Progress is a funny thing. On the one hand it’s transformed Whistler from the quiet little mountain town I remember as a child into one of the awesomest destination resorts in the world. The chairlifts are faster now and we have more ski runs and bike trails than ever before. More restaurants serve up dishes from a wider variety of different cultures and more shops offer more options on all the cool gear I need. We host huge events that everyone else wishes happened in their town and, as always, our lakes, mountains and forests provide endless opportunities for adventure and inspiration. The world comes to Whistler to share our incredible home and growth is a natural progression.
On the other hand, the path forward is not without its casualties. Whistler Village is three times the size it was when I was in seventh grade and many of the mom-and-pop retail shops I remember have had to make room for better-financed chain stores and multinational companies. That’s just the reality of the retail market.
But some of those locally owned joints still soldier on, so today let’s take a stroll through Whistler Village and hit up all my favourite shops and spots I remember as a child. It’s an old-school walk and shop. Come on, we’ll start at the base of Whistler Mountain over where the waterslides used to be. This is going to be a long blog post but we have a lot of shopping to do so maybe we should start with a coffee.
Lift Coffee Company
4293 Mountain Square
They haven’t been around forever but LIFT certainly has that “local’s favourite” feel to it. Located at the base of the Whistler Gondola makes their breakfast wraps incredibly handy for a morning of biking or skiing and the fresh-baked “Cake of the Day” is always worth checking out. Their coffee really is made with love (or at least close attention to detail) and the hot summer item to try is real-brewed Iced Tea. No sugar added, enjoy.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company
217 – 4293 Mountain Square
Yes, I realize this is a franchise but the Whistler Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory has been around forever and on hot summer days there’s not much better than a double scoop of Mango/Raspberry Swirl ice cream. Zea, behind the counter, tells me the big flavour these days is Sticky Toffee Pudding with vanilla. Don’t worry about the calories, we’re gonna walk ‘em off.
Whistler Foto Source
4154 Village Green
Located just behind Citta’s off the main Village Square this camera shop has weathered the storm of the digital revolution with style and grace. Offering an incredible range of cameras, lenses and gear to suit every need, owner Rick Clare (once voted Whistler’s “Citizen of the Year”) says Whistler Foto Source is able to keep prices competitive with all the big chains because they are part of a buying group that orders large quantities. Canon/Nikon/Olympus/Fuji/Pentax, Rick has them all and with so many professional photographers in town he carries all the best high end gear too. “We even still do one-hour processing for anyone who likes film,” Rick adds. “Tell all the hipsters.”
Sportstop Source for Sports
4154 Village Green
Right next door to Rick, Sportstop is the place to go for pretty much anything from hockey gear to baseball mitts to disc golf discs to athletic support. Plus they will sharpen your ice skates!
4205 Village Square
If we don’t support independent booksellers the big chain outlets with all the buying power will start to dictate what books actually get published. Niche market books will lose out and stuff like good ski/snowboard or mountaineering books will become that much trickier to get your hands on. Luckily, Whistler is blessed with a long-running locally owned bookstore that nails the perfect mix of local and international content. They also have Whistler’s best selection of magazines and newspapers from other places (but do you really want to catch up on the news from back home?) You can browse their inventory online and of course, if you can’t find what you want, Armchair Books will order it in.
Fanatyk Co Ski and Cycle
4433 Sundial Place
Notice all those mountain bikers rolling around Whistler with huge smiles on their faces? It’s because biking is incredibly fun and for anyone that wants to join in Fanatyk Co has a huge rental fleet ready to go. They also offer great bikes for sale and the hot-selling accessories this summer are Poc Helmets. Protect your head and get out there ripping.
When the snow flies, Scotty and Kev and the Fanatyk Co crew also have all the best ski gear and will demo you some of those big fat pow skis you’ve always dreamed of trying.
3-4433 Sundial Place
This is true old-school Whistler. TMC owner Yosuke grew up right here in town and his family shop has been at this location forever. Yosuke took over the space in 1995 and TMC blossomed into a beacon of independent radness all throughout skiing’s twin-tip and fat-ski revolution.
This summer, longboards make for good fun and anything by local clothing brand Voleurz is always a popular purchase. The TMC beanies make perfect Whistler souvenirs because this is the only place you can get them.
