sandwiches to eat on the mountain and sometimes we just snack all day and quit around 3pm. Depends how cold it is and who’s with us. In earlier years, we used to hit up Creekside for lunch, but it seems to have gotten busier lately, so I usually prefer Roundhouse.

As for parking, I recommend going in lots 4 and 5 at Whistler Village. They are further from the village, but it’s a lot easier to get a spot and there’s a shuttle bus that goes right to the village. It used to the be free to park there, but Whistler Municipality has recently started charging $5 for the day. Lots 1, 2, 3 have always been pay parking at a steeper rate.

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Ski Resort Series: Apex

I’m finally up to date on my ski series and I can write about my latest trip, which I went on in late February, to Apex Mountain resort. I’m super excited to write about this one because it ended up being one of my favourite ski trips! Originally we had planned to visit Revelstoke this year, but there are limited group reservations available on the mountain and we couldn’t find anything big enough for our growing group, so we ended up renting a chalet at Apex instead.

I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Apex and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but we ended up getting some fantastic conditions along with an amazing condo, making for one of the best trips. I’ve heard Apex called one of BC’s hidden gems of a ski resort because it is one of the lesser known resorts and therefore sees fewer visitors than some of the other resorts. We got really lucky this year though because it snowed all over the province for pretty much 2 weeks before our trip, including the day we drove out there, so we had unbelievable conditions on the mountain! Our first runs on Saturday were some of the best skiing I’ve had in a long time because there was about a foot of undisturbed powder on every run.

For those unfamiliar with the resort, Apex is located about 4.5 hours out of Vancouver in the southern part of BC. We drove through Manning Park and Princeton to get to the mountain and it’s about 30 minutes south of Penticton. Last year we visited Silver Star on the Family Day weekend, and while it was great to make use of the holiday, it was really crowded! So this year we went the weekend after Family Day, so there were barely any crowds on the mountain. I don’t think I ever waited longer than 5-10 minutes to get on a lift and most times there was no wait at all.

Apex is definitely smaller than some of the other mountains we’ve visited, but it had a really nice variety of runs. It only has 2 lifts, but like I said, it never felt crowded. We started our day on the far side of the mountain on Stocks Chair, which is a 3-person lift. It’s not a very fast lift, but we spent most of our first morning there because it has a lot of really nice blue runs, great for getting warmed up. Then in the afternoon we switched over to the main chair, which is a high speed quad chair. Many of the runs on the main lift are blacks, so we mostly stuck to the blue runs on the first day.

On the second day I got a little more adventurous and spent the whole day with my sister, Emily, who just recently moved to BC. We slowly worked our way through a good portion of the blacks. I find the black diamond runs at Whistler to be pretty intimidating, but I like trying out the black runs at smaller mountains and working on improving my skills. We started with some of the shorter black runs and slowly worked our way up. Plus, it was a great time to try some tougher runs since the snow conditions were so good! Some of the runs got a bit chewed up over two days, but it was surprising how many still had some really nice powder on them! My only complaint about the mountain would be that they need to update their map because there are a lot of runs on the mountain that aren’t actually showing on the map right now and it made it a bit confusing trying to figure out where you are.

As usual, we ate all our meals in our condo. This was our 4th trip and 3 out of 4 of the trips we’ve had ski-out access. We had ski-out access at this place too, which makes for a really nice experience when you can come back to the warm condo at lunch to eat and have a beer. As usual, I cooked traditional Newfoundland Jiggs Dinner on the first evening and Brandon cooked hotpot on our second evening. Carolyn and Seth made some lasagnas and chili for lunches, which we paired with leftover turkey sandwiches. Finally, Karen cooked us the most wonderful hot breakfast every morning!

We found our condo on Airbnb and we definitely paid a pretty penny for it, but it was one of my favourite places we’ve stayed. There were 15 of us staying there in total and we had a great view of the hill and a nice balcony with a hot tub.

While we didn’t spend much time in Apex Village, we did discover the most precious gem hidden in the trees! Apex has an adventure skating loop that runs through the woods for ~1km. I’m so pleased that we actually did it – I saw it on a facebook post a few months ago and tagged everyone in it because it looked so quaint. You always see those kinds of cool things on social media, but you almost never go, so I was thrilled that we actually got the chance to go to this one. A few of us brought skates with us and everyone else was able to rent them in the village. The loop is really nicely done and only costs $4, although it happened to be free on the day we visited! Speaking of costs, the lift pass at Apex is also incredibly reasonably priced. I believe it’s about $85 a day, but you can buy passes in advance at Costco for just $65!

The amazing ski conditions, small crowds, and awesome accommodations all combined to make this one of my favourite ski trips.