Destination of the Week: Whistler, BC

Jan 13, 2012

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A recent shot of Whistler...looks like there's snow!

For the second installment of our new Destination of the Week Series (the first was last week’s on Park City), we continue with ski destinations in honor of the winter weather we hope will eventually come to the U.S. and provide fantastic skiing for alpine enthusiasts.

In the meantime, we heard from a bunch of TPG readers that the place to go for some good powder so far this winter is Whistler, up in British Columbia, and it just so happens that there are several great options both for flying and staying using your miles and points.

Whistler has been one of North America’s premier ski destinations since the late 1960’s, and only got more popular after the opening of nearby Blackcomb Mountain near Whistler Village in the late ‘80’s. Combined, the two mountains have hundreds of trails, dozens of lifts, and runs for every level of skier and snowboarder.

Not a big skier or snowboarder? You can do all kinds of other activities including snowshoeing, dogsledding, ice skating and ice climbing while you’re there.

Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain.

Getting There

The gateway to Whistler, and the nearest major airport, is Vancouver, a two-hour drive away along the Sea-to-Sky Highway.  Vancouver is a pretty big hub that services over 40 carriers that connects directly to 22 US cities and 17 international destinations according to the Whistler-Blackcomb site. Some of the major airlines that fly there from the US include Alaska, American, Delta and US Airways, a while you can also snag seats on Air Canada and WestJet, meaning you have options to use your miles in every major alliance. Plus, as I’ve done before,  you can actually catch the North America portion of a major international connection, like Cathay Pacific’s JFK-Vancouver-Hong Kong route (as Brian did this past summer), or Air Canada’s flight from Toronto-YVR-SYD, so that even on a short or mid-haul, you’re using your points for international business class instead of old school domestic.

Once you’re at Vancouver, there are several limo, motorcoach and car services to get you to Whistler, as well as shuttles from various hotels.

For even more flight availability within the US, you could also consider flying to Seattle/Tacoma instead, which is about a 5-hour drive from Whistler.

Ski and Stay

The exterior of the Westin Whistler.

Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler: This all-suite Craftsman-style hotel right in Whistler Village seems to be a TPG reader go-to. Standard rooms here are the Junior Suites, which have an open layout connecting the living room to the bedroom. The color palette is pretty neutral in tones of beige and green meant to evoke the surroundings. They have kitchenettes with dishwashers and Sub-Zero fridges, a pullout sofa bed, and either two queens or a twin-split king in the bedrooms. It also looks like they have fireplaces, a work desk and flat-screen TV’s in the living room and bedroom. Some have patios. In higher room categories, the hotel has larger one-bedroom, two-bedroom and bi-level Mountain Suites with two bedrooms. WiFi for SPG non-elites costs $14.99 CAD ($14 USD) a day.

A standard junior suite at the Westin Whistler.

Additional amenities here include the Wine Spectator award-winning Aubergine Grille Restaurant, and more laidback FireRock Lounge, as well as an Avello Spa and fitness center. Though in the village, the hotel claims to have ski-in/ski-out access to Blackcomb Mountain and its 17 lifts, and it also offers free shuttle service to Whistler Mountain’s ski and snowboarding trails, plus ski valet service to store your gear when you’re not using it. Rates at the end of January start at $339 CAD ($330 USD) or 12,000 Starpoints a night. Cash & Points isn’t available presumably because it’s high season, but when it is available, it’s 4,800 Starpoints + $90.

The Hilton Whistler at night.

Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa: Also located in Whistler Village is the Hilton

Rooms have a “mountain-style” aesthetic of neutral taupes and grays and generic furniture. They also feature mountain views, fully equipped kitchenettes, beds with 250 threadcount sheets, granite counters and vanities, work desks and new 37-inch flat-screens. Standards come with one king or two double beds. The hotel also has Junior, one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, and it looks like they all have fireplaces except for the King and Queen Junior Suites.

The resort has an après-ski bar called Cinnamon Bear Bar, and a fancier restaurant called the Cinnamon Bear Grille, as well as a Javanese-style Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa for relaxing off the slopes. Guests here have access to nearby Blackcomb Mountain and its 200 trails via the gondola station a few minutes’ walk from the hotel—so it’s not easy ski-in/ski-out access, but it shouldn’t be too far. The hotel also has a “Fresh Tracks” program where guests can be the first ones up on the mountain in the morning, enjoy breakfast at the Roundhouse Lodge and then hit the slopes as soon as the ski patrol determines it’s safe.

The living room of a one-bedroom suite at the Hilton Whistler.

Rates in January start at $303 CAD ($297 USD). High-speed internet and local calls are included in the room rate. This is a Category 7 Hilton property, meaning one free night costs 50,000 Hilton HHonors points, though we couldn’t find any free nights this month, so try February or March before the season ends in April if you’re interested.

The dramatic exterior of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Fairmont Chateau Whistler: This palatial hotel is certainly the grande dame in town. It was designed to emulate some of Canada’s famous historic chateaux hotels, and opened back in 1989, then underwent an expansion in 1997 that added 221 guest rooms, bringing the total to 550 guest rooms and suites. Standard rooms, called “Moderate Rooms,” are just 300 square feet with one queen bed and slope views, while the next step up, Fairmont Rooms, are 100 square feet bigger and have a king or two queens. The hotel is located at the base of Blackcomb Mountain with ski-in/ski-out access to the slopes, and it’s also about a five-minute walk from the Village of Whistler.

A one-bedroom suite at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Its onsite restaurants include the gourmet and seasonally inspired Wildflower, the more casual Grill Room and Wine Room bar, and Portobello Market and Fresh Bakery for deli selections. It also has a high-end Vida Spa for working the kinks out of those tired muscles at the end of the day. Those booking Fairmont Gold (club) rooms have their own special reception up in the 8th-floor Gold Lounge, where they can use a hotel laptop, and enjoy complimentary continental breakfast in the mornings and cocktails and canapés in the evening, as well as coffee, tea and an honor bar all day.

Unless they’re the top-tier Platinum members of Fairmont’s President’s Club, FPC members don’t receive complimentary nights (and even Platinum members only get one free night per every 10 stayed), but even basic membership does come with a slew of perks including complimentary in-room internet and local calls, use of Fairmont Fit workout gear (not ski gear, which you can rent), and airline mile bonuses on partners including American, Alaska, Cathay, Etihad, Lufthansa, Singapore and United among others per stay. You can see the list of elite benefits here. So if you’re thinking of staying here, might as well join the club. Rates for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler at the end of January start at $379 CAD ($371 USD) a night.


Whistler's stunning scenery from above.

Marriott: Unfortunately, though there used to be a Marriott Residence Inn in the Upper Village at Blackcomb, it looks like it was dropped by Marriott and taken over privately and turned into the Coast Blackcomb Suites at Whistler, so Marriott Rewards members might be out of luck using points for this destination.

Just to  note, there are a few other luxury options around the area too, including the ultra-luxe Four Seasons at Whistler, and two PanPacific properties: the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre and the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside. While Pan Pacific does have the GHA Discovery Loyalty Programme, it seems more focused on providing frequent guests with elite-status perks like room upgrades, late checkout and curated local experiences, as well as the opportunity to earn frequent flyer miles with airline partners, rather than accumulating free nights, so no points stays here, unfortunately.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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