On the hill: Whiteout at Whistler
The Aspen Times
WHISTLER-BLACKCOMB, B.C. – I just finished two days of skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, and though the skiing was fantastic, I barely saw the mountain.
In fact, thanks to the snow-dumping clouds that enveloped the 8,100-acre, two-mountain mega-resort, I often had to feel my way downhill, relying on technique and sensing the snow underfoot. There were moments, while following well-marked catwalks through howling gales in the white vastness above timberline, when I found myself picking up speed though I would have sworn I was traveling upward. Weird.
It never stopped snowing during my two days in Whistler. At the base of the mountain, some 2,100 feet above sea level, it came down in big, soggy flakes, while up at timberline it fell in horizontal, cheek-stinging gusts. The upper lifts never opened at all. The key to the skiing, as we learned from our Vancouver-based friends Paul and Louise, was to move swiftly off the bare ridges where the lifts topped out, and to seek the protection and visual clarity of the woods.
The first day we skied Whistler, a huge mountain characterized by wide-open bowls that spill down into vast glades cut by trails and punctuated with boulders and cliffs – a freeskier’s paradise. We saw few if any closures; it seemed everything accessible was open for skiing, and the tracks showed that everything gets skied.
We skied mostly hardpack that day, but the snow accumulated as the day went by, and it continued to snow all night. I rented a pair of fat skis for the next day at Blackcomb.
The next morning, there was about a foot of fresh snow on the ground and we were among the first skiers on the Blackbomb Gondola. We found deep blankets of powder, heavy by Colorado standards but creamy and consistent. The problem was that, because of the continually blowing snow and high winds, the upper part of the mountain remained closed and a weekend powder-day crowd had to make do with just six lifts on the lower mountain. We waited in long lines, but the skiing – some on single-black bump runs where the bumps had become undetectable, some through steep, fast glades with names like Bark Sandwich – was excellent all day, as the new snow just kept filling in the tracks.
Two days isn’t enough to scratch the surface of Whistler-Blackcomb, even under the best circumstances. I’ll be back, hopefully on a day when I can see and ski the high ridges and peaks as well as the woods.
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