It was certainly easy to detox from the internet at place like Whistler, B.C. I’m no virgin to the North American West as far as skiing goes, having been to both Colorado and Utah, so it does take a lot to impress me. I was completely and utterly blown away by Whistler. It’s not that the powder was anything special (there is certainly better powder at Colorado and Utah, even this late in the season, I’m sure); it was the sheer massive size of the two mountains that comprise this ski resort. And the absolute undeniable beauty of the Canadian Cascades. I had the time of my life there.
We stayed at The Blackcomb Lodge in Whistler village which allowed us the wonderful convenience of ski-in/ski-out. We only had to walk down the Village Stroll–a completely pedestrian street–to its terminus at the Blackcomb and Whistler gondolas. The picture below shows the view of the village from outside the doors of the hotel.
As I unpacked my toiletries in the room I shared with my friend Janet, I realized something very odd. Is it obvious which side of the shelf held my stuff? Purple products to the left; natural products to the right! (I am going to start using natural products myself… Better for the environment, better for me. But more on that later. And I’m still hoping to find them in purple bottles.)
The first day, we skied at Whistler. Janet was excited to show me the Peak-to-Creek Trail which goes from the very top of Whistler Peak to the bottom at Creekside village (a separate village from Whistler village). So we boarded the Whistler gondola and took it all the way to the last station which is one lift short f the peak. The picture below shows the scenery from this location which, incidentally, is also where you can catch the Peak 2 Peak gondola to Blackcomb should you change your mind about what mountain you want to ski for the day. Funny side note, every time someone talked about this gondola, I thought they were saying Peek N’ Peak–the name of a resort in upstate NY at which I sometimes ski.
We took the Peak chair (picture below) up to the top of the mountain. And let me just mention that one of the other times we rode up this chair later in the week, Janet didn’t put the bar down. I thought I could handle it, but I got very nervous at the last bit that goes very high over a cliff right before the end. Janet thought it was kind of funny that I got vertigo; it didn’t bother her at all. I personally think riding the lifts at any resort is the scariest part of skiing–I prefer to have both feet firmly planted on the ground, no matter what angle the ground is that I’m standing on–and so I always prefer to have the restraining bar down. In fact, I hate that Boston Mills has no restraining bars–drives me insane. Anyway, after the experience of riding with the bar up, I wouldn’t let Janet keep the bar up for the rest of the week.
The picture below shows what it looks like at the top of the peak. What a beautiful arctic paradise!
We headed off in the opposite direction to the Peak-to-Creek. Below is a picture of me by the sign to the trail at the very top before we headed down.
My legs were in tune from all the days I spent at Boston Mills (23 days!!) so I was really confident. The conditions were great–lots of powdery stuff all around. Peak-to-Creek touts itself as the longest intermediate run in North America. Most eastern skiers know that the ranking system for ski slopes varies from resort to resort, especially out west; what is intermediate at one place might actually be a difficult run at another resort. I’ve found that in most cases a lot of how I feel about a slope is mental. I’ve always–no matter where I am–believe that I can do a blue (intermediate) run regardless of how steep it is. Except last year when was outclassed at Snowbird (in Utah) by some seriously challenging–and scary–intermediate runs. I remembered all too well my failure at Snowbird and how tripped up I was in general in Utah last year so I admit I was a little nervous about skiing at Whistler. However, all fears were relieved as I began down this slope for, to my very practiced legs this year, it seemed to be the perfect pitch for me–something I felt extremely comfortable taking some speed on. So I was a little surprised when, pausing to catch my breath, another lady stopped next to me and said, “Wow! This is the easy one?” skeptically. It didn’t seem hard to me at all, but I guess she was a beginning skier.
About a third of the way down, there was a turn off for those not venturing on the remainder of the Peak-to-Creek–a legitimately easy run that Janet described as flat–and our beginner friend took off for that option. I think the sign shown in the picture below marked the continuance of the Peak-to-Creek for those continuing on.
