Whistler Blackcomb setting gold standard for resorts

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CAN-WhistlerSkiDoes being No. 1 get old? For the 13th year in a row, Skiing magazine has named Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia the best overall resort. It also pulled in first and second rankings at Freeskier and Ski magazines, respectively.

This year, however, the kudos are especially sweet given the buzz surrounding the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, to be held in Vancouver from Feb. 12 to 28. Whistler Blackcomb, located about two hours away, will be a host venue for several of the most avidly watched events, including alpine and Nordic skiing, ski jumping, bobsled, luge and the biathlon.

Vancouver and Whistler will also host the 10th Paralympic Winter Games, March 12 to 21.

The resort, which boasts 8,000 acres of terrain, including 16 alpine bowls, three glaciers and 200 trails, routinely wins awards for its size and variety. What was lacking -- a gondola link between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains -- has now been rectified, thanks to the new Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which opened to much fanfare in 2008.

Dave Brownlie, president and COO at Whistler Blackcomb, credited the combination of those factors as well as the robust apres-ski and restaurant scenes for the strong votes in readers' polls.

To would-be visitors worried that the Winter Olympics might disrupt their visit to the resort this year, resort staff are quick to point out that 90% of Whistler Blackcomb's terrain will be open and accessible throughout the Games, as will three of the four base areas.

In addition, the city of Whistler launched "Ask Me! I'm a Local," a community-led program designed to match visitors with volunteer residents throughout the city who are willing to stop and give directions, offer suggestions and share their knowledge of their area.

Lodging bargains

Early-bird discounts are especially strong this year, with discounts of up to 39% on bookings made by Nov. 15.

The resort has offered a guarantee that if visitors find a better deal later in the season, Whistler Blackcomb will make up the difference.

Ski-and-stay packages start at about $82 per person per night, with the official opening day for the 2009-10 season slated for Nov. 26.

The new Aava Whistler Hotel, set to open this season after a two-year construction period, unveiled introductory rates that start at about $93 per room from Nov. 26 through Dec. 24. To be eligible, bookings must be made by Nov. 15.

The 193-room property, situated in Whistler Village within walking distance of the lifts, features flat-screen TVs, free WiFi, iPod docking stations and Aveda toiletries. Other features include five wheelchair-accessible suites, ski storage and 24-hour concierge as well as a heated, outdoor swimming pool; fitness center; and meetings facilities.

The hotel restaurant, called White Spot, is accessible from the hotel via tunnel.

The Discover Whistler Prior 2010 Winter Package at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler includes five nights' accommodations, breakfast, a pair of Prior skis or snowboard to take home, three days of skiing on the men's 2010 Olympic downhill run and a resort credit of about $188, valid in the Fifty Two 80 Bistro and Bar and for room service or at the spa.

The package is priced at about $1,892 per person, double, and is good throughout the 2010 ski season, with blackout dates during the Games.

Clients can also opt for the Four Seasons' Gold Medal package, which bundles in dining with accommodation rates. Rates, which start at about $1,140, double, with a three-night minimum.

For more information on the Four Seasons, visit www.fourseasons.com/whistler. For more on the Aava Whistler Hotel, go to www.aavawhistlerhotel.com. For general information on Whistler Blackcomb, see www.whistlerblackcomb.com.

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