Insider’s Guide to Hiking the Snow Walls on Whistler Mountain
Every spring Whistler Blackcomb opens for sightseeing, after taking a short pause to service the gondolas and lifts that have been running hard all winter. While the valley has fully melted, the high peaks up top are still blanketed in snow.
Early season sightseeing means the alpine hiking trails are still covered, but Whistler Blackcomb clears the access road to the Peak Chair, leaving canyons of snow for you to explore on your walk to the Peak.
This unique sightseeing experience won’t last long, so check out these tips and get up to Whistler to see the snow walls for yourself before they’re gone.
When to Go
When dealing with snow and hot weather, the best advice I can give you is the sooner the better after alpine sightseeing reopens in May. The walls will get smaller everyday with the late spring and summer heat. If this experience is on your bucket list I recommend planning your visit ASAP to see them in their full glory.
How to Get There
Access to the snow walls is included in the PEAK 2 PEAK 360 Experience. You can buy tickets for just the day, the full season, or use a 2018.19 Epic Pass for access. Start your journey in Skiers Plaza in Whistler Village, where you board the Whistler Village Gondola. Insider Tip: purchase tickets online ahead of your visit to get the best price.
How to Plan Your Hike
The ride up by Gondola will take about 30 minutes, and there’s plenty to see – keep an eye out for bikers, bears and mountain views on the way up. When you get off at the top, stop by the Roundhouse Lodge to use their washroom, and stock up on water and food before your hike.
From the Roundhouse Lodge walk uphill towards the top of the Emerald Chair (or potentially where it used to be, as they are currently upgrading this lift to a 6 person chair for winter 2018.19). The trail you are looking for is Pika’s Traverse Rd to Matthew’s Traverse Rd, which is a distance of 3.8 km (one way). To help you navigate there are printed maps available on the mountain, or you can see a digital version here with distances and suggested times.
The snow walls extend all the way to the top of Peak Chair but be warned, Peak Chair lift access does not start until June 23 (long after the snow walls are gone) so remember to save time and energy to hike back down.
What to Wear
Wearing the right clothes is key to having a great day exploring the snow walls. The weather at the top of the mountain is typically a few degrees cooler than the valley, and wind through the snow walls acts like a natural air conditioner.
When planning your hike make sure to pack layers for cooler weather, including a warm mid-layer, and a windproof outer layer. You can always put them into your pack if you get too warm on the hike up, and you’ll be grateful to have them on the cooler hike down.
Another key to being a happy hiker is good footwear. At a bare minimum you should wear a pair of running shoes. They don’t need to be fancy, but they should have decent grip, and be sturdy enough that you can’t feel rocks through the soles when you walk. I’ve seen people wear all kinds of footwear worn on this hike including sandals and heels, and those wearers looked miserable. Don’t be that guy.
Where to Take the Best Photo
The snow walls are interesting from start to finish, with photo opportunities all along the way, but there are some points that are particularly photogenic. You can find the tallest walls between the Harmony Inukshuk and the top Harmony Chair. Not only are the snow walls tallest there, but there is also a line of sight that looks down the snow walls and through to Blackcomb Mountain. Don’t forget to tag your pics with #OnlyInWhistler to share your shots with fellow adventurers.
Bonus: PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola Ride
Of course while you’re up there on the mountains you also have the chance to ride the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola over to Blackcomb and back. Take note of the lift hours of operation and plan plenty of time to hike the snow walls, ride the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola and download to the Village again – you never want to rush time in the alpine.
For more information on all things outdoors from hiking to paddling to golf, visit Whistler.com.