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Advice on Whistler/Blackcomb trip

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I'm headed to Whistler/Blackcomb the first week on January and I need some advice, tips. I'm praying for a year like last year. My brother and I are driving up from Seattle on the night of Jan 1st and skiing the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, driving back to Seattle the night of the 5th and flying out the 6th. I've spoken to a few people and they said the border crossing at Blaine can get a little logjammed. What are the best times to cross? Also, the road from Vancouver to Whistler is getting worked on for the 2010 Olympics. How much time should I allow to drive from Vancouver to Whistler to get there by 8 o'clock. Are we talking 2 hours? 3 hours? Also, lodging...we decided to stay two nights in Vancouver and two nights in Whistler for expense purposes. As you know, Whistler/Blackcomb lodging is outrageous and Vancouver is much more reasonable but we wanted to experience the nightlife at least two of the nights we are there. Terrain-wise, he and I are experts, mostly staying to steep blacks and double blacks. We will venture off and do some traversing and some hiking if need be. Any terrain to be sure and hit? Thanks.
post #2 of 15
Another idea to help defray hotel expenses might be to stay at Squamish instead of Vancouver. Squamish is a very cool small town, hopefully still with accomodations available during that time and is only 30 minutes from Whistler, and on the same road headed up to Whistler. My family and I have stayed there many times. I live in Bellingham, WA, near the Canadian border, am approx 1 1/2 hours from Seattle, and usually 3 - 3 1/2 hours to Whistler, so from Seattle you might expect a 5 hour drive. The border should be fine, particularly if you will be at it early in the morning to be skiing that same day. Passport, although not yet required, and maybe actually after the 1st it will be (not certain) - is helpful. Awesome sking, awesome views, awesome mtns, you'll have a great time.
post #3 of 15
Welcome to the PNW. You should have a great time in Whistler. If you don't like the prices in Whistler you might consider Squamish instead of Vancouver which will keep you out of the city rat race and put you closer to the slopes. I've never stayed there, others can comment on the night life, but I doubt that it's groovy.

Border crossing. My specialty. If you want to get to Whistler by 8 PM you should leave Seattle by 3:00. I added in extra time for the rush hour which you will be diving into as you leave Seattle. It can be brutal and you have to start south of the city from Sea-Tac airport so you have to battle it all. Everett will be the worst, most likely.

As you approach the border you have a couple of options:

The first is to continue on I-5 to Blaine and take the truck crossing which has its own exit and is well marked. Stay on this highway and head directly north after you cross the border until you get to Highway 1 where you head west. This highway will take you through the Vancouver area and will eventually turn into the Sea to Sky Highway that goes to Whistler.

The second option is to leave I-5 in Bellingham by taking the Meridian St. exit and following this street (Guide Meridian) north to the border, crossing at just north of Lynden, WA. Continue directly north to Highway 1 and follow the route as described above.

Unless you like traffic, don't for any reason go through Vancouver by going across the main border crossing on I-5 and continuing on to Vancouver that way. You will have to drive through the city on surface streets and it's crowded and confusing. I've noticed that Whistler sends people through that way on the maps they publish. It's crazy. Don't do it.

Believe me, it's nearly impossible to get through the Vancouver area without major backups. It's just a part of life. Expect it and become one with it.

Which one is best? Well, the Blaine route is shorter, so if the border isn't too busy it would be quickest. The Lynden crossing is usually much less crowded so on a heavy day you can get by more quickly by going this direction. Sometimes border waits are shown on the big reader board above the I-5 northbound lanes as you enter Bellingham, but usually you won't get it there. You can try http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/border/ which will tell you about Blaine, but not the truck crossing.

As far as the Sea to Sky construction, there isn't that much going on in January but for information about how it might be check at http://www.seatoskyimprovements.ca/

For terrain, head to the top of the mountain and look around. It's all good but the more challenging stuff is on top. There's so much terrain on those two mountains that you don't need much of a guide. Just point 'em down hill and go.

Have fun.
post #4 of 15
Let me start by saying I live in Squamish ... and yes it is much more affordable than Whistler, however nightlife is limited to a few bars & one nightclub just opening. You still should book ahead for accomodation as there are lots of construction workers in town with the road improvements + all the housing projects, etc.
Door-to-door time from downtown Squamish to the parking lot in Whistler is realistically about 45mins assuming you stick close to the speed limit & weather/road conditions are favourable with the normal morning volume of traffic on that stretch ... it's 55km and much of the road is single lane in each direction with few legal overtaking spots. You can save a few mins driving by parking in the underground lot in Creekside & use the Creekside Gondola ... but if you want to ski Blackcomb then best place to park is Base 2 on Blackcomb mountain (mid station of the Blackcomb gondola). Just remember you parked up there though at the end of the day ;-)
post #5 of 15
The optimal route (which Posaune mentions) is actually now posted on the Whistler Blackcomb site. They reference the following Google map: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&hl=e...=UTF8&om=1&z=7 Also, five hours really assumes little traffic, and an easy border crossing. If you *have* to be there at eight, you might want to leave at 2:00. Also, be sure to gas up in Blaine just prior to crossing the border. Gas is ridiculously expensive in Canada (those prices are all in *liters*).