Anyway, this slope was so long it actually had a rest area! I saw this sign, but I missed the actual place where you were supposed to stop which I guess had a bench. Maybe it was covered by snow?
We were plagued by a fog from about the midway down the trail to almost the bottom. It was a little disconcerting. The snow was definitely heavier and wet towards the bottom. I was fully experiencing what Janet had described to me–and which I’d disbelieved somewhat–about Whistler. I got to experience it again and again throughout the week. It was like every part of both mountains had their own season with the bottom third of both being stuck in real-time with spring. Winter was maintained at the top third, though, and that’s generally where we skied. But often as you went down a run, the conditions would literally change once you crossed some invisible line. We only skied down the entire length of the mountain this once for the Peak-to-Creek (we downloaded on the gondola at the end of each day). It was really fun, though, to ski for that long!
We were soon underneath the clouds again where it appeared to be snowing. I don’t particularly remember that, but I can see it in this photo.
By the end of the day, we even managed to ski a few black diamonds–Bear Paw and Raven/Ptarmigan. Each of these trails also offered yawning views of Whistler Village. (I have no problem with vertigo if my feet are on the ground.) It kind of gives you an awesome God’s eye view of the world when you can see signs of civilization stretching out before you. I find the most exciting runs are where I have perspective about how high from the bottom I am. There’s a run in Holimont like this called Grear where you can see Ellicotville below in a distance. It’s slightly off-putting, but at the same time, it’s awesome as you’re skiing to see yourself get closer and closer to ground. You don’t get that feeling so much at the top of a mountain such as Whistler where skiing one run doesn’t even take you a third of the way down from the top and “bottom” is actually just another level area where you can catch a lift to go back up.
The second day we awoke to bright sunny skies. We went to Blackcomb. Here are some delightful shots from the top of the Exelerator lift which is the one that you take after you get off the gondola to Blackcomb.
And further down the trail….
It was literally an eyesore how beautiful this place revealed itself to be in the sunlight. At every turn, I wanted to stop and take pictures. I didn’t take nearly as many as the scenery I remember in my head, such as the next day when we explored the Symphony Amplitheatre and Harmony Ridge at Whistler. There was just so many beautiful scenes and, seriously, I was trying desperately to ski. I wish I could give you all a live video recording of the scenery right from my head. It was stunning, breath-taking. The kind of sights that make you want to kiss the sky and thank whatever whimsical power of life created all this beauty. Seriously. One can have a religious experience out there. That’s what I love most about skiing… and the only time I ever feel this way about skiing is when I’m out west where everything is just so larger than life. There were places on both mountains where I literally felt so small and insignificant against the majestic backdrop in which I was skiing.
7th Heaven is one of Blackcomb’s natural wonders. From it, you can see Whistler’s Symphony Amplitheatre and Harmony Ridge areas. We skied Cloud 9 (a scenic intermediate run) a few times that first day and, on our last two days (which we spent at Blackcomb), I braved some moguls on a few of the other trails.
Side note: There was a run parallel to this one–same steepness–with a moguls that I nailed on the last day! I was getting good!! Two more days and I would have been a pro at moguls. Though, I must admit, these moguls–being made of soft snow and lacking the icy ruts common out east–were nothing like the moguls I’ve been stuck within in New York or Ohio. They are still hard and often times just a bit too big, but at least the snow gives under year skis. In contrast, I’ve been stuck on moguls out east that feel like my ski will break before I can cut through the ice cube that is poorly passing as a mogul.
From the top of the 7th Heaven Express, you can also go down into the Horstman Glacier to access the Blackcomb Glacier. Unfortunately, this involves riding a T-bar and then taking your skis off to climb a short steep hill. I’ll preface this by saying that the last time I used a T-bar was probably age 16 when I was learning to ski (which is totally not the thing a new skier should be doing). I was totally scared to be dragged up a hill on a T-bar. But I knew I wanted to ski Blackcomb Glacier so I nervously went up the T-bar with Janet after watching several people load. It wasn’t as bad as I thought but I was completely uncomfortable about that whole experience.
