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Destination of the Week: Whistler, BC

by on January 13, 2012 · 18 comments

in Canada, Destination of the Week, Four Seasons, Hilton, Starwood, Westin, Whistler

A recent shot of Whistler...looks like there's snow!

For the second installment of our new Destination of the Week Series (the first was last week’s on Park City), we continue with ski destinations in honor of the winter weather we hope will eventually come to the U.S. and provide fantastic skiing for alpine enthusiasts.

In the meantime, we heard from a bunch of TPG readers that the place to go for some good powder so far this winter is Whistler, up in British Columbia, and it just so happens that there are several great options both for flying and staying using your miles and points.

Whistler has been one of North America’s premier ski destinations since the late 1960’s, and only got more popular after the opening of nearby Blackcomb Mountain near Whistler Village in the late ‘80’s. Combined, the two mountains have hundreds of trails, dozens of lifts, and runs for every level of skier and snowboarder.

Not a big skier or snowboarder? You can do all kinds of other activities including snowshoeing, dogsledding, ice skating and ice climbing while you’re there.

Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain.

Getting There

The gateway to Whistler, and the nearest major airport, is Vancouver, a two-hour drive away along the Sea-to-Sky Highway.  Vancouver is a pretty big hub that services over 40 carriers that connects directly to 22 US cities and 17 international destinations according to the Whistler-Blackcomb site. Some of the major airlines that fly there from the US include Alaska, American, Delta and US Airways, a while you can also snag seats on Air Canada and WestJet, meaning you have options to use your miles in every major alliance. Plus, as I’ve done before,  you can actually catch the North America portion of a major international connection, like Cathay Pacific’s JFK-Vancouver-Hong Kong route (as Brian did this past summer), or Air Canada’s flight from Toronto-YVR-SYD, so that even on a short or mid-haul, you’re using your points for international business class instead of old school domestic.

Once you’re at Vancouver, there are several limo, motorcoach and car services to get you to Whistler, as well as shuttles from various hotels.

For even more flight availability within the US, you could also consider flying to Seattle/Tacoma instead, which is about a 5-hour drive from Whistler.

Ski and Stay

The exterior of the Westin Whistler.

Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler: This all-suite Craftsman-style hotel right in Whistler Village seems to be a TPG reader go-to. Standard rooms here are the Junior Suites, which have an open layout connecting the living room to the bedroom. The color palette is pretty neutral in tones of beige and green meant to evoke the surroundings. They have kitchenettes with dishwashers and Sub-Zero fridges, a pullout sofa bed, and either two queens or a twin-split king in the bedrooms. It also looks like they have fireplaces, a work desk and flat-screen TV’s in the living room and bedroom. Some have patios. In higher room categories, the hotel has larger one-bedroom, two-bedroom and bi-level Mountain Suites with two bedrooms. WiFi for SPG non-elites costs $14.99 CAD ($14 USD) a day.

A standard junior suite at the Westin Whistler.

Additional amenities here include the Wine Spectator award-winning Aubergine Grille Restaurant, and more laidback FireRock Lounge, as well as an Avello Spa and fitness center. Though in the village, the hotel claims to have ski-in/ski-out access to Blackcomb Mountain and its 17 lifts, and it also offers free shuttle service to Whistler Mountain’s ski and snowboarding trails, plus ski valet service to store your gear when you’re not using it. Rates at the end of January start at $339 CAD ($330 USD) or 12,000 Starpoints a night. Cash & Points isn’t available presumably because it’s high season, but when it is available, it’s 4,800 Starpoints + $90.

The Hilton Whistler at night.

Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa: Also located in Whistler Village is the Hilton

Rooms have a “mountain-style” aesthetic of neutral taupes and grays and generic furniture. They also feature mountain views, fully equipped kitchenettes, beds with 250 threadcount sheets, granite counters and vanities, work desks and new 37-inch flat-screens. Standards come with one king or two double beds. The hotel also has Junior, one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, and it looks like they all have fireplaces except for the King and Queen Junior Suites.

