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TR for Whistler-Blackcomb, 1/9-10

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

I have a Mountain Collective pass and it got its first use last week at W-B. Um -- yeah, onward:

 

Paid: Mountain Collective ($379).
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 4/10
Weather: Mostly overcast with flat light and fog.
Would Return?: Maybe some day.

 

Here are some things I did at Whistler that I’d never done before:
 

  • Skied a glacier. Unless I did that in Switzerland and just couldn’t see it well enough to recognize that it had happened.
  • Rode a T-bar.
  • Hiked up a hill to get to a put-in spot.
  • Skied in Canada.

 

All my TRs are magnum opuses until I start typing.

 

Skied there January 9th and 10th. The actual majority of people with whom I rode up chairs were Australian. It was unsettling, particularly when they pronounced the word "glacier".

 

What else?

 

Blackcomb was way better than Whistler. At Blackcomb it was pretty easy to scout out where you were going before you went there, whereas at Whistler I never seemed able to get to the runs I wanted. Despite this, every lift dropped me off at the same dumb place. Except for the one lift that went up to the peak. Plus Whistler had more wind, seemed more crowded, and had a huge lineup for getting onto the gondola.

 

Magnum opus.

 

The first day I was there I skied Blackcomb. They didn’t open the Alpine areas until about an hour after the lower lifts started turning. Then I had one interesting run on the Glacier chair, replete with about six inches of new snow and a bunch of exposed boulders. After that, I went back up and then rode the T-bar up to the glacier, except that it doesn’t actually take you to the glacier, you still have to hike some to get to the glacier despite the fact that the glacier is in-bounds and somewhat popular.

 

Fortunately, walking through Grindelwald in Switzerland had taught me that it’s possible to walk up to a mile in ski boots without dying. Without dying immediately, I mean. Now having walked a mile in ski boots, I will eventually and certainly, though perhaps not imminently, die. It’s the imminence that’s salient here as well as the non-causal nature of the correlation.

I’ve also learned that wherever I ski this year, the conditions will be imperfect. At WB, the snow was pretty good, the coverage was not great, and the visibility was fine for the first hour on Thursday and parts of the afternoon at Blackcomb on Friday, but otherwise pretty bad. Skiing down Blackcomb Glacier, for instance, was probably an amazing experience, I just couldn’t see it to know for sure. I think this, though, has been stated by all people who have ever skied at WB: the terrain is awesome, the snow is pretty good, and the weather is kind of terrible. It wasn’t rainy-terrible, just flat light-terrible. Rainy-terrible might have been better.

 

Also, the place is huge, so while there may have been locations that were not flat light-terrible, learning of them was problematic and, even had I learned of them, they may have taken an hour and a half to reach. Asking the Australians on the lifts whether they knew of any such locations was unproductive.

 

Super-tall ski hill, though. The resort claims 5,280 feet from lodge to peak, which is kind of crazy. The cool thing is that this means there’s potential for some long runs. One downside is that it takes a real long time to get from the lodge to the peak — at Blackcomb, this required taking the one gondola (which is at the parking lot that’s above the lodge, actually, so this is sort of cheating) up to the Excelsior lift, taking the Excelsior lift up to the Glacier lift, taking the Glacier lift up to the T-bar, then taking the T-bar up to the place where you have to hike to get to the top of the glacier.

 

You have to hold on tightly, it turns out, and things get steep at the end. On the T-Bar, I mean. What a weird conveyance. I can see why they’re not allowed south of the border. God bless America!

 

Even the beginnerish chairs here are long, though. The Wizard chair at the true base of Blackcomb rises like 1,800 feet — about two Seven Springses high.

 

WB has the friendliest, most helpful ski resort employees I’ve ever encountered. On the one hand, for the C$109 a day it costs to ski there, they ought to. On the other: well, yeah, but they actually are that good. A lot of them were also Australian, apparently culled from the friendly and polite part of the country.

