Insider’s Guide to Whistler for Non-Skiers
Updated January 2020 with new ideas.
Fact: There are people in this world who don’t ski or snowboard. Perhaps they grew up where there was no snow, or they are too young to rip for days, or they’ve tried it and it just doesn’t float their boat. And that’s just fine – unless you’re planning to head to a well-known ski resort like Whistler for a vacation. What on earth are non-skiers supposed to do in Whistler while skiers and snowboarders have the time of their life on the slopes?
The answer? Have more fun than the skiers, of course.
Over the years Whistler has evolved a ton of things to do that don’t involve skis or snowboards, meaning there’s literally weeks of fun for non-skiers plus a ton of options for recovery days (even the most hardcore skiers and snowboarders take a day off here and there). The beauty of Whistler’s layout means most accommodation is within a short walk of both the ski lifts and the delights of the village, so even if your party decides to split up and explore it’s super easy to regroup at après time. Win, win and win.
The key to discovering exactly what is on offer is simple – just go with your interests. What do you like to do for fun? And for those who like sliding on snow – what’s the next best thing after skiing or boarding?
Whistler Village is based around the lifts for Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and split into different areas – Village Centre, Upper Village and Village North – all connected by pedestrian walkways and sections of the Valley Trail that take you through forest and over creeks. You can walk and shop all day long, go patio hopping, browse the galleries…make it a ‘no plans’ day and you’ll never know what you might discover.
Beyond the Village
The sightseeing doesn’t stop at the Village boundaries, there are multiple neighbourhoods in Whistler waiting to be explored. South of the Village neighbourhoods such as Whistler Creekside and Function Junction offer their own eclectic shopping, dining and cultural experiences while north of the Village the neighbourhood of Rainbow boasts a brand new shopping area – and there’s a great local transit service to get you there, no car needed. Up above the Village, you can take a tour of the Whistler Sliding Centre, even have go at sliding yourself with the public skeleton and bobsleigh programs for an Olympic-sized rush.
Consider a Whistler Sightseeing Tour to visit historic, Olympic and picturesque sights with a local and knowledgable guide. The tours include transport on a comfortable shuttle bus so you don’t have to worry about getting around. This is a great activity to do during your first day or two in Whistler, you’ll get a good overview of the area and will better be able to choose where you want to spend your time. Plus, the tour is full of photo ops!
The Valley Trail
The Valley Trail connects Whistler’s neighbourhoods and a gentle stroll on the pedestrian-only Valley Trail is a gentle and peaceful way to discover ice-covered lakes, soaring mountain views and snow-covered forests. The trail allows you to find places like Lost Lake Park with cross country skiing and snowshoeing, and further out you can connect with hiking and biking trails which in winter months are ideal for more challenging snowshoe adventures.
The Valley Trail is maintained over winter but just like the Sea to Sky Highway conditions on the trail can change depending on the weather. Be sure to dress for outdoor adventures with good non-slip, waterproof footwear and see our guide to winter walking on the Valley Trail for suggested routes. You can easily make it a day out by adding a winter picnic along the way…
Callaghan Valley and Beyond
A short drive south of Whistler the Callaghan Valley is another fantastic winter sightseeing destination. Whistler Olympic Park and Callaghan Country combine forces in an area called Ski Callaghan, where you can pop out to take in the snowy views and add a ton of activities including xc skiing, snowshoing, toboganning, ski jumping, Nordic skiing and more, with rentals available for everything and lessons for those new to the sports. You can even tour out to the Journeyman Lodge via xc ski or snowshoe for a true backcountry experience.
You can also check out some gorgeous waterfalls along the Sea to Sky Highway, but be aware that not all trails or parking lots are open or maintained over winter.
On the Mountains
The PEAK 2 PEAK Sightseeing Experience is open to non-skiers over winter and it’s a fantastic way to see the mountains. Dress for the snow, grab a ticket, then upload in up the Whistler Village Gondola. Once at the Roundhouse on Whistler Mountain you can stroll around and enjoy the views, snap a picture with the Olympic Rings and ride on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola from Whistler to Blackcomb and back again. The mountain-top dining on both mountains is available along with events like Winemaker Après, and there’s nothing classier than sipping bubbly watching skiers whizz past below you with the sun bright on the peaks. Glorious.
