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Whistler or Banff in early May

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

My fiancé and I are trying to decide between Whistler and Banff for a honeymoon destination in early May 2015...early as in May 3rd-14th, 2015. Not the most ideal timing but we really want to make it work. We are intermediate-advanced skiers, spending what time and travel we can afford each winter skiing mainly throughout Colorado. Neither of us have ever been skiing in Canada so any tips or information would be greatly appreciated!

post #2 of 27
Whistler will be closed, but Blackcomb is expected to be open. Not sure what kind of snow they'll have, assuming they actually make it. Sunshine might be open, but same caveat. LL extended their opening last year to include that date, but was scheduled to close in April. Which should tell you something.

If you really want to ski, you need to change that wedding date or pick a different continent. In general, people stop skiing when the golf courses open, so that even resorts with snow close due to lack of customers.

Maybe because you're used to Colorado with its high altitude, you're used to prolonged seasons, but the northern Rockies tend to be shorter. So, the latitude does not compensate for the altitude.
post #3 of 27
Thread Starter 

Thank you very much for the info! Can't change the wedding date since we have a short "pleasant weather" season where we live for an outdoor wedding. It's unfortunate since we are in between snow/summer seasons because of that for mountain honeymoon travels. Thought about hiking in Glacier NP but it's too early in the season. We had an acquaintance suggest Blackcomb with the glacier and all after skiing there in late April in the past. Colorado doesn't exactly extend late into the season, closing early-mid April.

post #4 of 27

assuming its a typical season for snow - Whistler will shut down end of April - not for lack of good skiing - you can still ski to the valley and it's still winter conditions in the alpine but they start getting the bike trails ready for opening in early May and don't like to mix skiers with heavy equipment.

 

Blackcomb usually stays open until 3rd weekend in May (our long weekend) If its a decent snow year often will run to your Memorial day or later. 

 

Spring conditions on the lowest 2500 vertical after the end of April but can snowin the alpine well into May. Its also quit a bargain for rooms and lift tickets. 

 

Be aware that once one mountain closes Peak to Peak closes as well- it might make a difference

where you want to stay but there is local transit anyway. 

 

Also our long weekend is traditionally a big party atmosphere in Whistler. If you prefer quiet don't get a room facing onto the village stroll.   

post #5 of 27
Given that both NOAA and the Canadian weather service are predicting a warmer than usual lead up to May and less precipitation than usual for the area, I wouldn't plunk down money until you hear how the base is doing. Clearly you won't need reservations for hotels at any ski area then.
post #6 of 27

I've skied Blackcomb in April/May for the past 5 years or so. Definitely would recommend it with some caveats: 

 

By the time May 3 rolls around, I bet you'll be able to pick up an unlimited spring skiing pass for $200ish. Also, you can get accommodations on VRBO for well under $100/night. If cost is a consideration, Whistler can be a great value in May. 

 

Chairs tend to start spinning later in the morning. WB doesn't list the hours on their site currently, but I believe first chair is around 10AM in May. 

 

It takes a true all conditions skier to appreciate WB in May. Expect conditions from new snow, to frozen over, to spring corn, to glop, often all in the same day. If you are expecting a full day of corn or powder, you'll be disappointed. (That said, some areas tend to hold the snow better.)

 

Crowds tend to be minimal. You may need to wait one or two minutes at the Jersey Cream/Solar Coaster chairs in the morning, but nothing serious. Queues drop as the day progresses. 

 

The snow tends to be best on the top half of the mountain. 

 

As for watching the weather, unless something catastrophic happens there'll be snow to the Jersey Cream and Solar Coaster chairs. I'll probably be there myself end of April simply because it can be the most cost effective big mountain skiing in Canada.

post #7 of 27

Blackcomb is at least as good as Whistler as far as skiing and is huge all by itself. 

