On the day of my first-ever ski lesson in Whistler, I was harboring a bit of a secret: I was absolutely terrified to try skiing. As I fumbled my way down the stairs of Salomonin rented ski boots whilst juggling an unwieldy pair of skis, I couldn’t help but remember my first – and only – snowboarding experience a few years back. In the span of a few short hours, I’d managed to gouge a hole in a friend’s leg, collect a pound of melting snow down my pants, and spend far more time on my buttocks than on the board itself.
Skiing in Whistler, however, turned out to be a delightfully different experience. After being shepherded onto the Whistler gondola by a cheery, Australian economist-turned-skier sporting a mandatory goggle tan, we arrived at the beginner level of Whistler’s runs.
Learning the Basics
Surrounded by pint-sized skiers quite a bit younger than myself, I quickly realized the difference between learning to tackle winter sports with well-meaning friends versus classes with an actual professional. As a Malaysian couple and I made our way down the run, all ski novices, we practiced changing speeds and turning with exercises that taught us proper form, speeding up our learning considerably. Our Max 4 Ski instructor, Jungle, used basketball examples to get us to “dribble” (bend our knees and curl in) and “shoot” (stretching out straight) when necessary, all while good-naturedly teasing our mistakes and offering up tips.
I was feeling pretty proud of my newly-developed skills, too, until a four-year-old whizzed past me, coming to a perfectly executed stop by the lift. A few more practice rounds might be in order.
Skiing in Whistler was, in one word, transformative. The powder-soft snow was inviting, and the sun overhead meant the April temperature was comfortably warm. As home of the 2010 Winter Olympics and a popular destination for both Canadians and visitors from abroad, I expected long waits in line and hills teeming with activity, but it was surprisingly laidback and friendly. During a full-day lesson, I proudly managed not to injure anyone – although my instructor may or may not have preemptively taken away my poles for the safety of those around me.
The People of Whistler
What really surprised me, though, was the supportive and cozy environment found along Whistler’s slopes. From the British photographer who offered up encouraging tips at the hilltop to the lift operator showing off his kendama skills and high-fiving beginners, Whistler has the comfort of an afternoon with old friends along with its impressive – and somewhat intimidating - 8,100 snowy acres, 200 trails, 16 alpine bowls, and 3 glaciers.
Regardless of where you go in Whistler, you get the same feeling of relaxed belonging. Whistler-ites are all tied together by their addiction to mountain sports, their mish-mash of backgrounds, and their genuine ability to simply enjoy some laidback fun. Whether Olympian ski-cross champion Julia Murray is grabbing lunch with friends at the Garibaldi Lift Company, a filmmaker is spending a sleepless 72 hours filming around Whistler for a competition, or a group of bike riders is coming into the village after a spin, everyone seems to know one another – and they’re all waiting to get back onto the mountain.
Most of the Whistler locals I came across were more than happy to share their story, and a good 90%of them were what I’d call “failed tourists” – they came intending to stay for a weekend or a season, and then they just never left. Having started off as visitors themselves, they’re more than happy to welcome people into their cozy walk-everywhere village.
It’s encouraged me to come back for another stab at winter sports – if not just to soak up a little more of the Whistler environment itself.
Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Tourism Whistler, but all opinions expressed are our own.