Two hours north of Vancouver along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, Whistler is in essence one of the continent’s largest planned developments. The resort is laid out along simple principles: Three higher-density pedestrian-oriented base villages serve the lift complexes climbing Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Highway 99 threads up the valley north-south, the main road linking all. Spread-out residential developments line the valley, outside the villages; a paved recreation trail more or less parallels the highway. Outside these developed areas, it’s wilderness in all directions except along Highway 99—head northwest from Whistler into the Coast Range and you won’t hit another road for 200 miles.
Tucked amid forest and lakes on the valley floor and up the foothills a bit, this area hugs the western shores of Green Lake. Here is much of residential Whistler, plus rental homes and condominiums with peace and quiet much more reliable than in any of the three villages. It’s a 5- to 10-minute drive to the lifts; the Whistler Valley Trail threads through the area, providing ski, foot, bike and blade access.
Whistler’s “industrial” district is so named for its business, commercial and service tenants, though the “neighborhood” was recently gentrified by the addition of the Olympic athletes’ village on the south side of Highway 99 (technically called Cheakamus Crossing, now being turned into affordable housing). The name reflects the fast-disappearing sense of fun that prevailed before Whistler started taking itself very seriously as a Big Deal.
With paved pedestrian walks and plazas, and a myriad of shops, restaurants, taverns and hotel fronts, the main village at Whistler is designed to resemble an Alpine ski town. Village planners laid things out so that driving streets thread into the village like tentacles, but are not the main focus—you bring your car to your hotel, park it underground and forget it. Walking the village is one of the key pleasures of a visit to Whistler—it’s bustling, charming, scenic and very practical. And it’s built on what was once a garbage dump.
This newer development, uphill and up-valley a bit from the main village, is the domain of the resort’s highest-octane hotels, including the Chateau Whistler, Four Seasons, Pan Pacific and Le Chamois. Smaller than the main village, it is also less of a strolling place, with fewer shops, cafes and galleries. Blackcomb base is its center, with a huge plaza adjoining the Chateau Whistler. If you’re having an afternoon beverage outside on the plaza, it’s fun to count the limos you see pulling in and out.
This is where Whistler started all those years ago. Though the early developers knew the better site for a base village was farther up the valley, development rights didn’t come along for that until later. So, beneath this narrow, steep cleft at the bottom of Whistler Mountain, lodgings, cafes, bunkhouses and such sprang up beneath the first lifts. After development of the main village, Creekside became the bargain end of Whistler, with legendarily cheap lodgings, cafes and taverns. A spate of redevelopment in the early part of this century was boosted considerably when this became the finish for the men’s and women’s Olympic downhills. Today, spiffy high-rise lodges and sparkling new restaurants line the little Creekside pocket, and all that remains of the old days is Dusty’s Bar & BBQ and Southside Diner, and both those are actually new reincarnations. It’s a 5-minute drive up-valley to the main village.