 

Also be advised that there is lots more to do at Whistler than ski in May.  The first time I was at WB I skied Blackcomb and had to clomp in my ski boots, carrying my skis past all of the folks carrying golf clubs and running in shorts in the sunshine.  After I got to the alpine it was snowing off and on.  I could stand in the snowy weather and watch people in their sailboats on the lakes near the village.  There is lots of biking and lower level hikes available too.

post #8 of 27

You won't have any trouble getting lodging anywhere at that time of year, so I would wait.  And I could consider Mammoth, if that's a possibility. If the drought breaks and they get enough snow to still be open, Mammoth could be fully great winter skiing at the beginning of May, or it could be some of the world's best spring skiing. I've skied Blackcomb in May, and there's plenty of snow, but they are running the mountain for the race camps not the casual skier - so the alpine lifts might be closed if the crowds are too small even if the snow is great.

post #9 of 27
Quote:
Chairs tend to start spinning later in the morning. WB doesn't list the hours on their site currently, but I believe first chair is around 10AM in May. 

That's really not a good idea.  If it's warm a lot of the mountain could be slop by noon.  In June the morning (when the snow is good) is reserved for race camps.  Hopefully in May the public is allowed to ski at opening bell.  One issue might be that the front face of Blackcomb faces west and might be firm for awhile in the morning.  It would be better if they used Whistler for May as it's higher proportion north facing.

 

Sunshine has similar issues.  The intermediate terrain on Continental Divide I'm sure is good to the Victoria Day closing. But the more advanced Goat's Eye faces southwest and I suspect does not hold up well.

 

I strongly recommend you consider Mammoth or Mt. Bachelor for this trip. 

 

Even in 2012 and 2014 Mammoth made it to Memorial Day, though with WROD's in the Main Lodge area.  Here's my TR and pics from May 18, 2013. 

http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=10987#p69100

Keep in mind this is a year when Mammoth had a ton of snow in December but very little after that.  Mammoth is probably the most likely location to get cooperative spring weather: cold enough to freeze overnight but clear for a uniform softening during the day.  Mammoth also salts the groomed runs to delay the onset of sticky snow.

 

Mt. Bachelor is the most likely to have deep coverage and the most terrain open if both Summit and Northwest run.  That was scheduled to be May 11 in 2014.  I was there May 9-11 and it was still winter and powder the first 2 days.  The final day was sunny with Summit but unfortunately Northwest had an electrical failure.

http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=11495

Bachelor no longer salts its groomers, so on a warm day you'll want to stay up on Summit after mid-morning. 

 

Snowbird deserves a mention.  If it's good with powder or settled corn it can be amazing.  However, it's a minimalist operation with little grooming and no salting. So it can be difficult in the awkward stage after the powder has been baked but before it consolidates.  Snowbird also is open only Friday-Sunday after the second weekend of May.


Edited by Tony Crocker - 9/29/14 at 9:45am
post #10 of 27

If you've never been to Canada and it's a honeymoon consider Banff/Lake Louise.  I've skied powder at the beginning of May at LL (subject to caveats above) and the National Parks are just beautiful anyway, though obviously a lot of the hiking as in Glacier is likely to be snowbound still.  Parkway up to Jasper, maybe even rafting on the Kicking Horse.  I'd view a trip at that time of year to be outdoors with bonus skiing dependent on conditions than skiing alone (same applies most places in the world I guess unless you're at A Basin)

post #11 of 27

The biggest difference between Banff and Whistler in May when not considering the skiing (which could be comparable) is that the town of Banff is at approx. 5000 ft elevation and Whistler is at 2200 ft and on the coast so it will have a lot milder temps. Also Whistler with a skyline and 62,000 beds is not really a town, it is a small city, with world class shopping and excellent dining. Banff also has spas and high end accommodation and shopping but seems to have more t-shirt and trinket shops, perhaps due to the main summer season that features a lot of families on a budget holiday.

 

Lake Louise is scheduled to close operations on May 6, 2015, so the OP could catch the last few ski days at LL and then spend the rest of their time at Sunshine.

 

At Whistler a rental car is not needed, at Banff is it recommended. But as Fatbob recommended, if you like being in the mountains, then a drive up the Columbia  Icefields Parkway to Jasper will blow your mind as it is consider by many to be the most scenic mountain highway in the world. The road on the valley bottom is mostly flat with rugged 3-4000 ft. vertical mountains coming right down to the road. We are talking about viewing scenic mountain after mountain non-stop for hours. Make sure to watch out for the mountain sheep as they like to congregate on the highway in certain spots to lick off the road salt.  (Also, viewing wildlife right in the town of Banff is fairly common.)

