Parents’ Travel Guide: Family Ski Vacation in Whistler

If you're looking to plan an unforgettable family ski vacation, head to wild British Columbia for Whistler's famed slopes and outdoor activities.

Oct 30, 2014
Four Seasons Resort Whistler
One of the top ski resorts in the world, Whistler Blackcomb has fantastic ski and snowboarding lessons—both private and group—for kids and adults alike.
Photography courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

You’ve read the stats: Whistler is North America’s largest ski resort—and best (according to SKI Magazine). With a 5,020-foot (1,530 metre) vertical rise; three summit glaciers; twin behemoth mountains connected by Peak2Peak, the world’s longest gondola; and some of the most reliable snow conditions, there is so much opportunity for adventure packed into Whistler Blackcomb’s sprawling 8,171 acres (3,307 hectares). And what you’ve heard about the summer is also true: come May, you can ski Whistler Blackcomb in the morning, then golf in Vancouver that afternoon.

Take the family, though, because of the youthful, energetic, party-town vibe and fun-loving attitude. At its core, Whistler is fresh and outdoorsy, with its own distinct sense of style and self. Of course, the scenery is breathtaking with the hemlock, fir and spruce-dotted mountains all around you, and the bustling Euro-style village all lit up for the holidays. The fact that Whistler is casual and down-to-earth makes it easy for kids to fit right in.

At the foot of Blackcomb Mountain, Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler—consistently ranked as one of the world’s best—is just minutes from the slopes, complete with a heated pool perfect for après-ski lounging.

Why go

  • Nature’s playground. Winter or summer, Whistler is an ideal place for families to be active and play together outside.
  • Epic proportions. The scale of this place is monumental and dazzles with its vast acreage, huge amounts of snowfall and Champagne powder.
  • Well-rounded. While the skiing and snowboarding is legendary, it’s not just about that—consider the biking, hiking, sliding, art, First Nations culture and Whistler’s foodie scene as well.
  • Heli-skiing. Once you try it, it opens up a completely different world. Take advantage of à la carte options for small groups with Coast Range Heliskiing or Whistler Heli-skiing.
  • Whistler Village. This walkable, pedestrian-only village is easy to maneuver with kids. Plus, enjoy boutiques galore, galleries and museums, including the wonderful Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre just across from Four Seasons.
  • The drive. Even the trip up from Vancouver along the fjords of the Sea to Sky Highway—with boats on Howe Sound, forested islands in the mist, waterfalls and thousand-foot high granite walls—is memorable.

What the kids will love

  • Outdoor fun. The whole family will love building a snowman, making snow caves, snowball fights, sliding, tubing, skiing, snowboarding and outdoor concerts in the village. A favourite, says Four Seasons Resort Whistler Chef Concierge Hana Lynn, is al fresco skating. Just opened last winter, Olympic Plaza turns into a Winter Wonderland ice rink where you and the family can skate under the stars.
  • The pool. Heated  and steamy, the 75-foot (23 metre), free-form outdoor pool has views of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains; snowy, twinkle-lit trees; a bar; and three hot springs-style whirlpools. It’s happening, busy and fun. Meet other families or just soak your sore muscles while the kids goof off. Bonus: The staff hands out goodies such as chocolate-dipped marshmallows.
  • Skating with Santa. During the holiday’s, kids can join Santa on the ice at Whistler Olympic Plaza, where he’ll be handing out candy canes and posing for photos.
  • Toasting marshmallows for s’mores at the Resort’s outside fire pit. Pure magic! In the lobby, enjoy hot chocolate plus all the fixings.
  • Cookie decorating with Executive Chef Tory Martindale. (Seasonal, ask the Concierge.)
  • Bounce Acrobatic Academy. This is the place to burn off extra energy when not playing in the snow (for children aged two years and older). It’s an indoor trampoline park that’s open daily, but call first to check availability. Snowboarders train seriously here, but kids can just jump and leap and bounce and dive for hours. Says owner John Dunbar: “Kids love the freedom. It’s social for parents, social for kids, and it’s exercise (but don’t tell anyone!).”
  • Purebread. When at Bounce, pause for incredible treats, breads, baked goodies and gifts (think meringues, butterscotch and marshmallow snowmen) at Purebread bakery across the street. If the kids are starved, rub elbows with snowboarders at Wild Wood Cafe just down the street.

