Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.
An Attractive Tourist Attraction
Whistler is a British Columbian town that has become a major tourist attraction. The town is located in a valley surrounded by mountains and includes a year-round resort. In winter, the resort is used for skiing and snowboarding. In summer, hiking and mountain biking are popular. Gondolas carry sports enthusiasts, explorers, and sightseers up mountains. The resort contains an attractive pedestrian village reminiscent of European ones as well as numerous restaurants, hotels, and other forms of lodging. It’s a lovely place to visit even if someone doesn’t participate in sports.
Whistler is located in southwestern British Columbia. I live in the Greater Vancouver area, which is just over a two-hour drive away from the town. I enjoy exploring Whistler Blackcomb (the area's official name) and taking photos of the village and the resort. Unless otherwise noted, the photos in this article were taken by me when I attended a conference in the area.
The road leading from the Vancouver area to Whistler is officially known as Highway 99, but it's more often called the Sea to Sky Highway.
History of the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort
Whistler Mountain was originally named London Mountain by the British naval officers who surveyed the area. The mountain is often surrounded by fog, which reportedly reminded the officers of London. The name of the mountain and the community at its base was eventually changed to Whistler. The new name came from the whistling call of the hoary marmots that live in the area.
Nancy Greene Raine is well known in British Columbia. She won many national and international ski events in her sports career. Nancy and her husband Al Raine were instrumental in establishing the resort at the base of Whistler Mountain. The resort was created in an attempt to host the 1968 Winter Olympics (which failed) and opened in 1966.
In 1980, a different resort opened at the base of the nearby Blackcomb mountain. In 2003, the union between the Whistler and Blackcomb resorts was completed. In 2016, the combined operation was bought by a US company.
Today, the resort is frequently referred to as Whistler Blackcomb and is internationally known. It's often considered to be the largest ski resort in North America. It's used for sports events, business conferences, and recreational activities and offers many attractions.
The Meaning of the Inukshuk
An inukshuk or inuksuk (as the term is used in much of Canada) is a statue made of stones that are stacked together so that they resemble a human being. There are two of these objects in Whistler–one at the entrance to the village and one on top of Whistler Mountain. They were created to mark the 2010 Olympics. The main host site for the games was Vancouver, but some events were held in Whistler.
Inuksuit (the plural of inukshuk) are becoming popular welcome symbols in Canada. The name is not culturally correct, however. The Inuit people traditionally used stones or piles of stones called inuksuit to mark special places in the Arctic and for communication and navigation. The stones could convey surprisingly detailed information. The Inuit called a statue resembling a human, such as the one above, an inunnguaq, not an inukshuk. It was used to mark a place where humans met.
Villages in Whistler
There are three linked sections with the name "village" in them in the town of Whistler: Village Centre (or simply Whistler Village), Village North, and the Upper Village. All are interesting to explore. There always seems to be a place to buy food in sight during a walk through the area. The villages also contain stores selling clothing, jewelry, and art. In two of the villages, essentials like groceries and medicines can be bought.
The villages form a full-service community as well as a tourist attraction. Important services such as medical centres and dentists, a fire department, and an RCMP (police) station are located in the area. One of the medical centres is normally open at specific hours but is available at any time for an emergency.
Village North is connected to Whistler Village. The Upper Village is located a short distance away, however. To get there, a walker needs to cross Blackcomb Way and then travel along the Fitzsimmons Trail. The trip along the trail takes around ten minutes (or less, depending on walking speed). Gondola stations are located in both Whistler Village and the Upper Village.
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Maps of the Whistler area are available at the Tourism Whistler website. The maps are useful not only for finding one's way but also for making sure that an attraction isn't missed. The branching routes through the villages are a bit confusing at first.
The Welcome Figure in Whistler Village
The Welcome Figure sculpture was carved in 2012 and placed in the Village Common area of Whistler Village in January, 2013. According to the information written on the plaque attached to the sculpture, a Welcome Figure was traditionally placed on the coastline by the Squamish Nation in order to welcome both friends and guests.
The Squamish Nation is a group of indigenous people. They are the descendants of the Coast Salish aboriginal people who once lived in the Greater Vancouver area and nearby locations. The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre is located near the Upper Village and gives more information about the people and their traditions.
The sculpture shows a man with his arms raised and pressed against his chest. This posture represents agreement, gratitude, and hospitality. The man wears a copper hat, which represents a cedar one. Near the base of the sculpture is a depiction of a woven cedar root basket containing salmon. The sculpture itself is made of red cedar.
The lead carver of the Welcome Figure was Aaron Nelson-Moody from the Squamish Nation. He was assisted by Delmar Williams from both the Squamish Nation and the Lil'wat Nation and Todd Edmonds from the Lil'wat Nation.