 

Stay in Jasper for a few non ski days and I also recommend driving up to Angel Glacier on Mount Edith Cavel where you can hike right up to and on the Glacier.

post #12 of 27

I love the Banff Yoho Jasper region, I go there every year hiking/climbing and skiing but always in different seasons. You will lucky if you get much hiking in that early in May. Many of the glacier fed lakes will still be ice bound. I wouldn't rule it out it as it's spectacular all year but you might not get the postcard views of turquoise lakes framed by the peaks.

 

Early May is not prime season at either area but both likely will be "fairly decent", as in no crowds, a good base, plenty of open terrain,and enough vertical and sun angles to allow you get the most out of the variable conditions your likely to encounter. You will like either choice.

post #13 of 27

Mammoth and Bachelor have more than their fair share of non-ski activities in spring.  Bend is only 3,000 feet so winter is long gone down there.   Mammoth is at 8,000 and can still be in full winter mode.  But on an 11-day trip there's plenty of time to visit Tahoe or get around to the other side of the Sierra to Yosemite at max waterfall flow or numerous whitewater rafting rivers.

 

Banff Yoho Jasper have amazing scenery (I drove the Columbia Icefields Parkway on a February ski trip) but if the quality of May skiing is your top priority you should be going to Mammoth or Bachelor.

post #14 of 27

Is Snowbird a possibility. They always have lots of terrain in May and the snow will usually be surprisingly good.

post #15 of 27
I feel a former member had a different opinion...😆
post #16 of 27
Quote:
Is Snowbird a possibility. They always have lots of terrain in May and the snow will usually be surprisingly good.

Snowbird has the biggest upside of potentially getting some midwinter-quality powder days.   I should warn that in 2011 Snowbird management was not too responsive about opening more lifts to meet the powder demand so the liftlines on late April/May powder days were huge.  Mammoth is quite responsive about running extra lifts (mainly weekend vs. midweek) to meet demand.  Bachelor in May is never crowded enough to have these issues.  Unfortunately that has led to the area cutting spring expenses (no salting, cutting back hours of operation and ultimately closing the mountain long before snow conditions would dictate).  Extending Northwest to May 11 last year was a key positive step in the other direction though.

post #17 of 27

If "Best skiing" is your goal - have you considered A-basin, basing from a condo in Keystone?  The last two years have had stellar skiing from May 5th through the 14th there.

 

 

If spending your honeymoon in Canada for a never forget it experience is the goal - I'd say it's tough to go wrong at Blackcomb. (Can't speak to Banff, never been there).

post #18 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Magi View Post

If spending your honeymoon in Canada for a never forget it experience is the goal - I'd say it's tough to go wrong at Blackcomb. (Can't speak to Banff, never been there).

I can speak to both places, and Banff wins hands down over Blackcomb IMHO.

post #19 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Posaune View Post
 

I can speak to both places, and Banff wins hands down over Blackcomb IMHO.


I will happily defer to an expert :o

post #20 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Magi View Post
 

If "Best skiing" is your goal - have you considered A-basin, basing from a condo in Keystone?  The last two years have had stellar skiing from May 5th through the 14th there.

 

 

If spending your honeymoon in Canada for a never forget it experience is the goal - I'd say it's tough to go wrong at Blackcomb. (Can't speak to Banff, never been there).

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Posaune View Post
 

I can speak to both places, and Banff wins hands down over Blackcomb IMHO.^^

 

^^ yeah, there is a reason that European Alpinists have been coming to Banff long before there were any ski resorts. The mountain scenery is outstanding and is better than anywhere else is western Canada and that is saying a lot.

post #21 of 27

Banff is universally regarded as one of the most scenic places in all of North America.  You want a place that'll blow your mind in terms of scenery and vistas, and have those "special moments" and memories you'll never forget?  Then go to Banff.

post #22 of 27

Having been to Blackcomb, I vote for Banff! 

post #23 of 27
I skied early May at A-Basin and it was pretty winter-good, even got a powder day.
post #24 of 27
Quote:
If "Best skiing" is your goal - have you considered A-basin, basing from a condo in Keystone?  The last two years have had stellar skiing from May 5th through the 14th there.

