For the uninitiated, the prospect of finding housing in Whistler can be a stressful, daunting process. If you’re ready for the hustle, here are some tips to avoid the scams and get you on your way to living your new Canadian mountain dream.
Don’t I need a job before finding housing in Whistler?
Believe it or not, finding a job in Whistler may be easier than you think. Employers struggle to find good staff because the town cannot accommodate enough workers. At job interviews be prepared for the first question to be “have you found somewhere to live?” Some establishments may not even give you an interview until you can demonstrate you have accommodation sorted already. So searching for somewhere to live when you arrive should be your priority, then find a job.
Whistler is in the midst of a full-blown housing crisis. You know the drill; not enough supply, too much demand, sky-high rents. Whistler’s rents are right up there with San Francisco or London. It’s not for the faint of heart nor the short on budget. It’s so bad that many resort to living in their vans and cars to make it work, so much so that even parking spots for RVs and vans are hard to come by, and the Municipality of Whistler is starting to crack down on this.
After a season in Whistler you’ll no longer be astounded that #VanLife is actually a thing, you’ll even know a handful of “VanLifers” and be gobsmacked that with just a small amount of lumber, foam bedding, a USB plug-in coffee maker, and a daily pit-stop at the local leisure centre for a shower you can actually make #VanLife work successfully in the back of a Toyota Prius.
If you’ve decided that living in #HotelPrius is not your thing, don’t fret. As bad as the housing crisis is, the fact is every year thousands of season workers can and do make it work, albeit with a lot of compromise and some savings.
Housing in Whistler: The nitty gritty
If you manage to snag a place, don’t expect a long-term arrangement. Whistler is a much busier destination for visitors in winter months, and landlords can command much (much) more rent in winter, and they do! If you find somewhere for the summer months, expect your lease to take you to the end of October when you’ll be asked to find somewhere else or sign on again in your current place for a much higher rent. Summer leases usually run from May or June until October at the latest, with winter leases running from October or November until May or June.
Sadly, living in what can only be described as heaven on earth comes at a hefty cost. For most seasonal workers, living in a flatshare (or roomshare in Canada) will be the only affordable option. In summer months expect to pay around $750 upwards for a shared bedroom (yes, you share a bedroom) and from $1,000 to $1,500 for a private bedroom (funnily, still called a roomshare even if you have a private room). Sharing a house with other like-minded people is a great way to make many new friends quickly, and in no time you’ll have settled in to your new life in Canada.
Now, in winter months, things are somewhat different. So at risk of breaking your heart, let’s just pull the bandage right off. Expect to pay nearly $3,000 per month for a private room or between $1,200 to $1,600 for a shared bedroom. Never has committing to a monogamous relationship and sharing rent with your significant other paid off so much.
Depending on the place, bills may or may not be included, so make sure you ask if hydro, cable and gas are included in the price and factor this into your budget. Whistler gets pretty chilly in winter, so the bills can really add up. Ask how much bills usually come to so you don’t have any nasty surprises.
Finally, to give you the best chances of securing a place quickly, a landlord can ask for the first month’s rent and half-month for a damage deposit. This is all they are legally entitled to ask for. Make sure you have this ready to go in advance of looking, usually by email transfer from a Canadian chequing account. If you don’t already have a bank account in Canada set-up make sure you do this as a priority when you first arrive.
General advice given to newcomers is to have $3,000 saved up and ready to go to get you through your first month when you arrive in Whistler.
Staff housing in Whistler
If you’re lucky to have snagged the mountain job of a lifetime for one of the bigger employers, you may have accommodation in Whistler provided for you. The Westin, The Fairmont, Pan Pacific Hotels and Whistler Blackcomb offer this to some of their staff, and is a huge perk that is not to be sniffed at.
Unfortunately this is on a first-come, first-served basis and most employers make no guarantees to accommodate all of their workers. With regard to the winter season, as staff housing in Whistler is the most affordable game in town, staff housing availability is normally severely restricted by November and staff have to go it alone and get on a waiting list, although it does tend to ease by March as people leave to go back to their home countries and you might get lucky.
