BANFF, ALBERTA & WHISTLER-BLACKCOMB, BRITISH COLUMBIA – BY BARRY ZEVAN
Skiers and ‘boarders are headed this season to Banff, Alberta or Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia in Canada, March 1st through the 7th. Sitzmark Ski Club will be skiing two of the world’s most justifiably celebrated and popular areas. I’ve skied both of them several times. In my opinion, they’re truly North America’s “Alps”, especially applicable to Whistler-Blackcomb, which I’ll describe farther into this article. But first:
BANFF – During the early days of my broadcasting career, in 1959 and 1960, I worked for a CBC-TV station in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. I also was avidly skiing at that time, thus decided to explore the ski areas in and adjacent to the town of Banff, Alberta.
A bit of history, perhaps adding to the flavor of the area: The town of Banff was named after Banff, the county town of Banffshire County, Scotland. Situated in Scotland’s north, the Scottish Banff was definitely in Scotland’s snow country, thus the founders of Banff, Alberta, knew it would be fitting to name that Canadian town, adjacent to ski areas that either existed or were developed not long after Banff, Alberta’s founding.
The ski areas connected to Banff include Mount Norquay (definitely not for beginners) and Banff Sunshine. Norquay’s runs are mostly for advanced skiers. It’s the closest to the town of Banff, almost within walking distance, situated east of the town.
My favorite is Banff Sunshine, about a fifteen-minute drive north of the town of Banff. Because Sunshine is situated on a plateau, it’s required your car is parked in a parking lot adjacent to the huge-capacity gondola that will transport you to the base of Sunshine at the top of the gondola’s exit point. The runs at Sunshine are long and wide, mostly adaptable to “user-friendly” skiing. From beginners to advanced skiers and ‘boarders, Sunshine is truly one of the WORLD’S smile-evoking ski and boarding areas.
If into quality shopping, I’d recommend the historic Banff Springs Hotel’s gift shop.
WHISTLER-BLACKCOMB – Much farther west, requiring separate transportation reservations and less than an hour’s drive north of the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Whistler-Blackcomb is the largest ski resort in North America and has the greatest uphill lift capacity. It features the Peak-2-Peak Gondola for moving between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains at the top. With all of this capacity, Whistler-Blackcomb is also often North America’s busiest ski resort, frequently surpassing two million visitors a year.
Some history to enhance your visit: Whistler was conceived as part of a bid to win the 1968 Winter Olympics. Although the bid failed, construction started anyway and the resort opened for the first time in January 1966. Blackcomb Mountain, originally a separate entity, opened for business in December 1980 (I was there for that opening). The two resorts underwent a period of intense rivalry through the 1980s and ’90s, with unparalleled constant upgrades and improvements. By the mid-1990s and even now, the area was repeatedly named the best resort in many skiing magazines and has received numerous prestigious awards.
Intrawest, the B.C. real estate firm that developed Blackcomb, purchased Whistler in 1997 and fully merged their operations in 2003. In 2010, Intrawest sold off much of its 75 percent interest in Whistler Blackcomb Resort via a public share offering.
On August 8, 2016, Vail Resorts bought Whistler-Blackcomb Holdings for $1.39 billion Canadian dollars. Nippon Cable’s minority interest in Whistler-Blackcomb Resort has continued throughout the ownership changes, by way of holding a 25 percent interest of the Whistler and Blackcomb partnerships.
Whistler Blackcomb was the centerpiece of a renewed bid on the part of nearby Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, which they won in July 2003. Whistler-Blackcomb hosted the alpine skiing events, including the men’s and women’s Olympic and Paralympics alpine skiing disciplines of Downhill, Super-G, Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super Combined. Whistler-Blackcomb had the second-highest snowfall on record with 1,432 cm (over 14 meters) by the end of the 2009-2010 season.
You’ll probably stay in Whistler Village, a Tyrolean-inspired development, with excellent lodging and eateries. What impressed me most about Whistler-Blackcomb are its seven-mile-long run and the view from the top of that run. The view truly parallels views one sees in the French Alps, but THIS view is of the numerous other Coast Range mountains to the east as far as the eye can see.
Bottom line: Whether going to Banff or Whistler-Blackcomb this season, you will have chosen the best skiing and lodging North America has to offer. Have a great trip!