Since the snowpack rarely gets very deep there (vs. Mammoth, Bachelor, Whistler)  the quality of spring skiing at A-Basin is highly dependent on how much it snows that spring.  Fortunately March and April are the 2 snowiest months on average and May snowfall averages 29 inches.  But if you don't get the fresh spring snow they may start closing terrain. A-Basin is a very small mountain for a week of skiing  if Pali is closed. Average Pali close date is about the end of the OP's projected time frame, so this will be an issue in the worst 1/4 or 1/3 of seasons. 2002 and 2012 were extreme cases.

 

Banff may be the most scenic choice but those areas don't get a lot of snow and in an El Nino year they may get even less. While your dates may be fixed now, you're not going to have lodging issues no matter where you go.  Why not put off this decision until February or so, when you'll know  a lot about where the snow is?

post #25 of 27

Interesting conundrum.  As a long time Banff/Lake Louise skier I can make no guarantees or firm predictions about May.  Typically Sunshine closes the 3rd week of May, Lake Louise 1-2 weeks before that.   Depending on the season it can be full on winter up in the alpine, or some spring/melt thaw conditions, or dreamy corn snow.  Usually the snowpack is quite good at that time of year.  As a local it's an easy decision for me:  1st tracks if there's fresh May powder, or show up after lunch for spring corn snow when the overnight freeze melts out.  Booking in advance is a more risky proposition.

 

Much of the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper will be distinctly 'non-summery' in early May.  A great time for spring ski touring up there and some lower elevation walks, but many of the higher elevation trails will still be locked in winter's grasp.  There should be lots of drier ground around Jasper townsite by that point in time.

 

When the conditions are good, spring skiing around here is one of my favorite things.  Some years I ski more days in May than I do from November-January.

 

Plus yes, scenery, hotels, restaurants, nice walks, big mountains, spiffy glaciers etc etc etc.

 

Hope that helps,  Bruce

post #26 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post


Maybe because you're used to Colorado with its high altitude, you're used to prolonged seasons, but the northern Rockies tend to be shorter. So, the latitude does not compensate for the altitude.

Sure.., for whitefish and fernie, but the Banff area resorts aren't exactly low altitude. All of our 11,000 ers are glaciated, and while we don't ski at those altitudes, the upper half of the resorts ski well in May. Generally, you are going to have your best experience at elevations over 7000 feet in mid April to early may. This is most of sunshine's "old" side and the paradise and platter lifts at louise. Unfortunately, most if the other Canadian resorts... Like Fernie are entirely below 7000 feet,

Sunshine will definitely be open. Their closing date is always the monday if the may long weekend. I can't think of a time when they couldn't make that date, Louise will be open till its scheduled date, first weekend of May, as well. No worries.

In my opinion, April is the best month to hit sunshine and March is the best for louise. Theses ARE late season resorts.
post #27 of 27
Quote:
In my opinion, April is the best month to hit sunshine and March is the best for Louise. Theses ARE late season resorts.

I agree with the above 100%.  But each month, and in some case week, that you progress into the spring the equation changes.

 

I'm fairly sure Louise closes around first weekend of May.  The front side faces south, and I could be wrong but I'm guessing they won't download it and thus close when it melts out.  The "old side" of Sunshine I have no doubt holds up well, but Goat's Eye being SW facing and steeper, might not even make it to May 1. The "old side" of Sunshine is mostly intermediate. Do they salt the groomed runs when it's warm in May to retard the onset of sticky snow?

 

The other issue is the commitment of the area to spring skiing.  Mammoth displays this consistently, salting the groomed runs to keep intermediates happy, flexible lift operations depending upon crowds, and staying open to Memorial Day during its second worst ever season in 2014.  For advanced skiers, Mammoth has the advantage of a stable coastal snowpack with most of the steeps north facing and over 10,000 feet, so unlike Sunshine (bad exposure) and A-Basin (snow stability) some of the steep terrain is always open to the bitter end.

 

I don't know whether you would have wanted to spend a week at Mammoth in early May 2014 but that was an extreme case and and it was still better than A-Basin in 2002 or 2012 or Sunshine in 1998 or 2001.   These worst-case situations can be avoided by waiting until February or so to book.

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