Usually you’ll pay for staff housing in Whistler out of your bi-weekly wages, but it will be a much more affordable and convenient option. For example, some staff residences at Whistler Blackcomb offer private rooms or rooms for couples for a surchage, but these will be on a first-come, first-served basis, so definitely expect to share a bedroom with at least one or more co-workers. At Whistler Blackcomb the rate ranges from $12.65 to $20.95 per night and the majority of beds are in a shared bunk bed room format.
Do bear in mind that if you leave your job with staff accommodation, you may also be homeless. And don’t forget that living in staff accommodation will come with restrictions, so ensure you don’t break any rules that might affect your living and job situation.
If staff housing isn’t your preferred option or if you are out of luck on that front, things will be tougher, but don’t despair. Here are some top tips to get you through this.
The best way to look for accommodation in Whistler is to be there! There are several temporary options you can use to have a pied-a-terre when you arrive that won’t break the bank, and can be a great base for getting your search underway as well as helping you connect with new people in a similar situation (or potential new roommates). Just make sure you’ve booked these before you do arrive, otherwise you may be stuck as they book up quickly and almost certainly won’t have walk-in availability.
HI Hostel in Cheakamus is the go-to youth hostel run by Hostelling International, offering reasonable rates for dorms and private rooms. It served as the Athletes’ Village for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and offers a modern and clean feel with regular bus rides to Whistler Village.
Other temporary accommodation options include Southside Lodge, Whistler Lodge Hostel and Alpine Lodge Hostel.
Getting your hustle on
Ok, so you’ve found your temporary accommodation in Whistler and you’re ready to pound the streets looking for your new pad. There are a number of go-to options for finding ads for rentals and roomshares.
The vast majority of people who end up finding somewhere to live do so via the magic trilogy of Facebook Groups, Caigslist and/or Kijji. However, it is also worth looking into local publication Pique.
Whistler, for all it’s housing woes, has an awesome community that helps one another out and really pulls together. Facebook is primarily where these community groups really thrive. The “Whistler Housing for Locals” will be your go-to Facebook group for housing in Whistler. Post an ad telling the Whistler world what you want and how awesome a room mate you’ll be. Beware, stuff gets snapped up fast, so be prepared to move like the wind.
New for 2018, there’s another Facebook group called “Whistler Housing Crisis”.
Due to the aforementioned housing crisis, things move fast (as in a few hours fast). Take a deep breath, be positive, move like the wind, have your deposit ready to go, and you’ll be fine.
Housing in Whistler: where to live
Given the issues already discussed, location may not be a luxury you have a choice in, but most places within 10 kilometres of Whistler are within the reaches of reliable public transport (in winter) and very bikeable in summer.
The Whistler downtown core broadly covers Upper Village, Olympic Plaza and Marketplace, and if you live here you’ll be within handy walking distance to the slopes.
A little further but still very central are popular locations such as Brio, Nesters, Alpine and Creakside. These are all excellent options and are all served by regular public transport to the main town and the slopes.
Even farther, but not as well connected by public transport, are Rainbow and Emerald Estates. Living in either location may require a vehicle or relying on ridesharing or meticulously planning around the limited public transport schedule.
So, if housing in Whistler just hasn’t worked out for you, there is still hope! While commuting from farther afield is a hassle, plenty of people do it daily. When you have the mountain vistas to gawk at for the whole journey, it’s really not so bad.
Pemberton is a small town around 32 kilometres north of Whistler with a population of around 3,000. Lodgings in Pemberton can also be found on the Whistler Housing Facebook groups (linked above) but there’s also a special Facebook group called “Pemberton Housing for Locals”. Pemberton is the go-to option for most people who commute to Whistler. Rooms will be cheaper than Whistler, but beware that you must own your own car if you want to be able to commute to and from Whistler, or be sure that you can survive using carsharing.
