Summer in Whistler

My family and I went to Whistler, BC for a short vacation not too long ago. Located about 2 hours drive north of Vancouver, Whistler is best known as a skiing destination in the winter and the location for the downhill and sliding events in the 2010 Winter Olympics, but there are a lot of stuff to do there in the summer as well such as mountain biking and white water rafting. I didn’t do either of these, but I did visit a few places while I was there. This is not the first time I’ve been to Whistler during the summer, but this is the first time I actually did something other than just looking around. Here is a record of the things I saw and did during the trip in rough chronological order.

Sea to Sky Highway

To drive to Whistler from Vancouver, one usually takes Highway 99. The part of highway 99 that snakes along the coast is known as the Sea to Sky Highway, probably named for the exceptional scenery along the route featuring inlets and mountains. Other than the scenery, the highway is or maybe was known for being accident prone due to the curving nature of the route, but thanks to a big upgrade for the Olympics most of the highway now has central dividers to prevent head-on collisions. There are a lot of places of interest and tourist spots along the highway one can stop by, and I’ll mention two of them near the end of this post.

Sea to Sky Highway
A view out the window on the Sea to Sky Highway. As some of you might have figured, this shot was taken on the way back from Whistler.

Whistler Village

Located conveniently under Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, the Whistler Village is the central area where all the ski-lifts, shops, restaurant and most of the accommodation is located. It definitely has the resort-town feel to it with the stylish short buildings (<5 stories) and the pedestrian only Village Stroll. There are more people this time then the last time I visited (also during summer), and I’m guessing that the successful Winter Olympics helped attract visitors from around the world. Whistler Village is not very big and it only takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end of the Village Stroll to the other when walking at a decent pace. It’s definitely worth to stroll around the village once during the first visit, but be aware that most things tend to be more expensive in resort towns like Whistler.

Whistler Village
The Village Stroll within Whistler Village. All the buildings in the village are of a similar style.

Black Bears

Situated in the middle of the mountains and woods, it’s no surprise that Whistler has its fair share of black bears. A fun fact we learned during our stay at Whistler is that there is approximately one black bear per one square kilometer of Whistler, meaning that there is a pretty good chance you’ll run into one. During the entire trip I saw several black bears, and the closest encounter was when I was walking down a dirt road into the village. There was a small black bear foraging on the other side of the road as people walked past. The bear ignored the people, and people either just walked past or took photos (like me). Black bears are usually not aggressive, and Whistler seems to be doing a pretty good job guarding their trash cans from the bears so for now people and black bears can coexist peacefully most of the time.

Black Bear Encounter
A small (~200lb) black bear foraging on the side of the road. I was on the other side about 20 feet away.

Alpha Lake

Alpha Lake is a small lake located near Highway 99 a little bit south of Whistler Village and it is surrounded by a park and vacation properties. Some members of my family were keen on fishing and so we visited the lake in hope of hooking some rainbow trout and kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon). Unfortunately, we brought the wrong bait and didn’t get a single bite. You are supposed to flyfish on the lake, but we brought worms, so the fishing operation was a failure. The Alpha Lake Park was a pretty nice place though. There are tennis courts, a playground and views of the lake surrounding mountains.

Alpha Lake
A shot from the far side of Alpha Lake. Nice place, but too bad we didn't get a single bite with the fishing.

Lost Lake

Lost Lake is another small lake located near Whister Village and one can easily walk to the lake. The Lost Lake Park has many walking, cycling and (in the winter) cross-country ski trails for visitors to explore. The lake side also has a beautiful beach that has a view of the lake, surrounding forests, and the snow-capped mountains. Supposedly one could fish for trout there too, but by that time we already gave up on fishing.

Lost Lake
The beautiful beach at Lost Lake. This is one of the best scenery photos I took during this trip.
ZipTrek Zip-Line
Ths starting platform to one of the zip-lines on the Eagle Tour. Was I scared? Oh yes, at least initally.