What you will love

  • The Ski Concierge. This service saves the day—trust us, it will prevent meltdowns, equipment hassles and harried spousal quarrels. Essentially, as Concierge Hana says, “it brings the mountain to you.” Here’s how it works: The Ski Concierge whisks your skis, boots and poles from the Resort to a building next to the Blackcomb lifts; you show up to find your boots warm and dry. You can rent equipment here, buy tickets, meet up with your ski instructor, get info, insider recommendations and news. When you return, bushed and hungry, you change back into your snow boots while noshing on a warm cookie and steaming cocoa. Leave your gear there for the next day—it’s just a three-minute complimentary shuttle ride or five-minute walk from the Resort.
  • Whistler’s buzzing night scene. Book a Resort sitter for date night and hit the town.
  • Nature, art and locally focused. Whistler is genuinely eco-friendly and a bona fide community. You’ll find lots of wood and low-hewn buildings designed to blend in with the environment. Even the kids’ playground is made of driftwood. There’s an emphasis on combining physical wellness with art, and instead of the usual designer names, the focus is more on local art.
  • The spacious suites at Four Seasons. Handsome and understated elegance in dark woods, slate and marble. You’ll feel completely at ease in your well-appointed home away from home, complete with gas fireplaces; fully equipped kitchen, living room and dining room; flat-screen TVs; plush bathrooms; and balconies for morning coffee with a view.
  • The amenities. Indulge in daily wine tastings at the Resort’s Fifty Two 80 Eatery + Bar, yoga classes in the gym or couple’s massages at the Spa.
  • Knowing where your kids skied. All children in the Whistler Blackcomb ski school get a GPS tracker. This way instructors know exactly where they are at all times, and you can review where they skied, how many runs they got in, etc.
  • Pet-friendly. You’ll probably run into several friendly canines at the Resort. There’s even a jar of dog biscuits waiting at the valet check-in.
  • Shopping. Whistler Village has 200-plus shops and 90 restaurants.

Look for

Eagles. If you visit between December and February, look for bald eagles. For a peaceful day away, book an eagle raft float down the Cheakamus River in Squamish. “Eagles dot trees here like Christmas ornaments,” says Concierge Hana. “It’s mind-boggling how many there are!”

Fun fact: You probably won’t see one when you visit, but Whistler is named after the hoary marmot. This cute little furry guy is North America’s largest ground squirrel, and  is known as the “whistler” for his shrill call alerting his pals of danger lurking.

Eat this

Dine in
(For families) Sidecut takes the traditional steakhouse concept and turns it on its head—playfully and adeptly. If you like beef, do not miss it here: velvety, flavourful, aged Canadian Prime sizzled over an 1,800-degree F (982-degrees C) infrared grill. (If you don’t eat meat, there’s plenty else on the menu, including oysters, seafood and vegetarian options.)

The contemporary dining room is fun and flirty with its open mosaic-tile fireplace, bold colours and patterns, and it’s bustling enough that no one will notice your kid slipping under the table into a heap after a long day on the mountain. Bonus: Anything off the children’s menu is free for kids five and younger.

In the hands of Sous Chef Edison Mays, the whole thing becomes an experiment: you select a cut; then a rub—we love the Moroccan-spice signature Edison’s Medicine (cumin, chili, clove); then a few sides.

Steaks arrive with a slate of eight old-fashioned, little medicine bottles. We’re particularly addicted to the tangy Green Jimmy (a rendition of Argentine chimichurri) and the slow-fire Red Herron (chili and paprika). Wash it all down with the Argentine Malbec from Salta or any of the 100 wines by the glass.

Younger guests will love the kids’ menu chicken noodle soup; PB&J; creamy mac and cheese; and gooey grilled American cheese on thick-cut, fluffy sourdough. You’ll love that the there are plenty of healthy options.

Sidecut serves everything family style. “It’s meant to bring people together and evoke conversation,” the engaging Chef Edison says. “It’s interactive, fun and festive—just like Whistler.”

For breakfast, the Sidecut dining room melds with Fifty Two 80 Eatery + Bar, with an opulent buffet in the middle, including a special kids’ buffet set at child-height. Highlights: French toast with dulce de leche, oatmeal with berries, and waffles; for mom and dad, the Backpacker’s Corned Beef Hash with a fluffy poached eggs and smoked paprika hollandaise, delivered in a cast iron pot.