Squamish, named Sḵwx̱wú7mesh in aboriginal language meaning ‘Mother of Wind,’ is a beautiful mountain town equidistant between Whistler and Vancouver. It’s around 60 kilometres (or a 40-minute drive) south of Whistler. Squamish is a popular option for people who want to live outside the ‘Whistler bubble’ and are happy with commuting to their jobs in Whistler while also having easy access to Vancouver. As with Pemberton, a car is essential unless you are comfortable with ridesharing as public transport between Squamish and Whistler is scant.
With nearly 20,000 residents, Squamish is Whistler’s closest large town with big supermarkets, grocery stores, and a Walmart. It’s also the self-declared “outdoor recreation capital of the world,” as well as the world’s eagle-watching capital. Squamish abounds with lakes, mountains, hikes, fishing and a significant bear population. It attracts rock climbers and is an unofficial (and more temperate) training ground for climbers who have Yosemite in their sights.
Over recent years Squamish has catapulted itself from quiet mountain town to certifiably ‘cool status’, thanks in part to the New York Times rating Squamish in its top 52 places to go in 2015. Property prices have skyrocketed and are on a par with other areas of the Lower Mainland of BC. A swathe of gentrification has followed as young professionals and families are pushed out of highly unaffordable Vancouver. With no fewer than three craft breweries, hipster coffee joints, crossfit establishments and a host of world-class recreation activities from hiking to kiteboarding, it’s hardly a consolation prize if Whistler didn’t work out.
That said, rents and roomshares remain rather more affordable than Whistler, with one bedroom in a shared house costing around $750 to $1,000 per month. And yes, unlike Whistler, that is for your own private bedroom. Living on your own in a studio condo would cost anywhere between $1,300 and $1,600, and if you’re lucky enough to find a basement suite in a family home this can be found for as little as $1,000 per month.
Starting out: Squamish Adventure Inn
Clean and modern, the Squamish Adventure Inn is located close to downtown Squamish. The Inn offers reasonable short-term and even long-term rates, with some people living there long-term and opting to commute to Whistler from Squamish every day for work. For an additional fee, the Inn offers a daily shuttle service which is bookable the night before to get guests to the slopes (or to work).
Squamish Facebook Groups
As with Whistler, Squamish has an awesome local and active community on Facebook when you can find rental postings and post your own ads: Squamish Housing for Locals and Squamish Renters. You can also find rental ads on Craigslist and Kijiji.
Housing in Whistler: final tips
We hope to have shown you that although daunting, there are plenty of options to explore when finding the perfect pad in or near Whistler for you. On your searches, don’t forget the following golden rules to keep yourself from falling victim to scams:
- Never, ever send money until you view a property and meet the people you may be living with. Keep asking questions until you feel comfortable. If landlords ask for money and insist that for whatever reason you cannot come to a viewing, that’s a huge red flag. Unfortunately there are many unscrupulous people scams out there taking advantage of the housing crisis and people’s desperation and vulnerability. Trust your instinct, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
- One of the most wonderful things about Whistler is the community, and it’s a community that loves to help. Ask around in local hostels, hotels, ask staff in pubs and restaurants to get advice. After all, you may well be joining their ranks as a seasonal worker too, so don’t be shy! Whistlerites are a friendly bunch, and everyone has been through this pain. They’ll be glad to point you in the right direction.
- If it’s too good to be true, it usually is, so do your homework. Get a feel for prices from ads you are looking at and again ask around.
- A landlord can ask for the first month’s rent and half-month for a damage deposit. This is all they are legally entitled to ask for. Sometimes they may ask for more, but understand legally they cannot do this. If it doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct.
- Have your first month’s rent and half a month of damage deposit ready to transfer from a Canadian bank account.
- Ask for a lease and read it before signing it.
- If you find you are being treated unfairly by a landlord you can contact the Residential Tenancy Branch or the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre.
We hope this guide helps you get settled into your new housing in Whistler!
Tony Gilmore worked as a Zipline Guide at Superfly Ziplines and as a Lift Operator at Whistler Blackcomb in the 2017 Winter and Summer seasons before joining the Moving2Canada team.