I came back a few days later to ski the Horstman Glacier (pictured above). It was really easy. The T-bar was the worst part, really. And after I got off the T-bar that last time, I swore I was done using T-bars for the week.
Anyway, when you unload from the scary T-bar at the top (a process which is, in itself, frighting; you just let go of the bar but it has to be done at the proper time, else you risk falling down or hitting yourself in the head as the bar swings away), you follow the swarm of people taking their skis off to climb the little hump that gets you to the Blackcomb Glacier area. I didn’t know I was going to do some back country skiing! (Well, not really.)
The Blackcomb Glacier is a bowl that you can basically enter in at any angle that you want. I was aiming for the groomed strip that runs down the middle of it. Before you get to that part, however, there’s what basically amounts to a gaping natural half-pipe double-black diamond called Blow-Hole. Yeah, double-black diamond runs always have ominous names that often accurately describe just what you see…. As steep as that run turned out to be, I definitely did not see the point in the extra challenge of a rutted tube with walls taller than a person on each side. Apparently no one else did either as I did not see anyone taking the challenge offered by Blow Hole. Perhaps I should of dared someone.
Little did I know I was actually going to be more comfortable in the ungroomed powder. It turns out that this run–labeled as an intermediate–was actually a bit more challenging at the top than I anticipated and I got into one of those states where I was too afraid to take a turn. As a result, I ended up traversing into the powder simply because I did not want to turn. I paused for about ten minutes, looking hopelessly down the slope and sweating profusely in fear. Then I finally coaxed myself into a turn. Once I got moving, I was fine. I guess you can say I’m a little gun shy sometimes on groomed runs–I prefer deep powder cuz I feel like if I fall, I won’t tumble far and the fall itself won’t hurt. I was a little mad at myself for choking at the top of the glacier–this happens sometimes–and I wanted to come back and do the run again, but I never did since it was such a pain in the ass to get to and Janet said she wouldn’t come with me if I did. At least it was the only time I choked the entire time I was at Whistler. Unlike my experience in Utah.
The hardest part of the glacier is really short. And then the rest of the 14-or so kilometers (yes, 14!!) is spent drifting effortlessly down through a valley and occasionally skiing down a small bump. You eventually are dumped onto the Blackcomb Glacier Road trail which winds around the mountain and takes you back to the Excelerator lift. The whole process seems to take about 45 minutes to an hour. It feels quite touristy–the thing you must do when you’re at Blackcomb. But probably not something you’d do over and over again in one day. It just takes too long. The scenery was totally worth it, though. At least I think so.
We went back to Whistler on the third day; Blackcomb the fourth; and then, after much debate with ourselves, we went back to Blackcomb the last day. It was really too hard to decide–I honestly loved both mountains–and I was really sorry that I didn’t get to enjoy both an equal number of days. The weather we experienced out there was mostly fantastic. It was sunny for the most part three of the five days, though we did experience a sudden fog towards the end of the forth day and some occasional snow flurries here and there on some of the other days. It never got unbearably cold; in fact, I overdressed the first day. The skiing was great everywhere but the bottom of the mountain. All of the separate areas were like their own self-contained ski-resorts. It was amazing.
I enjoyed the town in the evening almost as much as the mountain, especially the Brewhouse that offered free WiFi and a great selection of microbrews (I liked their brown ale the best, but I can’t remember what it was called other than it had “Bear” in the name.) All of the restaurants in town were a bit pricey, for sure, but that’s pretty much a given at a ski resort. Being on vacation, I tend not to care as much. (Which is how they get you, I suppose.) I would definitely go back to Whistler… It really seemed like the perfect place to go in the spring. I would love to go there right after they’ve been dumped on by several feet of snow. I suspect I would have braved some of the ungroomed bowls in that case.
You can view the rest of my pictures on my Shutterfly site (linked).