The Hat Gallery
4295 Blackcomb Way
Hats are intrinsically cool and never really go out of style – there’s just something about having a brim over your eyes. Whistler’s Hat Gallery opened in 1995 and has been our go-to hat store ever since. They have all the big brands and also some great eclectic finds (and lots of short-brimmed fedoras for the kids). Alice says the hot ticket item for summer is a big wide-brimmed hat that you can roll-up and toss in the suitcase for easy traveling. “Lots of people need to travel to find the sun,” she explains “and these hats can travel with them.”
28-4313 Main Street
Speaking of the sun, The Beach is Whistler’s top bikini and bathing suit joint but they also carry regular clothing including Victoria, BC-based brand Sitka, which is co-owned by a born-and–raised Whistler kid. A new bathing suit is always a treat but after the sun sets on our many incredible beaches and lakes you may want to throw on a Sitka hooded sweatshirt. “Hoodies” are essential for life in the mountains as temperature and weather can change pretty quickly.
30-4314 Main Street
Whistler’s oldest and best-est lingerie shop sells a lot more than just underwear. “Scarves are really selling this year,” says co-owner Eva. The little shop on Main street also carries pyjamas, tunics , robes and more but if you’re looking for lingerie… “The Hanky Pankys have always been popular.” Woo hoo!
105-4395 Main Street
Every decent town needs a toy store and while this specific spot wasn’t around when I was a kid, it’s still local and fun as heck. Iris let me try a Stomp Rocket which is a kind of air-powered rocket available in 3 power levels. The upper echelon Stomp Rocket is capable of flying up to 400 feet in the air! For something a bit less full-on Iris recommends the Perplexus, a weird 3D maze puzzle thing that is definitely perplexing. It also comes in three difficulty levels and I had a hard time on the easiest one. What does that mean? It means I’m getting my kid one for long road trips.
4369 Main Street
Main Street used to just be the soccer field of the old elementary school but as Whistler has grown the area has become a hotspot for local shopping. Rider-owned, The Circle is often voted best “core” snowboard shop in Canada and it’s been providing Whistler with top gear and advice since 1997.
“Polar Camping Stuff is big this season,” explains Jon. “They make sleeping bags you can walk around in. You pull up the bottom to your waist and cinch it like a jacket, then later you crawl in your tent, let it down and you’re already in bed.” It looks fun as it sounds. Jon also recommends Electric Sunglasses, especially if you’re spending any time up the mountains on the snow.
4530 Lorimer Road, Marketplace.
How’s the shopping going? Too much stuff to lug around? Toss it in a backpack from Escape Route, Whistler’s first and best purveyors of backcountry gear, mountaineering/climbing stuff, paddleboards and almost anything else you need to have fun outside. This place, opened in 1990, is legendary and some of the biggest names in Canadian skiing and mountaineering bought their first gear right here. I got my first climbing rope, shoes and harness at Escape Route and it literally changed my life.
Whistler Kitchen Works
4530 Lorimer Road, Marketplace.
Pretty much everyone has a kitchen so this place is a surefire hit. Moms especially love things like the high-end can openers and gadgets to make life easier. Carol, probably the nicest lady on earth, showed me all kinds of cool patio/picnic stuff including some plates made from rice and corn husks and some lovely outdoor tablecloths. That’s right, I’m not afraid to use the word “lovely.”
The Great Glass Elevator Candy Shop
4350 Lorimer Road, Marketplace
Just in case you didn’t get your sugar fix back at the other end of town, The Great Glass is literally chock full of sugary goodness and the old expression “a kid in a candy store” can be witnessed here at almost any hour of the day. Kennedy, the owner, is an ex-world cup mogul skier who parlayed a love of candy and kids into one of Whistler’s coolest local joints. The balloons and piñatas also make it easy to throw an impromptu birthday party and their “Flavour of the Month” popcorn selections never disappoint.
And that’s it. Whistler, obviously has tons of other fine shops and stores full of friendly people ready to help you with whatever you need but the list above are the places I grew up with and when you buy there you know your money is going to a real Whistler local rather than helping put gas in some CEO’s private jet halfway around the world.
Here is a map of Whistler Village but it might be easier to just hit the street. If you can’t find any of the shops on this list, just ask someone. Whistler folk are pretty friendly. Shop on!