The hoary marmot has a historic tie to the naming of our little mountain town, but we’ll save that for the end of this post. For now let’s dive right into the best place to see, photograph and hangout with Whistler’s best kept secret, the hoary marmot.
#1 best place to see marmots Whistler
The Blackcomb Alpine Walk is a green hiking loop on Blackcomb Mountain and by far the best place to see marmots. To get to the trail from Whistler Village you can take the gondola up Whistler Mountain and then the Peak 2 Peak gondola across to Blackcomb Mountain.
The Blackcomb Alpine Walk takes around 45 minutes to an hour to walk (depending how many photos you take) and has gentle grade with no steep climbs or descents. The trail does pass through boulder fields, and you’ll have to make your way across the rocks, so we recommend wearing sturdy footwear. To access the trail you’ll need to by a Whistler Blackcomb summer sightseeing pass which you can get online, here: whistlerblackcomb.com/tickets-and-passes
View the Whistler Blackcomb hiking trail map, here: whistlerblackcomb.com/SummerTrailMapWeb
Local knowledge: temperatures in the alpine are on average 10ºC cooler than in the valley, and that’s if it’s sunny. If it’s cloudy prepare for even cooler temperatures. Mountain weather changes fast, so always pack a warm layer and a waterproof, and don’t forget your sunscreen. You can always check the on-mountain temperatures and weather here: whistlerblackcomb.com
Good to know: Please don’t feed the birds, marmots or any wildlife. We know it’s tempting, and it might get you a good photo, but feeding the wildlife contributes to learned behaviour that results in them associating humans with food.
This association has two very serious negative effects: the first is that the animals start seeking out humans. Believe us it might seem cute when it’s a bird, but you’ll soon change your mind when a large black bear is following you for scraps. Secondly, the animals become lazy. They learn that humans equal food and they stop teaching their young how to find their own food which is very bad for their long-term survival.
Why the Blackcomb Alpine Loop is the best place to see marmots in Whistler
The Blackcomb Alpine Loop has the two most important things to a marmots survival
1. Giant boulder fields for habitat and protection: Marmots live in colonies of up to 36 individuals, and hibernate for seven to eight months of the year. The colonies live underground in burrows with a home range of around 14 hectares (35 acres). The large boulder fields around the Blackcomb Alpine Walk give them escape routes to evade predators in tunnels between the rocks, and shelter to call home during the winter. This is the perfect place for a marmot colony to survive.
2. Vegetation for food: Marmots are herbivores that feed on specific leaves, flowers, grasses, and sedges that are found in the sub-alpine “tree line”.
Thankfully for us (and you), the Blackcomb Alpine Walk follows the tree line around the boulder fields adding to why it’s the best place to see marmots in Whistler.
Good to know: The tree line is a term used to describe the highest point where trees can grow on a mountain before the land and alpine conditions become too harsh to support their growth.
Local knowledge: Blackcomb mountain was formed from an underground magma chamber that has been exposed by glacial movement over millions of years. As the outer layer has been eroded away the surface of the basalt rock cracked and broke, forming the large boulder fields we see on Blackcomb Mountain, today. This is unique to Blackcomb Mountain.
Whistler Mountain is mostly formed from sedimentary rock and shale. There are a few boulder fields on Whistler Mountain, but nowhere near as many as on Blackcomb. This is the main reason you will see far more marmots on Blackcomb Mountain.
Local knowledge: Marmots love to sunbathe and watch out over their home base, so keep and eye out for them perched on the top of high rocks. Another animal to watch out for is the family friendly Whisky Jacks who like in the trees just past the first boulder field. If you hold your arm up above your head they like to come and land on your hand.
The sound that renamed a mountain
In the early years, Whistler Mountain was called London Mountain, named after dense Pacific Northwest fog that blanked the area when the mountain was first discovered.
In the 1960’s Franz Wilhelmsen, founder the Garlibaldi Lifts Limited, set out to take Whistler from being a summer destination popular with hikers and fisherman, to being a world-class winter resort with a dream to host the 1968 Winter Olympic Games.
During the development of the resort it was thought by Franz and other businesses people that the name London Mountain, and the associated image of fog, was not inviting to potential visitors. So it was decided that the mountain be named after its noisy residents, the hoary marmots, and their distinctive whistle.
We want to see your marmot photos. If you capture any great shots while out and about on the mountains, please us the hashtag #marmotmoments and we’ll feature your photos and videos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.