It’s been said that skiing is a sport for the wealthy. At times, this statement bodes true for a place like Whistler. (In fact, it’s home to Canada’s most expensive vacation home.) Hotels prices are sky-high and lift tickets at the window can be an ungodly $139/day/person. The Telegraph gave it a lowly 1/5 on their “budget” scale. It can be a pricey place and welcomes the rich and the famous (hell, this is where the David Beckhams of the world go to learn to snowboard), but it can be done on a budget, with the right amount of preparation. A ski vacation in Whistler, British Columbia, can be affordable. Here’s a few tips we put to use to make a glorious weekend in Whistler that didn’t cost a fortune (in fact, it was pretty affordable).
1. Take a bus
Take the bus (if traveling from Vancouver) or park smart. If arriving from Vancouver Intl. Airport (YVR) or Vancouver itself, you can take SnowBus or Epic Rides. SnowBus gets great reviews, and can drop you off right at the airport (but unfortunately can’t pick you up there). Check Groupon for deals, such as half-price specials. The schedules may not work for you but definitely have a look as it could be much cheaper than renting a car. If you do rent a car, consider using Costcotravel.ca (for Canadian) and rent from Vancouver airport. Gas to Whistler and back, including some cruising around Vancouver area and Whistler searching for waterfalls, cost us only CAD$35. The beautiful thing about Whistler is you don’t really need a car. You can walk or take the free shuttles anywhere. No car required unless you want to visit nearby natural attractions. Parking? There are a few lots at Whistler/Blackcomb that are still free. Park there; they’re still easy to get to and no need to spend money.
2. Book early
We booked a year (yes, a whole year!) in advance on Expedia and booked a hotel we normally saw going for around $400/night, for a supra-affordable CAD$120 per night, on an Alberta and United States long-weekend (a busy time, in other words). Awesome. (Much props to Whistler Pinnacle Hotel for offering such a fair price, and a great well-placed accommodation, although we no longer see these prices for a year from now!) Look far, far ahead and you might see a great price.
3. Eat cheaply
Eat cheap but splurge once or twice. We had breakfast at good ol’ McDonalds at Whistler Village Marketplace every morning to save a few bucks, and there are a lot of cheap eats. Our room at the Pinnacle came standard with a kitchen, making food prep easy and cheap (try the Marketplace IGA grocery store). Our best expenditure was at 21 Steps Kitchen & Bar which offered some great food; we shared small plates and had a few awesome drinks (great beer selection on tap and well priced!). Food and drinks can be expensive in Whistler but they don’t have to be.
4. Get lift tickets for less
Lift tickets here can be mad expensive. We’re talking $139 per day per person (walk-up rates as of 2017), which is ridiculous. Of course, you can buy online and save, at least $19/day (as of Feb 2017) online, or get the Edge Card to save even more. But how did I save almost $500 and do all my skiing for free? If you’re Canadian, use Air Miles to get Whistler passes as a reward. Don’t have enough miles? Sign up for the American Express Air Miles credit card (at times has first-year-free, so keep an eye open). The free points you earn for signing up can give you enough bonus Air Miles to afford, at least at the time of this writing, 4 passes to Whistler, allowing a couple to ski for 2 days for free. Tickets are cheaper for Gold members, which you should become if you have enough Air Miles activity. Just keep in mind the tickets may take a while to receive in the mail after you’ve ordered, so give it some time. *Of course, this is what I did — your luck with this method may vary. And remember, the Peak-2-Peak gondola normally goes for +CAD$50 alone, so don’t forget to go for a ride to get your money’s (or Air Miles) worth.
5. Bring your own gear
Rentals can be annoying; personally we hate having to waste time, get served and fitted, sign away our lives (in the rental agreement), and try on stuff that barely fits, may not be comfortable, has been worn by a million bodies, and smells funky. Rentals can be expensive, too. If you’re flying in to Whistler (by way of Vancouver), it can seem easier to just rent equipment when you arrive, but it can be more comfortable, time-saving, and cost-effective to bring your own gear. Many people don’t know it doesn’t cost more than the price of standard-size luggage to bring all your gear (for example, Westjet and Air Canada let you bring oversize ski equipment for only the price of a regular suitcase, and let you check-in in an accompanying boot bag with your ski bag). And of course, some people get free checked luggage, depending on loyalty status or rewards or credit card used, so it may not cost you anymore than the price of buying ski bags. We spent about CAD$150 total for two sets of ski bags + boot bags from Amazon. As well, airlines may tell you that a rigid ski case is required; these are prohibitively expensive. The truth is, the airlines don’t seem to enforce their rule, but any damage to the skis would be your fault if you use a soft bag. Just wrap your ski/board nicely in plush items (jackets, ski pants, etc.) to give as much cushioning as possible (particularly the ends), and your ski/board should leave the airport unharmed. I would say ski bags are a good investment because the likelihood is that if you fly to Whistler, you’ll take more than one long-distance ski trip in your lifetime!
♠ Fly safe, ski dangerously, and keep Whistler affordable!
–Rob @ LetsGetAway.ca