Last weekend my wife and I had a surprise afternoon free on Friday. Not quite sure how to take advantage of this, we realized there was already snow in Whistler and decided to drive up for our first ski trip of the season. The Hilton had a discounted rate available for Washington and BC residents, for CAD$368 (about USD$287), that included free parking and a 1 PM late check-out. As both my wife and I are Hilton Honors Gold members, we also received free breakfast.
Award rates seem to hover around 50,000 points per night. I briefly saw the hotel listed at 34,000 points when I looked earlier this year for similar dates. However, that price has never come back. Maybe if you book far in advance you’ll have better luck.
Many rooms at this hotel include a kitchenette, and we specifically reserved a junior suite with a fireplace, too. This turned out to be a small let down as the eco-friendly fire log struggled to catch fire, and opening the flue seemed only to let in smoke from other rooms. Regardless, it was a nice touch. Guests receive one complimentary log per day and after that they charge CAD$3 each.
Although there’s no formal dining area, the kitchen had enough supplies to prepare three meals a day. There’s also a grocery store a short walk away in the village, so you can buy almost anything you need.
My impression was that the hotel would make a good choice for families. Even our single room was large enough for a family of four if you want to put the kids on the sofa bed, although connecting rooms are an option. Laundry facilities were down the hall next to the elevator. The one flaw was the lack of any large dressers or armoires. This was fine for a couple nights with two people but would likely result in clothes strewn about on an extended trip.
I felt the same way about the bathroom. It had some extra features, like a separate bidet and a bathtub that converts to a Jacuzzi, but I think it would have been more useful to add a second sink. I can just imagine parents and two kids trying to get read for the morning snow with a single sink — chaos!
Bath amenities were the standard Peter Thomas Roth at most Hilton hotels. They don’t inspire strong feelings from me, and they seem to do the trick. My wife, at least, doesn’t complain.
In the morning we were able to look outside and see a small balcony attached to our room. Two small chairs barely fit on the narrow ledge. In any case, it was far too cold to be sitting outside, and the view is much better from the top of the mountain.
Lifts close at 3 PM, so we spent what little daylight was left on Saturday afternoon lounging in the hot tub. There’s a second indoor hot tub which is filled with quality Hot Tub Chemicals, as well as a fitness center and sauna. The pool is not as hot but still warm enough if you want to do some swimming. Typically we saw parents in the hot tub with a discrete adult beverage and children in the swimming pool, having more fun.
Breakfast was served each morning at the Cinnamon Bear Bar & Grille. There are enough Gold and Diamond members (and other guests staying on inclusive rates) that the hotel has a checklist for all the guests receiving the complimentary buffet.
Food was pretty good for a Hilton buffet. There was a selection of fresh fruit, bacon and sausage, oatmeal, and a choice between cheesy scrambled eggs ready to go or a wait at the omelette station. Service was very friendly, and the total came out to about CAD$56, tip included. All we had to do was sign and go.
You can also stop at the lounge next door for a drink after you get back from the slopes. There was some action at the pool table and live music most times that we were passing by.
We enjoyed the hotel a lot, and considered the level of amenities and service just right for a weekend ski vacation. With underground parking and a location just steps from the slopes, we never had to trek very far while lugging heavy gear. Breakfast was served as early as 7 AM, which was more than enough time before the lifts open at 8:30 AM.
The pool area felt a little crowded, but there was also the Jacuzzi bath tub in our room if we really needed to unwind. Honestly, that matters more to my wife than to me. I appreciated that we had plenty of space to stretch out and relax for a decent rate, even after booking at the last minute.
One of the great things about Whistler is the village at the base of the mountain. Dozens of hotels and condos, with shops and restaurants on ground level, are built along a plaza that sits on top of a parking garage. It’s convenient and provides ready access to the slopes. On our second day, after we already had our equipment and lift tickets, it was just 10 minutes from the Hilton lobby to our seat on the gondola.
Whistler is so far north that lifts close at 3 PM, and there’s no night skiing that I’m aware of. In addition, nearly everyone needs to go up from the same base, so there can be some crowds. A malfunctioning gondola on our first morning created a one-hour delay. I’m also not a fan of the après ski party crowd. While warning guests not to drink and ski, the resort had advertisements boasting about how many truckloads of beer they served last year.
We spent our time shopping and eating. Whistler has some great restaurants, perhaps because so many of the staff are temporary guest workers from around the world. We go to the Mexican Corner Restaurant every time we visit, and on this trip we also came across Bar Oso, which reminded us so much of the tapas we enjoyed on our last visit to Spain.
If you have to wait for a table, there are plenty of decorations to entertain small children, and a skating rink on the other side of the village.
In summary, Whistle does many things well and I can see how hard they cater to families and tourists. It’s not the kind of locals-only skiing you might find at other mountains. They also benefit from cold temperatures and lots of early snow. If you are visiting from outside the Pacific Northwest, I recommend flying into Vancouver to skip the border checks on I-5, which can run 30 minutes or longer. Bellingham also has commercial flights and is much closer than Seattle.