If you’re visiting for the holidays and want to celebrate in, the Resort will prepare a “Turkey on the Fly” complete feast to go.

Dine out
(For families) If you’re on the mountain, try a nice sit-down lunch at Christine’s on Blackcomb to enjoy a great view and menu from the French chef. Crystal Hut serves to-die-for Belgian waffles with real whipped cream and fruit piled up high. On Whistler Mountain, half way down an easy run, Chic Pea Hut bakes cinnamon buns on-site and serves them hot from the oven, plus hearty stews and paninis (dine inside or out). You don’t even have to take your skis off if you grab a hot dog or waffle from Euro Kiosk—poked onto a stick, the wieners have the ketchup and mustard in the middle. Same for the waffles: syrup granules are melted inside.

If you just need a quick bite in Whistler Village, consider sandwiches from Lift Coffee Company at Nesters Market or a stop at Ingrid’s Village Café. About 15 minutes south of Whistler in Creekside is family-friendly Creekbread, known for its original pizzas (try the Pemberton Potato Pie) and salads. Pizzas are made in a huge round oven in the middle of the room. Ask the Concierge to call and add you to the waiting list when you leave the Resort. (Dinner only.)

(For parents) Get a sitter one night and go out on the town in Whistler! And to make it easy, use the Resort’s car service. Particularly good for special evenings out are Quattro and Araxi.

Over-the-top Barefoot Bistro is about extravagance and theatre. Celebrated chef Melissa Craig’s seasonal creations are as elaborate as they are surprising. Splurge on the stand-out five-course sommelier wine pairing menu and sit at the bar for entertaining people and cocktail watching. You can even get your Champagne bottle opened Napoleon-style with a saber and sip in the ice Belvedere vodka tasting room. There are also 20,000 wines in the cellar to choose from.

5 family to-dos

1. Dog sledding. If you are a dog lover, this quintessential Canadian adventure is a must. If you aren’t, there’s still something unexpectedly appealing that’s like nothing else. It’s like nostalgia for a time you’ve never lived in. You’ll be amazed at how exhilarated you feel speeding through the woods pulled by a team of yapping dogs.

In a picture-perfect snowy forest in the Callaghan Valley, just south of Whistler, owner Jaime Haregreaves and manager Sara Bell of the dog sled operations for Canadian Wilderness Adventures lovingly care for 50 “super mutt” hybrids like their own kids. Some dogs even wear booties to keep their paws warm, and each gets a massage and chicken soup before and after running. It takes up to two years to train a dog, and these run for the love of it, versus the reward-punishment approach.

Canadian Wilderness Adventures also offers a family campfire dinner and snowshoe hike, the Callaghan Snowshoe Cookout, that departs at 5:00 pm after ski school lets out, plus snowmobiling, ATVing, canoeing, jeep tours and other guided adventures.

2. Ski lessons. Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort has terrific ski and snowboarding lessons (private or group) and camps for kids. If everyone has a similar ability level, sharing a private ski lesson with the family is the way to go. Otherwise, have the kids go to ski school while you do a private lesson to hone your skills and really see the best of the mountain with a pro.

3. Snowmobiling. Either try a snowmobiling adventure with the kids and Mother Nature— bookended with a Yukon breakfast and cabin fondue dinner—or go the mini-snowmobile route, where children drive mini versions themselves around a track. If that’s too much for your kids, try ziplining—good in any weather, but especially captivating in winter. High up in a cathedral of frosted trees, you zip Tarzan-style harnessed onto a line between tree platforms way up over the canyon.

4. Fire & Ice Show. Every Sunday at 7:30 pm in the Village, Whistler Blackcomb builds up a track for snowboarders and skiers who somersault and fly through burning rings of fire, pulling off incredible stunts. Plus, it’s free! Little mouths will be hanging open.

5. Sleigh ride. It’s hard to get a more Winter Wonderland feeling than when you’re swaying along in a sleigh, pulled by giant, gentle black Percherons, and taking in fairy tale views of the village below blanketed in snow. The whole family will delight in the tinkling jingle bells, the stars above and shadows of the prancing horses in the sparkling snow. There’s a 30-minute loop around the golf course for little ones; or for older kids, a 50-minute ride up to the top, with a warm-up stop for hot chocolate in a shed. Ideal at sunset or after dinner; ask the Concierge to arrange.


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