Monday, November 20, 2006

Whistler, B.C.

Ski season is here! Storms over the last two weeks have dumped prodigious amounts of snow on the Cascades, and most of the ski resorts opened this weekend or are opening in a few days. Whistler-Blackcomb, in British Columbia's South Coast Mountains, opened on Saturday. I had some two-for-one vouchers from a recent Warren Miller film screening, and my parents were in town, so we decided to make a roadtrip of it. It was my Dad's first time skiing; Dawn and my Mom decided to skip the skiing part and proceed directly to Apr├ęs-ski.

We decided to drive rather than fly into Vancouver. On Friday night we got as far as Bellingham, and early Saturday morning we drove across the border, through Vancouver, and up the beautiful Sea-To-Sky Highway into Whistler. My dad and I were on the slopes before 10am.

For those who are unfamiliar, Whistler-Blackcomb is the biggest (and many claim the best) ski area in North America. There are two mountains of over 5000 lift-served vertical feet each, for a combined 8000 acres and well over 100 named runs. With such a vertical extent, the climate can vary greatly from base to peak. Indeed, on Saturday the bottom 1100' of Whistler Mountain were closed due to slushy, inadequate snow, and the top 1100' were closed due to avalanche danger. Blackcomb Mountain was closed altogether. The remaining 2800' of Whistler were more than adequate for our one day outing.

The beginner ski area was also closed (low elevation, slushy snow) so I decided to teach Dad on the easiest green run from Roundhouse Station (6000') to Olympic Station (3200'). Whistler's green trails turned out to be steep enough in places to qualify as an intermediate run at many other resorts, so there were a lot of fast riders whizzing around us. It wasn't a great place to teach someone to ski for the first time. We took it easy and took about two hours to descend 2800 vertical feet.

I discovered that I'm a horrible ski instructor. Dad was halfway down the mountain before I realized he was putting himself off balance by planting the wrong pole prior to turns. Correcting that detail helped a lot, to where he was doing a good job linking turns by the bottom, but by that time he was absolutely spent from all the falls he took. We took the gondola back down to the village to have lunch with Dawn and Mom, and then Dad decided to call it a day. I headed back up the mountain to run some laps before the lifts closed. It was a good first outing of the season, I put on some decent vertical and woke up some muscles that've been disused. I felt it the next day.

The area around Whistler is gorgeous; Dawn and I are planning on going back later this season and perhaps staying a few days longer. I'd like to try the Peak-to-Creek run when the whole mountain is open; at 5000' vertical that should be a real thigh burner!


LoadMasterC141 said...

Looks like you had a blast! Before I moved to hot and sunny central Texas a year ago, I had lived in Central New York, right at the base of a small ski area called Song Mountain

Indeed, the total vertical is smaller than one closed height of Whistler, but it is enough to enjoy the sport. I have skied for a few decades and took up snowboarding about 6 years ago. Unfortunately, I have NEVER skied out west or on the west coast. It is on my list of things to do, but my only great visits have been to larger New England ski areas and Garmisch in Germany.

Your story makes me miss the cold again.

There is a picture of the mountain from my boat in late spring last year at my myspace site....

SloppyPilot said...

Whistler/Blackcomb appears to be in the heavy rotation of the ski mags this year as well.

I went about 20 years back on a college ski trip. Best trip ever, did the peak to creek a couple of times. It takes awhile, and will take your legs out from you if your not ready.