A feat of engineering, the (Peak 2 Peak) gondola boasts the longest unsupported lift span in the world (3.024 kilometres or 1.88 miles). It is also the highest lift of its kind with an elevation of 436 metres (1,427 ft).
— Tourism Whistler
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The journey enables travellers to visit the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain and the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain. The trip is very enjoyable and the views are wonderful, as I discovered during my ride during the conference. The gondolas travel gently and quite slowly. They are also stable, or at least they were on the day that I rode on them, which is reassuring for anyone who is a little anxious about the journey.
Gondola travellers need to remember that the temperature at the top of the mountains may be much colder than at the base and that there may be snow on the ground in winter. Extra clothing is important in order to keep warm and dry. A camera is a great accessory to take on the trip. In summer, a ride on the gondola gives a traveller access to over 50 km of hiking and walking trails.
The Tourism Whistler website has lots of information about the ride. Buying a ticket gives a person more than just a ride in gondolas. The Peak 2 Peak ride by itself takes about eleven minutes. Another gondola ride (included in the ticket price) must be taken to get from the village to the Peak 2 Peak station. This ride takes around twenty-five minutes. These times also apply to the return journey, which needs to be kept in mind when planning a trip. Crowds at the stations can add to the travel time.
In 2015, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola was awarded two Guinness World Records: "highest cable car above ground" and "the longest unsupported span between two cable car towers". A zipline ride (operated by another company) is available in summer for people who would like a different aerial tour.
The Whistler area has many trails and is an interesting place for nature lovers. The trails range from flat ones suitable for the whole family to steep ones that require a full-day hike. Safety needs to be kept in mind when hiking on the more isolated routes.
The Valley Trail is a nice path for people who want to do some relatively gentle exercise while they explore Whistler. It's the only trail in the area that I've used (apart from the Fitzsimmons Trail). The path is flat and is paved except for some boardwalk sections. It travels around Whistler's neighbourhoods and by some lakes. The complete Valley Trail is more than 40 km long. It connects to a trail that travels across Canada.
The Valley Trail is open to both walkers and cyclists. Dogs are welcome along the route, though they must be on a leash. Dog parks are located in some areas next to the trail, however. Here pets can run free. Whistler as a whole seems to be dog-friendly.
In winter, some sections of the trail are maintained for walkers and fat bikers while other sections are maintained for cross country skiers. Fat bikes have wide tires, which helps them to move over snow.
Sculpture Beside the Fitzsimmons Trail
Art and culture are given attention in Whistler, which adds another dimension to a visit to the area. The sculpture beside the Fitzsimmons Trail in my photo was created by James Stewart. It shows a capoeirista, or a participant in capoeira, in a brief moment of stillness. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that contains elements of acrobatics and dance and is performed to music. The practice has spread to other parts of the world, including Vancouver.
Stewart calls the character in his sculpture Jeri after Jericoacoara, a resort town in Brazil. He says that the character has just finished fighting, or performing. Stewart says that Jeri "is in a satiated, balanced posture before he springs alive again".
Jeri may no longer be in place if and when you visit Whistler, since he was supposed to be a temporary installation. Other works of art will almost certainly be visible, however. The Whistler website in the last link below has a virtual tour of the public art. The site contains lots of additional information about the area, including some important information about health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting to Whistler: The Sea to Sky Highway
The Sea to Sky Highway is kept in good condition and offers wonderful views of an ocean inlet, especially on a sunny day. Until quite recently, it wasn't in the fine state that exists today, however. It was once a winding road with a high accident rate. The road was rebuilt for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Bus companies offers multiple trips a day between Vancouver and Whistler for people who can't or don't want to drive. I went to and from the conference on a Greyhound bus and found the journey comfortable. The seats had an electrical outlet beside them to charge computers and similar devices. Unfortunately, Greyhound has ceased operations in most parts of British Columbia and the Whistler Blackcomb route has been discontinued. Other buses go to the area, but the Greyhound trip was the cheapest option.
Shuttle buses travel from Vancouver Airport to Whistler (and in the reverse direction). For those who can afford the high cost, a helicopter trip is an option. Whistler has a heliport.
I'm lucky that I live near enough to Whistler to take a day trip there. For people who travel to southern British Columbia for fun or business, spending a day (or longer) at Whistler is very worthwhile. It's an interesting area to explore.
- Historical facts about Whistler and Nancy Greene Raine from the Whistler Museum
- Inukshuk entry from the Canadian Encyclopedia
- Public art information from the Resort Community of Whistler
© 2018 Linda Crampton