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Whistler Blackcomb

A Ski Resort of Adventurous Proportions

By: VINCE SHULEY
Travel Writer and Photographer
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Photo Credit: David McColm

 
By any definition, skiing and snowboarding are adventurous sports.
 
Waking up on a cold morning, getting dressed in clothing to guard against the elements, and then venturing up the mountain only to slide back down—it's a far cry from sitting on a beach sipping cocktails. But that's a good thing.
 
I don't try to escape winter; I run after it like a sugar-starved child chasing an ice cream truck. I watch snow reports like an addicted online shopper.
 
My favorite moment of a vacation is standing on top of a ski run, surrounded by mountains stretching in every direction, before dropping into my first powder-filled turn.
 
With that goal in mind, I sank my adventurous teeth into a ski trip to Whistler Blackcomb.

 

Size matters

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Photo Credit: Marc Gribbon

Walking through Whistler Village I found it hard to get a sense of just how big Whistler Blackcomb's ski area really is.
 
Two adjacent mountains—each larger than a typical North American resort on its own—are strung together by the Guinness World Record breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, the suspended lift system seemingly defying gravity over the 1.88 miles (3.024 kilometers) of unsupported span.
 
As I stepped aboard the Whistler Village Gondola and passed over the learning area at Olympic Station, the scale of this place became apparent.
 
I wasn't even halfway up as I looked across to the alpine areas of Blackcomb Mountain, all bathed in a soft orange glow of the morning sun.
 
I exited at the Roundhouse, Whistler Mountain's largest lodge and restaurant, and wasted no time clicking into my skis.
 
Warming up with a couple laps, I then turned my attention to Whistler Peak, Whistler Blackcomb's crowning jewel for advanced and expert skiers.
 
Sliding down to the Peak Express Chair corral, dozens of skiers and snowboarders were linking turns down steep slopes and jumping off cliffs, those launching the biggest airs garnering pole-clicking applause from onlookers in the lift line.
 
That was when the real adventure began.

 

An alpine undertaking

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Photo Credit: Mark Gribbon

As I alighted at the Peak Express's top station, the panoramic mountainscape stretched across the horizon with the iconic Black Tusk (the remnants of an extinct volcano) jutting out of the winter snow blanket that covered the Coast Mountains.

I dropped into the north-facing Whistler Bowl, finding an untracked channel on its right flank before cresting over the next ridge.

Pausing briefly to let my legs recover, I launched into the run, linking fast turns and took air off a ledge I spied from the chair on my way up.

As I landed and accelerated away, I let out an unmuted "Woohoo!" before rejoining the congregation at the chair.

The smile on my face lingered until I unloaded at the top once again.

 
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Photo Credit: Eric Berger

For my second lap I was in the mood to try something steeper. Wrapping around the back of Whistler Peak and unclicking my skis for a quick 50-yard hike, I peered over the edge of the steep couloir.
 
As I carefully linked turns past the rocky gauntlet, the slope opened up and I hopped down the mountain with another smile growing across my face.
 
I won't forget that run. Ever.
 
The blue sky weather held for the afternoon so I decided to dabble in Whistler Mountain's in-bounds backcountry experience - Flute Bowl.
 
The groomed uphill cat road before me was the only way up, so I unzipped my jacket, undid my boots, and shouldered my skis for the 20-minute hike.
 
I paused occasionally to soak in the vista, the locals assuring me that adventurous backcountry skiers have skied pretty much everything in sight.
 
For this day, however, I had to be content with the challenge in front of me. 
 
Topping out on the summit, I then understood why so many locals and visiting skiers alike choose to skip another chairlift-accessed run and labor up to this pristine corner pocket of terrain. Tracks were spaced a comfortable distance apart, the choice of run ranging from double black steeps to long-sustained blue off-piste cruisers.
 
Still on a natural high from my peak experience earlier, I opted for the former. There were no more than half a dozen people within earshot as I dropped in and enjoyed the best powder run of the day.

 

 

Powder Day Pillow Safari

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Photo Credit: Eric Berger

A snowstorm rolled in the previous night, the sky a milky shroud blanketing the mountains. With eight inches of new snow, the locals told me it was the perfect day for tree skiing on Blackcomb.
 
I was on the hunt.
 
The hunt for powder pillows.
 
Pillows are perhaps the most addictive feature of powder skiing. These barely-supported piles of snow accumulate on top of rocks and trees, crumbling with absolute satisfaction as a skier or snowboarder slashes through or lands on top of them.
 
And Blackcomb Mountain is filled with these delightful cushions.
 
I made the smart decision to rise early that morning and lined up with hundreds of jovial locals, the precipitation still falling from the sky and accumulating on their helmets and jackets.
 
After riding the chair and seeing dozens of early bird skiers and riders getting the goods, I skated over toward my first run of the day.
 
The visibility was poor but I could make out a few tracks and decided to take it slow down the steep slope. It soon flattened out and I spotted my entry point into the trees.
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Photo credit: Blake Jorgenson

I wasted no time in choosing my line and pointed my skis into a powder-filled alley. Spotting a protruding mound of snow, I arced my turn to let my skis collide with it at speed.
 
The mound exploded on impact, showering me from head to toe in powder. The first pillow catch of the day left me giggling with excitement.
 
The next 15 to 20 seconds were somewhat of a blur. I dove into the pillow field ahead of me with speed, the pop of each one slowing me down enough that I didn't even have to turn my skis anymore.
 
The spray of snow felt like a fire hose of powder pointed straight at my face, clearing just enough between impacts that I could still make out the trees around me.
 
I exited the trees wearing the snow like a full-face Santa Claus beard and let out a loud cackle. This powder day pillow hunt turned into one big turkey shoot.
 
Two full days of skiing at Whistler Blackcomb and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what's possible.
 
There's always another pillow field, another exhilarating couloir, another powder stash. The locals say they're still finding nooks and crannies on these two mountains after 15 years of exploring the terrain.
 
I think it's time to start planning my next Whistler adventure.

Explore Whistler Blackcomb

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