ZipTrek EcoTour

Other than just walking around Whistler, I was convinced to go on a ZipTrek EcoTour by some of my relatives despite being not all that brave. ZipTrek is a company that operates zip-lines and forest tours around the world, and Whistler is their original location. The zip-lines are located on Blackcomb Mountain and you have to take a bus to get up there. We went on their newer Eagle Tour, which features five zip-lines, including a 2200 feet one that is supposedly the longest in North America. In between the zip-lines, there were also treks through the forest with the guides explaining some information about forests and the wildlife, and in total the whole tour takes more than three hours. Most of it was spent walking through the forest and waiting for your turn on the zip-lines though. The actual ride time on each zip line is around 10 seconds or less, but they are an exhilarating 10 seconds as you learn what it feels like to fly through the forest. Because I’m not too brave, I held on to my rope most of the time, but a few people in the same group started doing tricks and went upside down after the second zip-line. At over $100 per person, the tour was not cheap but it was quite the experience. ZipTrek operates all year around, but it’s probably better to go during the summer when the weather is nice. Winter might be fun too, but not during the rainy days.

Treetop Platforms
Tree-top platforms are also part of Ziptrek's Ecotours. These platforms are about 20-30 meters off the ground.
Whistler Village Gondola
A look back at the village while riding the Whistler Village Gondola up to Whistler Mountain.

Peak 2 Peak Experience

This is the last attraction I went to at Whistler. One of the most advertised attractions at Whistler, the Peak 2 Peak is a gondola line connecting Whistler Mountain to Blackcomb Mountain. The Peak 2 Peak 1 day experience costs around $40 per person and includes rides up and down from the mountains. To start the tour, we took the Whistler Village Gondola up Whistler Mountain. During the ride, we saw many hardcore mountain bikers blistering their way down the lower parts of the mountain. As the gondola moves higher, the vegetation changes and soon there is snow. The whole ride up takes about 20 minutes.

Whistler Mountain
The top of Whistler Mountain, still covered in snow. The elevation is over 2000m above sea-level.

The top of Whistler Mountain (and Blackcomb Mountain as well) is still covered in snow even in the middle of summer. As such, there are people who come up here to ski and snowboard in the summer, although they probably can’t go very far. To take advantage of the snow, we went snow tubing which cost $5 per person for the whole day. Going down the slope on the tube was fun, but dragging the tube back up the hill was not. We went until we were too tired from climbing up the hill.

Peak 2 Peak Gondola
A view out the windows of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola car to another gondola car.
Blackcomb Mountain
The top of Blackcomb Mountain, also covered in snow and about the same elevation as Whistler Mountain.

At that point, we took the Peak 2 Peak Gondola to Blackcomb Mountain. Supported by only four towers, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds world records for the longest span in between towers (3.024km) and highest point above ground (436m) for a gondola. From the Gondola, we got a perfect view of Fitzsimmons Creek which runs in the valley between the two mountains along with the other nearby mountains and a bit of Whistler Village. After arriving at the top of Blackcomb, we looked around for a bit and then took one of the ski-lifts back down to Whistler Village. I’ve never been in a chair lift before, so this was another first for me. After the Peak 2 Peak Experience, we left Whistler and went back on Highway 99.

Blackcomb Ski Lift
Riding the ski lift down from Blackcomb Mountain.

Shannon Falls

There are quite a few attractions along Highway 99, and Shannon Falls is one of them. At 335m tall, Shannon Falls is the third tallest waterfall in British Columbia, and it’s located just south of Squamish in a provincial park. As with many parks in the region, there are trails through the woods, and a viewing platform to get up close and personal with the waterfall.

Shannon Falls
The majestic Shannon Falls.

Porteau Cove

Porteau Cove is another provincial park located along Highway 99. The main attraction is the view over Howe Sound and the mountains beyond, but there is also a boat launch ramp and camp site for people to use and rocky beaches for visitors to explore. We mostly stayed near the pier and just took in the views of the waters, mountains and forests.

Porteau Cove
The pier at Porteau Cove with view of Howe Sound and beyond.

That is all for my summer trip to Whistler. Whistler is a wonderful place during the summer, and I had a lot of fun during this trip. This probably won’t be my last trip to Whistler, especially if I ever manage to learn how to ski or snowboard. There are also quite a few summer attractions I didn’t get to visit this time as well, and maybe I will return for another summer sometimes.

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