Whistler on a shoestring

Planning a working holiday in beautiful Whistler? Here’s how to survive if your suitcase isn’t stuffed with cash!


When you hear the word ‘Whistler’, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?

It’s skiing, right?!

No surprises there. After all, Whistler is world-renowned as a fantastic ski resort. And thousands of working holidaymakers from around the globe pinpoint Whistler for this exact reason. What better place to enjoy the slopes, nightlife and earn a few bucks on the side?!

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But while there are many pros to setting up a working holiday base in Whistler, there is one significant con. The cost.

Full to the brim with luxury hotels, retail shops and expensive restaurants, the British Columbia town is not exactly the cheapest ski resort in the world. And don’t forget the cost of an all-important ski pass can be quite substantial.

But you don’t have to burn a big hole in your pocket to enjoy your time there.

With a bit of advance planning, you can enjoy Whistler on a budget. And here’s our top 5 tips for doing just that.

(1) Getting there

How are you planning to get to Whistler?

Many working holidaymakers fly into Vancouver and make their way from there. However, it is worth considering a detour on your route.

Flights to the north-west American city of Seattle can often be substantially cheaper (depending on when you want to go). So, if you’ve got some time on your hands, why not consider a stop-off in the USA?

Drive time from Seattle to Vancouver is around three hours (or about four and a half if you travel by bus) with Whistler a further 1.5 hours down the road. If you don’t have a car for the Vancouver – Whistler trip, then the easiest way to get there is to take the Snowbus.

(2) Where to stay

Beware! Accommodation in Whistler can cost a fortune, especially in the winter. The key to saving money is to shop around.

As accommodation is very scarce, it’s a good idea to try get yours sorted before you arrive. If that’s not possible, you can book into a temporary option while you search for the best value accommodation for the longer term.

For temporary options, HI-Whistler hostel is one of the cheapest places to get some shut-eye after a long day on the ‘pow’!

The hostel is located in the Whistler Olympic Village and was used as athlete accommodation during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Here you’ll find everything you need including a self-catering kitchen, large dining room, TV lounge with flat screen TV, games room, licensed café and board and ski storage. Plus it’s only a short drive from the slopes!

Or, if you’re really looking to save some cash, why not try ‘CouchSurfing’? Here you can connect with Whistler residents who offer free stays on their couches or in spare rooms.

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A good way to start your search for a place to stay longer term is to keep an eye on Whistler Rental Facebook pages.

Although the wages are often far from sky-high, one perk that many Whistler employers offer is to offer staff housing at a subsidised rate (as well as food, gear and the cost of a ski pass). So keep this in mind when you’re on the job hunt.

(3) Getting your ski pass

It’s likely you’ll want to hit the slopes pretty soon after you arrive in Whistler. To do this you’ll need to get your hands on a ski pass and, unfortunately, they aren’t cheap! Often they come in at around $1,000 – $2,000 for a season pass.

But there are some ways to reduce your ski costs.

For starters, if you are travelling through Vancouver, you can purchase single day passes in 7-Elevens at a cheaper rate than the resorts in Whistler. Another option for cutting costs is to pre-purchase your tickets online on the Whistler Blackcomb website. You can also make some significant savings if you opt to ski later in the year. Once Whistler closes in April, lift prices drop significantly for Blackcomb-only skiing.

Or you could save money by settling for a half day pass and just go skiing in the afternoon.

But if you’re determined to ski from the start of the season until it’s close, the Whistler Experience Spirit Pass is a cheaper ticket option than most.

Overall, if you want to save some money on skiing, just make sure you don’t buy a same-day pass in high-season at the ticket kiosk as this will be the most expensive option.

Aside from ski passes, ski and snow gear can also be very expensive too. Renting gear for the day can cost between $100-$200 but most people can purchase what they need for less than $300 – as long as you’re happy to buy your gear second hand. The Whistler Buy & Sell Facebook page is a fantastic resource to use if you’re hoping to pick up good value second hand gear.

Websites such as craigslist can be very helpful for finding what you need for the slopes at cheap prices. Be sure also to look for garage and car boot sales and to check out Facebook groups to find good value.

(4) Things to do away from the slopes

The good news? There’s lots to do away from the ski slopes in Whistler. The better news? Lots of these options are cheap or even free.

For example, spring skiers can watch professional ski and snowboarding competitions and hear tons of bands in the annual World Ski & Snowboard Festival, which takes place in April. There’s loads of ski and snowboarding competitions and free outdoor concerts to enjoy at the base of the Whistler Village Gondola.

Or why not take one of the free ‘fire and ice’ show which take place every Sunday night (December 17, 2017 – March 25, 2018)? Here you’ll see boarders and skiers leaping through fiery hoops!

After a long hard day on the slopes a relaxing swim could be the perfect tonic. And you don’t have to stay in a fancy hotel to enjoy a nice pool. Instead, check out the municipal Meadow Park Sports Centre. Here you can take a dip in the big pool or relax in the hot tub, sauna or steam room. The complex also has an indoor skating rink, squash courts and weight room. Adult admission starts at $8.50.

Or if you’re looking for a good work out, pop into Core Gym. Here you can climb, take a fitness class, or exercise in the gym.

Snowshoeing is another reasonable cheap option for entertainment in Whistler, especially if you enjoy being oot and aboot! You can hire snowshoes from the Hi-Whistler hostel (4hrs for $8 or 1 day for $12) and head out and explore the many trails in the area.

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(5) Cheap food and drink

Once you come off the slopes, it’s fairly likely you’ll have worked up a considerable appetite. And there are some options for dining out on a budget.

Located in the heart of Whistler, at El Furniture Warehouse all food costs $4.95 including starters, main courses and sweet treats to finish off! Or if tacos are your thing, check out La Cantina where there are a number of options for as little as $3.25.

At Creekbread – grab an amazing pizza and a $10 pitcher! And every Tuesday night, Creekbread donates a portion of every Creekbread sold to a local a local non-profit so you can enjoy great value for a great cause.

If you’re looking to party, Whistler is nearly as legendary for its nightlife as it is for its slopes!

There are a ton of pub and club options and some will be easier on your wallet than others. Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub, Brewhouse and Rolands are all great choices if you’re on the look-out for a good atmosphere and reasonably priced drinks.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the Whistler Bites website as it’s full of great food and drink deals.

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