Like everyone else mentions, Squamish is the place to stay to save a buck. Its about 45 minutes to the mountain from there. Vancouver is going to be at least an hour and a half (depending on where you stay) and the Sea-To-Sky Highway isn't at all fun to drive in bad weather and it is *really* not fun at night. Maybe its gotten much better over the summer, but still...

For terrain, when you roll into town, pick up the "Ski and Snowboard Guide to Whistler Blackcomb : Advanced/Expert Edition". Any ski shop will have it. That will tell you all you need to know about the terrain you are interested in and what you should hit.

Both mountains are great, but don't plan to ski on both in one day (you waste too much time in transit). They also tend to have very different weather, so pick wisely.

Enjoy your trip. If you happen to hit WB when its on, there is no better skiing in North America.
post #6 of 15
If you do end up needing gas this side of the border (the Canadian side that is) then it is actually cheaper in Squamish & Whistler than Vancouver ... oddly enough. Depending where in Vancouver, usually about 4c / litre. Ok so it's not a huge difference but I rather give the oil companies as little of my money as possible.

Be sure to hit the bowls over Spankies Ladder (Blackcomb mountain; take Glacier Express chair then at the top you will see skiers right people hiking over the ridge ... that short 30m hike is Spankies Ladder). To the left is Ruby, Diamond is roughly in the middle right, and Saphire is further to the right. The access in to Saphire can be a bit sketchy if there isn't lots of snow as it's basically a rock face that gets slid out.
You can traverse across the ridge top & enter Ruby further up but again good snow cover is needed for this route.
Another good one is to hike over to Blackcomb Glacier from the top of the Showcase T-bar, down the Blow Hole (big ice cavity), keep left hugging the ridge and either drop in to Surf's Up or keep traversing for a relatively unused entrance to Saphire Bowl.

There's stacks of stuff like this in the book someone else already recommended.
post #7 of 15
ehhh...why fly to Seatle if your final destination is Whistler? Flying to Vancouver would avoid the border crossing and safe a couple hours on the road...
post #8 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by at_nyc View Post
ehhh...why fly to Seatle if your final destination is Whistler? Flying to Vancouver would avoid the border crossing and safe a couple hours on the road...
'Cause flying into Seattle can often be substantially cheaper. Some friends flew out last winter to go to Whistler from Pittsburgh, and it was half the cost to fly into Seattle compared to Vancouver.
post #9 of 15
OK, "sometimes".

When I used to live in SF, the flight to Vancouver (via Alaska Air) was pretty much the same price (within $50) as flights to Seattle. So I would guess it's a case-by-case situation.
post #10 of 15
The other guys were right about staying in Squamish instead of Van, especially since the Squamish to Whistler section is in really good shape with lots of passing lanes available. The section from Van to Squamish needs another good year of work to fix it nicely. Besides, hotels in Van will be way more pricey than in Squish.
Send me an IM or drop by the Coast Range Heliskiing office when you pull into Whistler. I'd be glad to show you guys around, as I don't open the heli sales office until noon each day and usually hit first chair.
Here's a preview for ya:
http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/mou...s/gemstone.htm
post #11 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Beric in Whistler View Post
The other guys were right about staying in Squamish instead of Van, especially since the Squamish to Whistler section is in really good shape with lots of passing lanes available. The section from Van to Squamish needs another good year of work to fix it nicely. Besides, hotels in Van will be way more pricey than in Squish.
Send me an IM or drop by the Coast Range Heliskiing office when you pull into Whistler. I'd be glad to show you guys around, as I don't open the heli sales office until noon each day and usually hit first chair.
Here's a preview for ya:
http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/mou...s/gemstone.htm
Hopefully (if they haven't already ... been 2 weeks since I've been up) they'll have removed the traffic cones north of Alice Lake through Cheekymus. I agree though that the top stretch is in much better condition that the Squeemish to Van road which I drive every day ... with the wet this past week especially I can barely see which are the right road markings amongst all the various ones, old & new :
post #12 of 15
Hang on people. He's making the Sea-Tac to Whistler drive on the evening of 1 Jan. That's a holiday. There will be no city traffic. Just take the most direct route, and if you're worried, turn on the radio before you get to the border. Most of the stations will run traffic bulletins if there is a long wait at the border, allowing you to take one of the alternate routes. But honestly, the Blaine crossing should be fine at that time.
post #13 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by ami in berlin View Post
He's making the Sea-Tac to Whistler drive on the evening of 1 Jan. That's a holiday. ...the Blaine crossing should be fine at that time.
Uh, Ami, that is a Tuesday. Many, many people on both sides of the border will be taking Monday off for a four day weekend and will be returning home on the 1st to get ready for work and school on Wednesday. The border will likely be a mad house all afternoon and evening. Blaine will be the worst. The "rush hour" in Seattle might not be too bad, but I wouldn't plan on missing backups in Everett. I don't know how it will be in Vancouver but Highway 1 is the only freeway (only two lanes each direction) and it is almost always backed up whenever I go that way.
post #14 of 15
Good point about the border traffic, although my personal experience is that it's usually worse going southbound after a weekend/holiday.

But city traffic should be non-existant, given that there is no 'rush hour' on New Year's day.
post #15 of 15
This year might be different in traffic volumes at the border because of the equality of the US vs. CAN $. I've never noticed that going at non rush hour times has changed the fact that Everett and Highway 1 seem to be perpetually jammed up.
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