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Mile High and Very Wide

By Kaj Bune - March 12th, 2004

What if I told you that the Whistler/Blackcomb ski area in British Columbia, Canada, has everything? Well, if I were you I'd say, "prove it." What, is that some sort of challenge? OK. Here you go...

Let's start with a few facts:

  • Average annual snowfall - 30 feet
  • Snowfall during '98/'99 season - 55 feet
  • Steepest named run (The Cirque) - 50?
  • Ski-able terrain - 7,071 acres (compared to half that at Mammoth)
  • Feet of vertical - 5,280 (Sound familiar? That's a MILE)
  • Number of high-speed lifts - 15
  • Most extensive high alpine lift system in North America
  • Regular season runs from November 24 - June 9 (JUNE!)
  • Summer glacier ski and snowboard season from June 10 - July 30 (not a typo)
  • Two mountains to choose from
  • 42 acres of terrain parks
  • 17 on-mountain restaurants
  • 12 alpine bowls, 3 glaciers, and over 200 marked trails
This could go on and on, but you get the picture; many facts support my "has everything" point of view about this resort. But there is one other fact that I think you need to know before we go any further. I'm not the only one that feels strongly about Whistler/Blackcomb. In 1991, Whistler/Blackcomb was named the number one resort in North America by Snow Country Magazine and in '96 Snow Country, Skiing, and Ski magazines bestowed the same top-of-the-heap ranking.

Beyond the facts are some things that I like about Whistler/Blackcomb that really begin to tell the full story. This place has something for everyone. If you need a break from riding the lifts there are groomed cross-country trails in the valley and great snowshoe destinations right out of the village and within short driving distance along the highway. If ice-skating is more your idea of a snow riding alternative, you will find it readily available, too. Mountaineers will find summits to climb in all directions as far as the eye can see. Backcountry skiers will not be able to make up their minds for all the possibilities presented by the terrain rising from the valley. If you would rather access the nearby mountains without the uphill work, the helicopter skiing is fantastic. And if you just want to relax and charge the battery, you will find over 100 restaurants, lounges, and bars in the village.

Here are a few ideas to keep you busy during your stay at Whistler/Blackcomb:

  • For seasoned heli skiers, Rainbow Mountain - across the valley - offers a great day of skiing and adventure. We hired a chopper for a one-way ride to a shoulder below Rainbow's summit. This was in '98 and at that time the flight cost us only about $70 each. No guide, just a quick ride and a wave goodbye. We all thought this was a super deal for a heli trip, but once the bird flew away, we were totally on our own.
  • 25 kilometers down the road from Whistler is a popular backcountry ski and snowshoe destination, Black Tusk Trail, which leads to Black Tusk Meadows. This frequently used trail is a straightforward one to follow and provides moderate terrain through trees down low. For a full day, follow the trail to the meadows and soak up the views.
  • My favorite lift serving advanced runs are accessed via the Glacier Express chair on Blackcomb Mountain. Exit skier's left and contour several hundred yards to the bottom of Spanky's Ladder. Carry your skis or board up to a ridge crest and get ready to twist and crank. Four steep bowls are accessed from where you stand: Garnet, Ruby, Diamond and Sapphire. Gravity will tug at you here. There are rollovers that make you feel it in your tummy and tight threading through the rocks to make you pay attention. At the bottom you will get a workout for the quads on several miles of cat tracks back to the Excelerator Chair and your next lap.
  • For intermediate skiers and boarders and newcomers to the resort, consider The Grand Tour. This will take you up and down both Whistler and Blackcomb and introduce you to the amazing possibilities that this place offers. The tour will cut you loose on some long cruisers and you'll see the whole place.
  • And for a bit of lift served backcountry, ride The Peak chair to the top of Whistler and head out to the bottom of the Flute, hike to the top of it and pause to catch your breath and take in the outstanding views. Now for the down - the bowl leading to Singing Pass Trail holds great snow and then it's into the trees for a long and sometimes wild trail back to the lift area. This is an advanced bit of activity and won't be very board-friendly due to the long (!) traverse out. Don't ski this alone and make sure to carry shovels and beacons and know how to use them.
There you have it. Everything, as I said: hard and soft, big and small, fast and slow, wild and tame, scary and easy, high and low. But seriously, this is a winter destination that must be experienced in its magnitude and multitude of forms. Get up there, summer and winter, and just try to do it all in one trip.


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