Other Snow Adventures
Skis and snowboards are definitely not the only way to play in the snow, and in Whistler you can get out and enjoy the fluffy white stuff in a multitude of ways:
No Experience Needed
If you’ve never been to the snow before, and don’t know what to expect there’s winter activities that require little or no experience – great for mixed groups. Every year they create a big pile of snow in Whistler Olympic Plaza that’s perfect for kids to toboggan and play on, and making snowmen and snow angels in any pile of snow is completely acceptable. The options range towards more adventurous too with an ice skating rink right in the Village and snowshoeing, tubing, ziplining, tree adventures, snowmobiling and dogsled tours all running from the Village.
Some Fitness, Lots of Fun
Fans of cross country skiing will enjoy having access to three venues and miles of trails (with each venue offering lessons for those who want to give it a try), and fatbike rentals are available in Whistler Village for those who want to explore the Valley Trail on two wheels (weather/trail maintenance dependent).
Hidden Secrets and High Octane
If you think you’ve seen and done it all there’s always a few activities that can surprise – ice fishing and ice climbing are two quirky ones for mid-winter. A hidden gem with a touch of magic is Vallea Lumina, a multimedia walking experience in the forest at the base of Cougar Mountain. For a natural history lesson the Eagle Viewing float tours offer an incredible look at the bald eagle population in nearby Squamish. Adrenaline fiends will enjoy offerings like bungee jumping over icy rivers, ziplining, snowmobiling and the skeleton and bobsleigh at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
An Excursion to Natural Wonders
If you want to experience the mountains from a higher perspective, flightseeing is for you. Helicopter tours in Whistler range from strictly flightseeing to glacier landing and ice cave exploring. These remote marvels from the last ice age are sure to be the highlight of any Whistler visit, even seasoned locals are blown away by these tours.
If you’re really up for a one of a kind adventure you can also book a Heli-Snowmobile Tour which is a legitimate guided expedition. You’ll fly to the ice fields then traverse by snowmobile in search of ice caves to spelunk through.
Discover Local Art, Music and Culture
Whistler’s arts and culture scene is growing rapidly, and it’s an open invitation to slow down and discover something deeper about the people and landscape of this place. Get your neurons firing with a walk around Whistler’s new Cultural Connector, a walking path through Whistler Village that connects all the big arts and culture attractions including the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the Whistler Museum, the Audain Art Musuem, The Lost Lake Passiv Haus, public artworks and more. Add in multiple private galleries for browsing and you’ll have entertainment for days.
Like any good arts scene the offerings change from week to week, so the huge list of events, speaker series, live performances, music, movies and more deserve a mention here. Layer in other quirky cultural offerings like Hockey Tours (quintessentially Canadian), the Olympic Self-Guided tour, art workshops with a local artist, workshops offering hands-on learning with the local First Nations crafts and a library and bookstore packed with books and puzzles for all ages and you’ll quickly learn that Whistler is a place with stories as deep as the mountains are high.
Play with the Kids, Hang out with the Teens
Just about all of the outdoor activities on offer are good to do with families, but there’s extra layers to the onion here too. During winter big free events like Family Après (Monday and Wednesday evenings) and the weekly Fire & Ice Show (Sundays and special events) provide easy entertainment.
Arts and culture venues, events and workshops are also great for the kids and there’s some local gems like Escape! Whistler and the indoor climbing at The Core to throw into the mix if anyone starts saying they are bored (they probably won’t). Check out this list of other indoor activities and family travel ideas for more things to do with the smaller humans in your life. Our guide to family winter fun is a great place to dive into the kid-friendly activities, and we’ve even got a local mom’s guide to hanging with babies (it’s way more fun than you think).
