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How to avoid ski lift lines in Whistler

The long lift line. The mere thought of it keeps most skiers up at night or more often, in bed in the morning. A lot of people ask us “how long are the lines at Whistler?”. Generally speaking, not as bad as you may have heard from your cousin’s great-uncle’s best friend who visited once 10 years ago over the Christmas holiday. Though, as with most ski resorts, there certainly can be long queues over peak periods (see nausea-inducing photo from Colorado below).

Mabey Ski’s Ben Cooke has lived and skied in Whistler for 11 winters, with over 750 days under his belt at Whistler Blackcomb. We are here to share his top tips on avoiding lift lines at Whistler (or any other resort) so you can spend more time skiing powder with your friends.

Table of contents

  1. Avoid holidays and weekends
  2. Use local webcams
  3. Hire a guide or instructor
  4. Fresh tracks breakfast
  5. Head to the backountry
  6. Ski later in the day
  7. Summary
- Vail lift queue. credit Reddit user u/lonely-rider

Avoid public holidays and weekends

Easier said than done for most Monday-Friday 9-5ers but put simply, weekdays are considerably quieter than weekends. Add 20cms+ of powder on top of that and you’re in for a long day of standing around. If you can twist your boss’s arm and take a Friday or Monday off instead of your regular Saturday/Sunday, you will be blown away by how much quieter it is in resort. In the modern world of remote working, why not take your laptop up to the Roundhouse, or make a phone call on the chairlift?

Public holidays again mean a huge influx of skiers and snowboarders into Whistler, and with this come the mega lift queues. Whilst avoiding Canadian public holidays will ensure you don’t run into too many fellow Canadians, being so close to the US means avoiding the US public holidays as well. Particularly busy at MLK weekend, Presidents Week and of course Spring Break. Although it does make for fantastic people watching…

big crowd lining up at ski lift station in Whistler

Use your local webcams

I like to use an amazing service run by a fellow Whistler local called Whistler Peak. His amazing website not only collates almost every data point imaginable on which lifts and runs are open, but also shows you live webcam feeds on each of the base station lifts. Take a look at his site before you head up, and pick the lift with the shortest line — easy. Whilst you’re at it, you can buy him a coffee for providing this absolute lifesaver of a website. If you ski Whistler regularly, or even once a year, bookmark this website and save it for your next trip (you can thank me later). Many other resorts have live webcam feeds of their lift lines, although often not provided by the resorts themselves for obvious reasons. Try seeing if any of the resort’s base hotels have a live webcam — you might just find one. And if you run a hotel, why not set one up and blow your web traffic through the roof!

screenshot of 3 webcam still images and weather information for Whistler

Hire a Guide or an Instructor

Here in Whistler you can hire an instructor for the day, join a group lesson or hire a steep skiing coach for the day. Not only will these guys show you their best powder stashes, but you will also get lift line priority. That’s right, you are allowed to push in line — cool eh?! Pricing varies for these lessons, but you can gather a group of up to 5 of you and skip the line all day and get some pro coaching whilst you’re at it. Or if you’re just looking to ski hard all day, you can use your instructor as an access-all-areas queue jump pass for the day (don’t forget to tip them for showing you the goods!). We have an amazing network of specific instructors and larger-than-life guides who work at Whistler Blackcomb and Extremely Canadian, so if you want the inside scoop on who will be the most appropriate guide for you, get in touch with a member of the Mabey Ski team.

skier with a ski instructor standing and talking at the top of a snowy mountain

Fresh Tracks Breakfast

Each morning from mid December onwards, Whistler Blackcomb offer a Fresh Tracks Breakfast program (although it was just an early upload without breakfast during covid — hopefully back to normal for 2022/23). You upload at 07:00, eat as much as you can before the bell rings, and then it’s go, go, go! You can usually squeeze in at least two laps of perfect corduroy or deep powder, before any other skiers or boarders makes their way up the gondola. These will be the smallest lift lines you will ever see and I can’t recommend this experience enough. Tickets are limited to 650 people, so if it’s a powder day get there early, or do what I often do and head there on a relaxed morning, enjoy the breakfast and coffee then smash out a couple of empty, perfectly groomed runs. Tickets are typically around $25 to upgrade.

skier making a turn in deep powder snow surrounded by trees

Head into the backcountry

Whistler Blackcomb is an incredible resort and has more terrain than you can shake a hundred sticks at, but if you really want to avoid lift lines completely, then maybe it’s time to get out into the backcountry. We specialise in booking the best ski guides and heli-ski operations in Whistler, and guarantee you no lines. You don’t have to be a seasoned pro to do this, if you can make it down most blue runs and have a reasonable level of fitness, guided backcountry ski touring and heli-skiing are easier than you might think. If you’re looking to get some exercise, breathe fresh air and be at one with the mountains with a professional guide, then ski touring is definitely the way to go. We offer a variety of intro and beginner courses all the way through to expert guiding down gnarly backcountry couloirs. Chat to one of our Whistler-based team to see how you can get out into the backcountry in Whistler. If you’re looking for more of an adrenaline-junkie, all-guns-blazing day, then you should put a day (or multiple days) of heli-skiing on your radar. Check out our blog below to see if you are ready for a day in the helicopter (hint: it’s easier than you think).

3 skiers ascend a snow covered slope in a line

Ski Later in the Day

This works especially well on a deep powder day, when the alpine lifts take longer to open and the crowds flood straight to line up for the Peak Chair or Glacier Chair. Don’t get me wrong, waiting in line for an hour is sometimes worth it on those epic days, but for those of you who don’t fancy lining up at 6am, then take a look at the webcams I mentioned earlier and hit the quietest lift available at 10-11am and ski until close. Most skiers’ legs aren’t as rock solid and they think, and a lot of people are exhausted by midday, which leaves you a nice quiet resort to ski at your leisure. The other option is to lap the lower lifts on a powder day… everyone is so distracted by the alpine that they often miss the low-hanging fruit that is right in front of them. There’s a reason that Garbanzo chair and Excelerator chair are consistently my most ridden chairs.

On that same note — some of the best days I’ve ever had have been the afternoon before a powder day. The snow is piling up and most people have skied down because visibility has lowered, but I suggest braving the storm. I have had many a powder faceshot at 2pm, with barely a sole on the hill, as everyone is busy getting ready for an early morning line up the next day. If you can time these days just right, you feel like you have cheated the system, so keep an eye on those weather models!

single ski line in fresh snow leading to helicopter with advertising caption

Summary

Lift lines are a necessary evil at most ski resorts, but without thousands of happy skiers descending up, Whistler Blackcomb wouldn’t be able to spin their lifts. I hope with these top tips your next powder day will be just that little bit easier.

If you’re looking to ski here this winter, let Mabey Ski plan your ski trip and help you experience Whistler the right way — like a local. Our travel experts are die-hard skiers with decades of experience in Whistler and beyond and are here to help you make your next trip one to remember.