The resort has an après-ski bar called Cinnamon Bear Bar, and a fancier restaurant called the Cinnamon Bear Grille, as well as a Javanese-style Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa for relaxing off the slopes. Guests here have access to nearby Blackcomb Mountain and its 200 trails via the gondola station a few minutes’ walk from the hotel—so it’s not easy ski-in/ski-out access, but it shouldn’t be too far. The hotel also has a “Fresh Tracks” program where guests can be the first ones up on the mountain in the morning, enjoy breakfast at the Roundhouse Lodge and then hit the slopes as soon as the ski patrol determines it’s safe.

The living room of a one-bedroom suite at the Hilton Whistler.

Rates in January start at $303 CAD ($297 USD). High-speed internet and local calls are included in the room rate. This is a Category 7 Hilton property, meaning one free night costs 50,000 Hilton HHonors points, though we couldn’t find any free nights this month, so try February or March before the season ends in April if you’re interested.

The dramatic exterior of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Fairmont Chateau Whistler: This palatial hotel is certainly the grande dame in town. It was designed to emulate some of Canada’s famous historic chateaux hotels, and opened back in 1989, then underwent an expansion in 1997 that added 221 guest rooms, bringing the total to 550 guest rooms and suites. Standard rooms, called “Moderate Rooms,” are just 300 square feet with one queen bed and slope views, while the next step up, Fairmont Rooms, are 100 square feet bigger and have a king or two queens. The hotel is located at the base of Blackcomb Mountain with ski-in/ski-out access to the slopes, and it’s also about a five-minute walk from the Village of Whistler.

A one-bedroom suite at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Its onsite restaurants include the gourmet and seasonally inspired Wildflower, the more casual Grill Room and Wine Room bar, and Portobello Market and Fresh Bakery for deli selections. It also has a high-end Vida Spa for working the kinks out of those tired muscles at the end of the day. Those booking Fairmont Gold (club) rooms have their own special reception up in the 8th-floor Gold Lounge, where they can use a hotel laptop, and enjoy complimentary continental breakfast in the mornings and cocktails and canapés in the evening, as well as coffee, tea and an honor bar all day.

Unless they’re the top-tier Platinum members of Fairmont’s President’s Club, FPC members don’t receive complimentary nights (and even Platinum members only get one free night per every 10 stayed), but even basic membership does come with a slew of perks including complimentary in-room internet and local calls, use of Fairmont Fit workout gear (not ski gear, which you can rent), and airline mile bonuses on partners including American, Alaska, Cathay, Etihad, Lufthansa, Singapore and United among others per stay. You can see the list of elite benefits here. So if you’re thinking of staying here, might as well join the club. Rates for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler at the end of January start at $379 CAD ($371 USD) a night.

 

Whistler's stunning scenery from above.

Marriott: Unfortunately, though there used to be a Marriott Residence Inn in the Upper Village at Blackcomb, it looks like it was dropped by Marriott and taken over privately and turned into the Coast Blackcomb Suites at Whistler, so Marriott Rewards members might be out of luck using points for this destination.

Just to  note, there are a few other luxury options around the area too, including the ultra-luxe Four Seasons at Whistler, and two PanPacific properties: the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre and the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside. While Pan Pacific does have the GHA Discovery Loyalty Programme, it seems more focused on providing frequent guests with elite-status perks like room upgrades, late checkout and curated local experiences, as well as the opportunity to earn frequent flyer miles with airline partners, rather than accumulating free nights, so no points stays here, unfortunately.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Phil

    Thanks for doing a Whistler piece as suggested last time! Let me add a few comments and I am sure I will have plenty more after we complete our trip in a couple of weeks.

    In terms of transfers I highly recommend the Pacific Coach Lines bus, which is a very luxurious comfortable coach service. I have no connection other than having used them before. It is significantly cheaper than private transfers even with a family and is very comfortable and convenient

    The Westin and Hilton are both definitely ski-in/ski-out. While technically “in the village” they are basically right at the bottom of the main slope with the main Whistler Village Gondola lift pretty much right in front. Westin have a ski-valet service though I have read it is not the best in the west.