 

The second day there I started at Whistler, but I eventually got tired of its confusingness and bad visibility (though the conversation with the lift stranger there who sold his entertainment software company to Disney was the best I had at the resort). I went to the bottom for lunch and got cheap by-the-slice pizza in the village. Apparently food in the village can be considerably cheaper than on the slopes. Then I went back to Blackcomb since it was better.

 

Here, then, are a bunch of photos from the two days:

 

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

 

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

 

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

 

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

 

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

 

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

 

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

 

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

 

I couldn’t see during the whole Blackcomb Glacier situation, but it was still pretty cool. At the end, you hit the tree line and things flatten out. You can expect to have to pole your way through the last bit. Still, pretty cool.

 

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

 

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

 

Kind of seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is all.

Just that seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is what this photo is meaning to indicate.

 

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

 

The this thing at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

Then there's one of these things at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

 

I've had this penchant lo these last three seasons for skiing different resorts every time out. Sometimes I wonder at the wisdom of that approach. I'm sure part of the reason the Whistler side seemed bad was that I’d spent the entire previous day getting to know Blackcomb and it seemed unfair to again have no idea where I was or where I was supposed to go. I’m looking forward to skiing the same ski hill twice some time this year.

 

Also: the drive up there was interesting. I stayed at a (relatively) cheap hotel in Squamish, which is about half-way between Vancouver and Whistler (about 50 minutes from each). The road from Vancouver to Squamish is very twisty, is always either going up or down, and seems frequently beset with fog and hard rain. It was dark the first time I drove the road and, having already been driving for four hours from Tacoma by the time I got there, the twists, hills, and fog made it irritating. The way back was in the light, though, and it’s an amazingly pretty stretch. Shannon Falls coming down right next to the highway is stunning. No photos though. Sorry. Was trying to get down to Vancouver before rush hour got bad. Just meaning to indicate that it’s worth trying to drive that stretch in the daylight.

 

o

post #2 of 3

That was an entertaining report. I know you may not be back soon, but if other newbies are reading:

 

Taking the free mountain tour is a good way to get to know your way around, and then you can ask questions of the host about where to go next before you set off. A group lesson is good for the same reason. I was a beginner when I started skiing there so I've never had the experience of just showing up and not knowing where to go (since I could only ski the green runs) but I can see how it can be pretty overwhelming.

 

One of the nice things about W-B being so big is that there are always good conditions somewhere. So the Aussies on the chair didn't have good advice, but I find the mountain hosts or patrol usually do, and they aren't hard to find--at slow signs, at lift entrances, at the top of both gondolas. And if it's really flat light/foggy stay out of the alpine for christssake! Plenty of the mountain is below treeline, and you don't have to ski IN the trees to take advantage of the fact that trees on the side of the run make flat light tolerable.

 

If there's a huge lineup for the Whistler Village gondola, you'll notice just to the left is the Fitzismmons Chair, and there is probably no one on it. It takes you up to Garbanzo Chair. While this still doesn't get you quite as high as the gondola, there is plenty of skiing to be had from there, and I think it's better to take that and just start skiing rather than waiting in line. If you have a specific destination that the gondola gets you to a lot faster, then it can better just to wait.

 

I agree the Sea to Sky is gorgeous but that it's not fun in the dark. It's not lit and as many times as I've done it, I still don't like to drive it at night. Bad accidents are not uncommon though it's better than it was pre Olympics/pre widening. It should only take 30 minutes from Squamish to Whistler btw.

post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 

The guides I bothered to talk to were, in fact, very helpful (although I only remember seeing them at the top of Excelsior). All the employees with whom I interacted there were fantastic. Should have also mentioned how handy the conditions and wait times boards were, especially on the Blackcomb side. Every ski resort should have those.

 

Also, I know the photos don't indicate it and the Australians didn't suggest it, but I *did* manage to spend most of both days in the trees, where visibility was indeed better. I loved the unique experience of The Alpine, but obviously visibility was much worse on those runs. Also, WB has some of the most picturesque and pleasant cat tracks I've ever skied.

 

o

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