Chris Lennon is a North Vancouver based skier, travel writer, and grom sherpa who can be found on Instagram at @chrislennonski
The 21st annual World Ski and Snowboard Festival (or WSSF as it is commonly known) kicks off this Friday, April 8, in Whistler. For many, this will mean ten days of non-stop parties, concerts and a little skiing or riding. For our household, however, it means an annual Whistler family ski vacation.
I’ve been attending the festival regularly since its inception, but it wasn’t until last April during last year’s festival, that I realized just how consistently the WSSF has featured in my, and now my family’s, skiing itinerary each winter. For many years, and particularly while I was living in Whistler around the turn of the millennium, I fully subscribed to the festival’s motto of “party in April and sleep in May.” In more recent years, however, after relocating to Vancouver, I’ve continued to return to the festival each April with my young family.
Both my children made their very first ski turns during the festival under warm sunny skies in the learning area at the base of Blackcomb. They also each made huge leaps in their skiing, again during festival season, by spending a few days in the world class Whistler Kids program which runs from the base of Blackcomb Mountain. As I sat recalling these and other WSSF experiences, while enjoying a Five Rings IPA on a sun-soaked patio and half-heartedly wiping up the larger pieces of food that fell from my 4 year-old son's mouth, I came to the realization that there really is no better time to visit Whistler with a young skiing family.
The festival always runs in early or mid April, so accommodation is easy to find and generally much more affordable than during peak winter season, as many would be visitors have already switched their focus to spring and summer activities. Weather in the valley is generally spring-like which usually means flip-flops will suffice for après ski footwear. It also means that mountain biking is an option for the family before or after time on the hill. We started our first day of last year’s festival with a family ride through the lost lake trail system and on to the Alpine Café for brunch before getting on the slopes around noon for three solid hours of spring skiing.
The spring weather and lower crowds also mean that simply strolling through Whistler Village, whether en route to a sunny patio, the Olympic Plaza, or another destination, is very pleasant. The presence of the bike trials and other pop-up demonstrations, daily free afternoon concerts, children’s entertainers and general festival atmosphere, all ensure kids of all ages can be easily entertained.
My personal preference when attending the festival with our 4 and 6 year-old is to stay in the Upper Village or Benchlands near the base of Blackcomb. This location allows easy access to the valley trail system, the Lost Lake mountain bike trails, and the base of Blackcomb Mountain (which then offers full access to Whistler Mountains via the Peak 2 Peak Gondola). Whistler Village is about a 10 minute walk from the Benchlands but there is never any need to make this journey in ski gear, and it is nice to be able to escape the festival hype in the evenings when you want the kids to start settling down for bed.
One of the best and often overlooked aspects of festival season is the fantastic skiing that always remains in the Alpine. Both mountains remain in full operation through the end of the festival each year and despite the spring weather in the valley, the skiing in the alpine, and often elsewhere on the mountains, always remains in prime condition. It is not atypical to get at least one good dump of fresh snow during the 10 day festival. At worst, you will experience excellent spring skiing on near empty slopes.
Back to my IPA on the sunny patio at the end of our bike and ski day; we didn’t know it at the time, but as the sun set on our first day of last year’s festival, the clouds rolled in, the snow began to fall in the alpine and we spent the next three days skiing boot top powder before returning to the enjoy the spring weather in the valley each afternoon.
The 21st annual WSSF runs April 8-17 2016
Top events to check-out: Pro Photographer Showdown, Multiplicity, Intersection
For accommodation check: www.whistlerblackcomb.com
More info, concert listings, and tickets found at: www.wssf.com