    I would note that the Fairmont is in the Upper Village which means it is at the base of Blackcomb not Whistler. Remember you get two mountains for the price of one here :) Personally I prefer this side, it is much quieter than main Whistler village. If you are going as a family and paying your way and you want a more peaceful family oriented spot you may be more happy on the Blackcomb side. Younger whipper-snappers and party types are going to want to be in the main Whistler village

    Lastly it is really worth pointing out how HUGE these mountains are. Their web site has a really cool feature at http://media.intrawest.com/whistler/flash/trailmap/compare.html where you can hover over different ski mountains and it superimposes their acreage on Whistler/Blackcomb so you can get a sense of comparative size. Just look at how tiny Aspen looks next to this place! And no trust-fund Greenwich kids bumping into you to boot :)

  • Pkerr

    Another couple of thoughts…
    Additional transportation opportunities would be the train (not cheap). Also they also have 24hr car rentals which are specifically made for a one way trip up to or back from the mountain.

    Using your SPG point for the Westin… They have a pay for 4 get the 5th free. So you can do 5 nights for 48,000 instead of 60,000. As mentioned they “normally” don’t have cash and points available but just the other day I was looking at Feb 12 – 17 ’12 and surprising cash and points WAS available. Earlier (back in Nov) it wasn’t. Something to keep an eye on.

  • http://infamousdx.com infamousdx

    By far, Whistler is my favorite North American snowboard destination. I plan on going back next winter, in fact. I wish I could try out some of these hotels, but what these big trips turn into is 10-20 of our friends renting an amazing ski-in ski-out chateau.

    Great breakdown of one of my favorite places in the world!

  • http://infamousdx.com infamousdx

    Agree on Blackcomb Glacier. I loved the backside of it and it’s natural terrain. You can just get lost in there (not in a bad way) for the entire day. When we go back, we have plans of riding the Glacier for at least 3/4 of the time.

  • skier

    Anyone else think these “Destination of the Week” pieces sounds suspiciously like they’ve been sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce?

  • Anonymous

    I can guarantee they have not. I don’t take comped trips (did once and fully disclosed it numerous times). If a destination paid me to promote it I’d fully disclose it

    These are simply guides to help people plan vacations to popular detonations (with a focus on how to use points/miles to do it)

  • Eric

    Thanks for the extra info, Phil–can’t wait to hear what you think after your trip.

  • skier

    I apologize for wording my comment incorrectly. I don’t actually think these posts are paid shills. But I also think the content and tone doesn’t add much value beyond what a paid shill would write. These posts are basically, “People have told me this is a cool place to go, and there are hotels that accept points there!” Well, whoop-de-do.

    There’s no indication that Eric has ever actually been to Whistler. There is no analysis of how Whistler compares to other ski destinations. The hotel descriptions sound like they’ve been cribbed from promotional pamphlets, references to “Wine Spectator award-winning” restaurants and all. There are no actual reviews of the properties by anyone who has, you know, stayed there. No in-depth comparison of the various airport-to-Whistler transportation options. There is really very little that adds value here.

    For example, many of these properties claim to have “ski-in/ski-out” access or something close to it. A really good review would tell us how easy/hard it actually is to ski-in/out at each of the properties, since that makes a big difference when you’re staying at a ski resort. There’s none of that sort of thing here. Instead, there’s just repetition of whatever the hotel claims, which is not very helpful.

    I understand it’s not practical to send a reporter out to stay at all the hotels every time you want to do one of these posts. Maybe then you should do what I would do if I were actually booking a trip — read through message board posts, trip advisor reviews, etc., talk to people who have been there before, etc., to try to get a sense of how these properties stack up. Copying and pasting stuff from the hotel websites is just lazy and really benefits nobody except the hotels themselves.

    I normally enjoy the blog but I feel like this series of posts lacks quality and lowers the overall standard of the blog.

  • Mighty Mouse

    Hello from Whistler. I live here in the winter and would be happy to pass along any local info although I won’t tell you my secret runs! Pacific Coach Lines between YVR and Whistler is very functional. If you spend time in Vancouver, http://www.greyhound.ca offers service between downtown Vancouver-Whistler for about $26.00 advance purchase or $30.00 last minute. Greyhound is NOT available from YVR. If you take the bus from Whistler to Vancouver… sit on the right side of the bus for amazing views of the mountains and Howe Sound.

    Contrary to all the PR the mtn puts out… so far this year the snow is a long way from epic. So much for the anticipated La Nina dumps :(.

  • Dave

    I stayed at the Westin 3 years ago and just made reservations yesterday for Feb. Got the 5th night free, so 60,000 points for 6 nights. Not bad for a class 5 ski-in/ski-out resort. Its the only place I’ve stayed that I have used the ski valet, so nothing to compare to, but I though it was great. Get done skiing, walk about 50 feet to where they have a tent sent up and hand them your skis. They don’t take your boots, so maybe that’s what is not great, and you have to pick the skis in the shop in the morning, but that’s only about another 50 feet.

