It’s easy for a quick weekend at Whistler, B.C., to turn into a pricey vacation. Here are ways to avoid blowing your entire ski-season budget in one trip.
Whistler Blackcomb is the world-class resort in our own backyard. With 8,171 acres of terrain and more than 2 million annual skier visits, the Canadian powder playground is also one of the largest and most-visited ski areas in all of North America.
Unfortunately, world-class resorts often come with world-class prices. Although $300-per-night hotel rooms and $100 lift tickets are easier to swallow with the favorable exchange rate, it’s still easy to let a weekend ski trip turn into a pricey vacation.
But, for those who prioritize time on the slopes over time in the hotel spa, there are ways to visit Whistler without blowing your entire ski-season budget in one trip. Some tips:
Never buy lift tickets at the resort
Residents of Washington, Oregon and Canada can shred for less by buying a preloaded Edge Card at least 48 hours before hitting the slopes. The cards are good all season, and the more days you purchase, the lower the rate. Through Nov. 21, adult Edge Cards are on sale for $96 Cdn. for a single day, up to $729 for 10 days. (At press time, the exchange rate was 75 cents USD to $1 Cdn.) Don’t forget your photo ID and proof of residency (e.g., driver’s license) if you’ll pick up your card at the resort.
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Planning several ski trips this winter? Consider buying a multi-resort season pass. Whistler’s recent sale to Vail Resorts means the Canadian resort is included on both the Epic and Mountain Collective passes for the 2016-17 season. Each pass has certain perks and restrictions; be sure to read the fine print carefully.
Plan ahead for food, fuel and alcohol
Gas and booze cost more in B.C., thanks to higher taxes. Save money by filling your fuel tank and cooler before crossing the border. Travelers to Canada are allowed to bring one of the following: 40 ounces of liquor, two standard bottles of wine, or 24 12-ounce cans or bottles of beer. Those limits are per adult, so pick your poison and ask your ski buddy to bring the backup supply.
If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, cooking some of your own meals is a simple way to cut costs. Travelers are allowed to bring food across the border into Canada, but the rules are somewhat complicated. Rather than risk an extended customs search, make a Costco run in the Vancouver metropolitan area, or check out the IGA supermarket in Whistler Marketplace.
Try unconventional lodging options
Just looking for a spot to rest your head after a long day of skiing? Shared accommodations such as hostels and owner-occupied Airbnb units can cost significantly less than even the most basic hotel rooms.
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A friend’s impromptu birthday trip last March had me scrambling to find last-minute lodging close to Whistler Village, where other people in our party would be staying and celebrating. I knew my partner and I would spend most of our time on the slopes or at the bar, so I booked us a room on Airbnb that was the size of a large walk-in closet. Was it the most comfortable place I’ve slept? Not by a longshot. But at a cost of around $300 Cdn. for two nights, the room met our needs and was hundreds of dollars cheaper than the available alternatives.
If you’re willing to sacrifice a spot right in the Village for a bit more privacy and comfort, the Whistler Lodge Hostel offers private rooms for $100 Cdn. and is a short drive or bus-ride away from the main base areas. The lodge, built in 1965 by students from the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club, features a communal sauna and hot tub, and secure ski storage.
A few minutes farther down the highway, Hostel International Whistler was originally part of the athletes’ village during the 2010 Olympic Games. The modern building includes a lobby cafe serving beer and wine in addition to the typical coffeehouse fare. Private rooms with a queen bed, TV and a private bathroom range from $76 to $122 Cdn.
Work the specials
Set on a traditional hotel? Book early — or late. Nov. 15 (that’s this coming Tuesday) is Whistler’s early booking deadline for special hotel rates and lift-and-lodging packages. A recent search on whistlerblackcomb.com found a three-night stay for two adults in early March priced at $156 Cdn. per night at a 3-star hotel in Whistler Village. Kids under 12 also stay and ski for free when you book a family package by phone (888-403-4727) before Nov. 15.
Not the plan-ahead type? Tourism Whistler’s “Suite Secrets” promotion offers last-minute unsold hotel rooms starting at $99 Cdn. per night. The catch? You don’t learn the name of the hotel until after you book.