On top of Whistler

Learning to Ski in Whistler: A Skeptics Guide

I have no doubt that for many people learning to ski in Whistler would be a dream come true. But it’s not my dream. I had visited Whistler a few years back for a week and went the whole time without stepping foot into skis (although I did still fork out the exorbitant fee to go up the mountain and ride the peak to peak gondola). So when my parents invited me to join them for a week over Christmas, my plans were initially to duplicate what I had done before: a bit of dog sledding, a bit of zip lining, tubing, plenty of time at the Scandinave Spa and shopping. This is exactly what I love about Whistler. You can spend time here in winter without skiing and still have a blast.

This time, however, I was fully aware that if I wanted to spend time with my parents (who I hadn’t seen for over year) and little brother, I was going to have to swallow to my distrust of hurtling down the slopes and learn how to ski.

Whistler ski lift

I arrived in Whistler feeling fresh (and on a bit of a high at being reunited with my family) after my short, early morning flight from Winnipeg. I took the shuttle directly to Whistler from the airport. It’s an extra $20 compared to catching it downtown but I really feel that my days of schlepping all over the show just to save money are over.

I was the only “Canadian” on the shuttle and the rest were all Australians who had just stepped off their international flight. So while they promptly passed out I was able to enjoy the 2-hour drive up to Whistler chatting to our driver and taking in the spectacular views on the Sea-to-Sky highway.

sea-to-sky highway british columbia

Different views from the Sea-to-Sky highway

The sea-to-sky is the most ridiculously gorgeous, jaw-dropping drive I have ever taken in my life and even though I have been on this drive before, it still blew my mind. Cape Town, I love you, but even your Chapman’s peak drive doesn’t quite stand up to this.

After getting over the euphoria of seeing my family again, we spent the rest of the day catching up and wandering around Blackcomb and Whistler village. This is a place that never ceases to take my breath away.

Whistler Blackcomb mountain views

The constant presence of the mountains looming in around us made me want to walk around all day just staring at them, even though the village is jaw-droppingly pretty too.

Whistler night and day

Absolutely every one and their dog seemed to be loping around in ski boots and carrying skiis or snowboards on their shoulders but I was determined not to think too deeply about my impending doom on the slopes.Whistler Village

The next day there was no putting off skiing. I collected my Edge card (because I’m a resident of Canada whoop) and headed over to the bunny hill at Blackcomb for my first lessons. I use the word “lesson” very loosely here. Because I am a cheapskate and because my whole family can ski with ease, I decided that I would skip formal lessons and just wing it with some pointers from my Dad.

Skiing in Whistler

(Side note: Booking lessons isn’t hard and it’s probably not as expensive as I’m making it out to be. You also get the benefit of skipping all the lines for the lifts when you’re with an instructor. I just decided that since my time in Whistler was so short, I didn’t want to waste a whole morning with strangers. In retrospect, my advice would be to just take the damn lessons.)

learning to ski in whistler

I spent the next few hours edging down the bunny hill, learning how to stand upright, keep my poles up and ahead of me (like you’re hugging a teddy bear) and pizza my legs into a stopping position. It was a beautiful, bright sunny day and after a the past month of arriving and leaving work in the dark, all I wanted to do was on one of the many patios and drink a beer.

But after a few hours of hard work I was feeling positive and happy and ready to take on the mountain the next day (famous last words).

On top of Whistler

According to my brother who is living and working in Whistler at the moment and thus the expert, once I got up Whistler the green runs would be very similar to the bunny hill I’d just conquered. So on our first day we headed up Whistler mountain and let me tell you now, those “greens” were nothing like the Blackcomb bunny hill.whistler ski run

Although, I have a feeling we may have taken a couple of blues by mistake because despite the reassurances from my family, when a sign has a blue circle on it, I think it’s safe to say you’re about ski a blue run.

Another warning: once you are up there, the only way to get down is too ski down. There was a particularly awful run that I thought I’d slide down on my bum but the safety patrol quickly put an end to that. Unless you happen to come across a lift (which we didn’t) then you just have to grit your teeth and go.

Blackcomb base

Later that evening my step-mom commented on how well I’d done because she had skied with people who had just sat down on the mountain and balled their eyes out. I explained that as tempting as this had been, it made no practical sense because it wouldn’t have gotten me down the mountain any faster and only sapped energy.

Yes, Whistler taught me to cry on the inside.

On that first day I skied from the top of Whistler mountain (maybe not the very top but it felt like it) to the very bottom. I laughed off my first fall but stopped counting them by the time I had reached 20 and my legs were shaking, my goggles fogged up from the effort of falling and my arms numb from picking myself up again and again.

ski whistler

I wore my trusty Polar watch that day I burned over 4000 calories which is remarkable considering I usually only burn about 700 in an hour long spinning class.

On my second day of skiing, more family had arrived in Whistler from South Africa and I was determined to spend time with them, even if it meant putting myself through the previous day’s humiliation again. Once on the mountain it’s so ridiculously beautiful that it’s hard to be grumpy anyway.

Backcomb mountain view

We decided to give Blackcomb a whirl and by the end of our second day I was feeling a lot more optimistic and my Polar only read 3000 calories. I was able to focus a little more on my technique and not just doing whatever it took to get from the top of the mountain to the bottom and enjoy spending time in the sun and snow.

On our third and last full day of skiing I was confident that I could make it through the day without falling at all. My previous few days had been the perfect crash course in skiing and I was ready to take on the mountain with my brother, the Whistler ski expert. We went up Blackcomb and were rewarded once again with glorious sunshine, bright blue sky and killer views, despite it being a frigid -16 degrees.

ski whistler blackcomb

It was a little windy but we were sheltered in the tree line. There were a few terrifying hours when my brother dearest thought it would be a good experience for us to ski from Top of the World (literally at the top of Blackcomb) and forgot to take into account the wind which had now picked up to gale force levels.

Top of the world whistler

Completely exposed to the elements above the tree line, I was convinced that I would be blown off my run and die. I mean, seriously, look at the start of this run:

top of the world blackcomb

I didn’t die and the next day (after a morning of super fun tubing which I believe deserves another post) I climbed back onto my shuttle to head home. I had started my ski trip a skeptic and despite all the pain and inside-tears, left a firm believer. Whistler is an incredible place and even though there is so much you can do without ever stepping into skis, you’d be silly to miss it.

family in whistler

I got to make some wonderful memories with my family, see some gorgeous views and parts of the mountain that are unreachable by lift, and burn off a heap of Christmas weight. Next time, I’ll take things a bit slower and fit in a few proper lessons, but this time was perfect for now.

What can I say Whistler? You converted me!

So, where do you fall? Are you a skeptic when it comes to skiing or a firm believer?


  1. Wow thanks for introducing me to your blog. I have lived in Canada my entire life, and I have learned so much from your ski holiday, Canadian winters and of course the hunt for the perfect coffee how ironic. Love your humour, and you are like a best friend sharing your secrets of life. Very enjoyable read and I I I can not wait to hear more xx

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