    You also say “Junior Suites, which have an open layout connecting the living room to the bedroom.” To be clear, the junior suite is one big room with a queen bed and a sofa bed in the living area, its not a separate bedroom. They do have one bedrooms for 24,000 points per night.

  • Davisje6

    I am staying at the Westin in Whistler right now. We flew from San Diego, CA to Seattle, WA and rented a car one way through avis in Seattle to Whistler. We considered flying to Vancouver and taking the bus, but it did not work for us based on our time schedule.

    I used points for stay 4 nights and get the 5th night free, so 9,600 points a night. There was not a cash and points option for our time period. Booked the junior suite and was upgrade to a 1 bedroom suite. I am a platinum. The room is a corner room with a nice mountain view. The hotel is a great location for board in/board out and for the village. The 1 bedroom suite has a full kitchen (but small fridge – multiple trips to store) and a small kitchenette area. It is a little dated, but works for us. The living room area has a table and a nice space for lounging with a gas fireplace. The bedroom area is a little tight, but the bathroom area is a nice size (just some cheap furnishings – flimsy glass door on shower). The main living area and bedroom temperatures vary (often much colder in bedroom versus living area – no matter what we try), possible due to poor design. They charge you for storing your boards, but we just carried them up to our rooms in elevators without any issues (not paying a ridiculous fee for storage). The hotel is an OK hotel, but nothing special in my opinion (rated as a Category 5, but feels like a Category 4). You are paying for the location, so probably why it is listed as a Category 5.

    The ski conditions are not very good right now. Extremely icy. With that said, California, Colorado, and Utah were worse (hardly any snow), when we were planning our trip. Due to being locked into our trip during this time period, we went for the best option possible. Snow and ice is better than no snow at all.

  • KamanCali

    Second- Brian you better pay Eric to go visit for himself!

  • Kaman Cali

    Whistler Snow Conditions and Webcam: http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/weather/snowreport/index.htm

    Eric, maybe some real non-stock photos would reduce the “brochure” feel of the article- the summertime photos are pretty jolting. If you could visit have your firsthand experience would be great as well.

    All: Backside of Blackcomb is amazing. Worth the Gondoloa+ Ski Lift+ Toe Rope+ Hike to get to it!

  • Pkerr

    No.. pay me. I’ll do it for 20% less.;-)

  • Pkerr

    Might be far from epic but it’s WAAAAYYYY better than anything in CA / UT / CO can offer. I know several people who have change their plans to ski US resorts and are heading your way.

  • Phil

    Yikes.. glad I had to move my trip from now to early Feb. Hopefully by then there will be some fresh soft snow. Never much fun ski-ing on ice.

  • fraggle_rock

    first comment on tpg… just got back from whistler for the second year in a row. it’s by far the best north america skiing outside of alaska. used 200k delta miles for 4 people last minute from phl – yvr for 4 nights in whistler and one in vancouver. the holiday inn sunspree is not a bad option, though not ski in/out… it is most importantly next to starbucks. btw, fat tony’s pizza is the best in the village (behind buffalo bills). i second the comments that blackcomb is much quieter then whistler village.

    last year stayed in a ski in/out house over at creekside lift. if not using points this is definitely the best method for any size group though prices have drastically increased since the olympics.

    non stock photos from 01/11… http://tinyurl.com/7qnkycb

  • Phil

    Just wrapping up our stay right now. Posted my thoughts on flyer talk http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/17992437-post199.html.

    In summary the Westin is a great spot for a ski trip, as close as you can get to ski in ski out in Whistler.

    We had a mix of ski conditions, more good than bad. First couple of days were out of this world, clear blue skies with well groomed runs, 7th Heaven was truly heavenly. Then clouds came in so sometimes was nice powdery snow, other times messy sludge and fog. But overall conditions have been great. Have skied a couple hundred miles and a couple hundred thousand feet vertical drop in a week :) Flying CX F home tomorrow, with the way my body is feeling shame they don’t have the on board massage that VX used to do :)

    Will be back to Whistler next year. Hilton and Air Canada are next years targets

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