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Dine Out in Whistler
There’s over different 100 places to eat in Whistler from cheap and cheerful to high end, so you never have to eat in the same place twice. If you are planning a special dinner or simply want to knock it up a notch for a night, award-winning restaurants – including but not limited to The Rimrock Café, Araxi, Bearfoot Bistro and Red Door Bistro – are on hand to satisfy your tastebuds.
Top tip: always book ahead to ensure you get your preferred day and time. If you aren’t sure where to start our dining guide has a handy list of places broken down by price and meal. And there’s no need to limit yourself to the traditional three square meals a day. Every meal and in-between meal is catered for here – brunch, après-anything, dinner, sweet treats, cheap and cheerful meals, ice cream (yes, even in winter) grab and go meals, family friendly food and more.
Food and Tasting Tours
The dining scene can be pretty overwhelming for new guests to town, so we highly recommend taking a tasting tour for a sample of the local restaurants. The advantage is you’ll hang out with a local guide for a couple of hours and be able to get their recommendations first hand. Whistler Food Tours offer an informative lunchtime food tour and Whistler Tasting Tours are another great way to get a handle on a couple of local places in one night. You’ve always got the chance to go back and sample the full menu later.
For those who like the DIY approach, checking out some of the tasting menus or flights is another great way to have a mini-culinary adventure.
Party Animals, Après Hounds & Night Owls
Socialising is good for your health. Whether you want to après-ski Whistler-style, like to have a casual beer by a firepit after a snowshoe adventure or are looking to cruise from cocktail to club there’s an option for you. We covered nights out pretty well in this 25 Things to Do in the Evening article – have a read and start planning your after-dark adventure. And for those early spring days when you just want some sunshine? Here’s the lowdown on patios for spring après.
Shop ‘til You Drop
Some people make retail therapy into an artform, and in Whistler there’s a tempting array of boutique shops, galleries, gift shops, souvenir stores and artisan markets to discover alongside some big name outdoor and technical gear stores for all your mountain adventure needs (here’s some locally developed winter brands locals like to get you started).
The different neighbourhoods and meandering cobbled walkways create a delightful environment to discover new shops. Sure, you may get snowed on between purchases but that’s far more charming than strip mall lighting. Any good shopper knows that rest stops are crucial to a good walk and shop, and the patios and cafes sprinkled through the shops offer welcome respite for weary feet. Don’t forget to explore the neighbourhoods beyond the Village for hidden gems – a true shopper will sniff them all out.
Relax, Recover, Reconnect
Doing stuff is great, but a real holiday should probably include some serious chill time. There’s options to increase your feelings of relaxation, which when combined with more active days can create a feeling of absolute bliss. Going to a spa, have a float session and stretching it out at yoga are three excellent ways to enhance your wellness – we’ve done the work and put together a couple of suggestions for a DIY Whistler Retreat to help you plan.
At the same time, nothing is stopping you from staying in your hotel all day, having a good old sleep in, reading books, writing, sketching, knitting – whatever makes you feel good and helps you relax. Take gentle walks in nature, take a few photos. Spend hours chilling by the fireplace with hot drink. Or shift to an outdoor patio and watch people come and go along the Village Stroll. Have long, good conversations over a glass of wine. Watch the snow fall. Sometimes slowing down is all you need to let magic happen.
Learn to Ski
Is it possible you might actually be into skiing, but have never had the opportunity to try? Here’s your chance to give it a whirl or introduce your favourite non-skier to a sport they might love, they just don’t know it yet. Heed the advice on skiing with your spouse, though, and get them a lesson or a camp to start them on the path. Let them get out there and get a few turns on Whistler Blackcomb’s green runs, and you might just have a skiing or riding buddy for life.
Hopefully there’s enough here to convince non-skiers that a bit of time out in Whistler is a very good idea indeed. Is it a complete list of things to do in Whistler? Not at all – but it’s a start.
For more ideas or inspiration, check out these itineraries or talk to the good folks at Whistler.com – they live work and play here and have the best insider info around. Let us know if we missed your favourite activity in the comments below!