The first time I snapped on skis in Whistler Blackcomb ("Whistler") was in the 1980s, when the magic carpet had yet been introduced at the ski school and beginners relied on an archaic rope tow system to get to the top of the bunny slope. My first experience on skis was at Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park and my second was on Grouse Mountain. By the time we got to Whistler, my parents were hooked and were ready to return with us kids in tow over and over again.
I've long lost count of the number of times I've visited Whistler. Suffice to say I've watched it transform over the years into the mammoth that it is today. The only thing unchanged is my pathetic skiing skills!
In recent years, skiing has become such a popular sport with Singaporeans that it's hard to turn a corner in Niseko United ("Niseko") without running into another Singaporean. It's easy to understand why Niseko is the preferred choice for Singaporean powderhounds. After all, it takes half the time needed to get to Whistler to get to Niseko, travel costs are consequentially lower, and there's minimal time difference with Singapore. In addition, Niseko is famed for its abundance of extraordinarily powdery snow, sought after by ski enthusiasts all round the world.
Is Niseko better than Whistler though? Having experienced both, my personal view is an emphatic NO, and I can think of at least 12 reasons why.
No. 1: Whistler has More Ski Runs and Greater Variety of Terrain than Niseko.
Being the largest ski resort in North America, Whistler is more than 3.7 times larger than Niseko. Niseko has a total of 2,191 acres of skiable terrain and 61 ski runs, whilst Whistler has 8,171 acres of skiable terrain and 200 ski runs.
Bigger is definitely better when it comes to ski resorts. I mean, would an adrenaline junkie pick a theme park with 200 rollercoasters or one with a third of that?
No. 2: Presence of a Well-Connected Ski Village in Whistler
The absence of a proper ski village in Niseko was quite a disappointment to me when we got there. The 4 main areas of Niseko are Hirafu, Niseko Village, Hanazono and Annupuri. As these 4 areas are all separately owned, there is no impetus to develop a centralised area for hanging out, shopping and eating. After skiing, people generally just stayed within their own hotels or self-catering properties and had their meals there. At most, they would head to an eatery close by for meals. There were very few retail outlets, so shopping was not even a real option.
In comparison, Whistler Village at the base of Whistler Mountain has hundreds of shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, dance club and even a cinema. It is a vibrant village where one can look forward to an exciting dose of retail therapy and copious amounts of good food. You can easily spend hours at the pretty pedestrian-only village. Whilst skiers hit the slopes, non-skiers in the family will be well-entertained in the village.
Free shuttle buses ply the whole of Whistler, so getting to the village is a breeze. Niseko has a shuttle bus too, but it is not technically free. It is free for those with a ski pass only, though we haven't seen the drivers ask to see people's passes.
No. 3: Lots of Sightseeing Options in Whistler, even for Non-Skiers.
Sightseeing options in Whistler outnumber those in Niseko many times over. Some of these include exploring various parks in Whistler on foot, taking the gondola for a bird's eye view of the resort, going snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dogsledding and floating down the Cheakamus and Squamish rivers to view eagles in the wild.
No. 4: More Accommodation Choices in Whistler
Being a much larger resort, Whistler has a wider range of accommodation options available from ultra-luxurious serviced suites in renowned hotels to backpackers' hostels. Ski-in ski-out accommodation to those in the heart of the village. Full-service to self-catering. There's something for every budget.
No. 5: Whistler has Well-Stocked Supermarkets within Easy Reach
One of the most enjoyable aspects of a ski holiday is to prepare your own meals in a self-catering property with a fully-equipped kitchen. Having access to a good supermarket is key to stocking up on groceries.
The only proper supermarket in the Niseko area is MaxValue in the neighbouring town of Kutchan. Not exactly within easy reach. We stayed in Hirafu and there were 2 convenience stores within walking distance from our apartment, but they didn't have the full range of ingredients for cooking. Fortunately, the property manager for our apartment was kind enough to arrange one complimentary trip to MaxValue for us to pick up our groceries. We were driven to MaxValue and given 30 minutes to grab what we needed.
Whistler, on the other hand, has several well-stocked supermarkets in the village. IGA at Marketplace is our regular go to place for groceries. Having fun cookouts and even hosting potluck parties are definitely possible in Whistler. One of our relatives even set off the fire alarm in her apartment by having a BBQ on the balcony!
No. 6: Whistler has More Dining Options than Niseko