Whistler, BC

Whistler, BC

Whistler is a Canadian resort town in the southern Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in the province of British Columbia.  It is incorporated as the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and has a permanent population of about 11,000.  As a tourism related resort community it has on average about 3000 “transient” workers from all over the world, especially from Australia and the United Kingdom.

On average about 15,000 people visit Whistler every day, which equates to over two million people annually.  They primarily come for the alpine skiing and snowboarding in the winter and, for the downhill mountain bike park in the summer.  It is a pedestrian friendly village and there is no need for a car once you have arrived at your hotel.  All necessities are within walking distance and the village has won numerous design awards and Whistler has been voted among the top destinations in North America by major ski magazines since the mid 90’s.


The Whistler valley is at the pass between the headwaters of the Green River and the Cheakamus River.  There are glaciated mountains on both sides.  The Garibaldi Range is on the side that contains the ski mountains and a group of ranges which are part of the larger Pacific Ranges and are essentially the fore-ranges of the Pemberton Icefield.  The Cheakamus-Green divide is the lowest and most direct route and was naturally the main trading route between the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations long before the arrival of Europeans.  Before the arrival of Europeans, the native people lived at Green Lake.


The area acquired the name “Whistler” due to the call of the hoary marmot.  In the late 19th century, a trail was cut through the valley, linking Lillooet via Pemberton with Burrard Inlet via a pass from Squamish to the Seymour River.  Because of the difficult and unforgiving terrain, it was only used once for its intended purpose, which was to drive cattle.  Whistler began to attract trappers and prospectors who established small camps in the area in the early 20th century.  The area began to gain recognition with the arrival of Myrtle and Alex Philip, who in 1914 purchased 10 acres of land on Alta Lake and established the Rainbow Lodge.  They had relocated from Maine to Vancouver in 1910, and had heard rumors of the natural beauty of the area.  Rainbow Lodge and other railway-dependent tourist resorts became part of British Columbia’s first Resort Municipality in 1975.  The Rainbow Lodge gained a reputation as the most popular vacation destination west of the Rockies.  The lodge was primarily a summer destination, with boating, fishing, and hiking being the most popular activities.  Soon other lodges began to open not just on Alta Lake, but on other valley lakes as well.

Logging was also a booming industry, and during the first half of the 20th century, most of the lower slopes of the surrounding mountains were cleared of old growth.  At its peak, four mills were in operation, most located around Green Lake.  Prospecting and trapping were pursued also, but no claims of significant value were ever staked.

Until the 1960s, this quiet area was without basic infrastructure; there were no sewage facilities, water, or electricity, and no road from Squamish or Vancouver.  In 1962, four Vancouver businessmen began to explore the area with the intent of building a ski resort and bidding for the 1968 Winter Olympics.  Garibaldi Lift Company was formed, shares were sold, and in 1966, Whistler Mountain opened to the public.


The city was offered the1976 Winter Olympics after selected host Denver declined the games due to funding issues. Whistler declined as well, after elections brought in a local government less enthusiastic about the Olympics. The 1976 Winter Olympics were ultimately held in Innsbruck, Austria.

Whistler was the Host Mountain Resort of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, the first time the IOC has bestowed that designation on a community.  During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler hosted the alpine technical and speed events, as well as  sliding events such as the luge, skeleton, and bobsled events and the Nordic events in the nearby Callaghan Valley.  The only alpine events held at Cypress Mountain in Vancouver were the freestyle skiing and the snowboarding events.  The Athlete’s village housed about 2,400 athletes, coaches, trainers and officials.  After the games, the site has been turned into a new residential neighbourhood.

Wildlife and Bears

Whistler was specifically designed to accommodate the natural environment.  Black bear populations have gradually recovered since the resort’s development.  They can be seen eating grass along the highway to Whistler or on the ski slopes in the summer.  Occasionally they are seen near the main Whistler Village.  They have learned to do things like open car doors or hold spring-closed gates open so they can reach food.  Most are relatively docile and few bear-human incidents have been reported.  However, they are still wild animals and respect must be given the them by humans, especially to black bears with cubs.  Whistler residents are strongly conservationist, and the official response has relied heavily on behavior modification for both bears and people.  Removal or killing are last resorts but sometimes necessary once a black bear has learned to associate humans with food.  The techniques being used have been studied and adopted by other municipalities with bear problems around the world.


Whistler is located on Highway 99, also known as the “Sea-to-Sky Highway”, approximately 58 kilometres (36 miles) north of Squamish and 125 kilometres (76 miles) north of Vancouver.  Over $600 million was spent on improving the highway between Vancouver and Whistler for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The highway connects Whistler to the British Columbia Interior via Pemberton to Lillooet and connects beyond to the Trans-Canada Highway and highways that lead to Alaska.

Only an elite-class rail service is provided between Whistler and Vancouver during the summer months only.  Regular passenger schedules are no longer available.  Rail service through to Jasper is provided by the Rocky Mountaineer, using the Canadian National Railway tracks from Vancouver via Whistler.  The station for tour passengers embarking from Whistler is in Creekside next to the Nita Lake Lodge.

There is a bus service that provides transportation between Vancouver and Whistler but only leaves on scheduled times from specific locations.  There is no airport in Whistler but there are air service providers that can land on the lake in Whistler during the summer or winter.  There is also helicopter landing pads.  As with all air service to Whistler, they are weather dependent and during the Winter months there is often heavy low lying clouds which make flying by air more challenging.

The main airport that almost all Whistler residents and tourists use is the Vancouver International Airport (YVR).


Whistler experiences cool wet winters, and dry warm summers. On average Whistler receives approximately 11 days with temperatures over 30 °C (86 °F), and approximately 24 days on average with temperatures falling below -10 °C (14 °F).  Whistler does not normally get extremely cold winter days like some other resorts get in the Canadian Rockies.  November, December, January, and February are the months that get the most snow in Whistler.  June, July, August, and September are the warmest months in Whistler.


The main attractions and activities to Whistler are:

  • skiing and snowboarding
  • downhill mountain biking in the bike park
  • hiking
  • zip trekking
  • tubing
  • cross country skiing
  • golfing
  • bear watching
  • shopping
  • dinning
  • off-road sightseeing tours
  • snowmobiling
  • snowshoeing
  • dog sledding
  • skating
  • swimming in the lakes
  • gondola rides

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