Friday, February 3, 2017

Whistler-Blackcomb: 01/26 - 01/28/2017

View of Whistler Peak from Blackcomb, January 2017.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

Whistler seems to be on every avid skier’s must-ski list, and I was lucky enough to enjoy my first visit there last week on my annual "guys' trip." It’s hard to describe Whistler-Blackcomb if you’ve never been, but “big” is a good start. With 8 thousand skiable acres, 5 thousand vertical feet and two huge mountains, 3 days of skiing was barely enough to just scratch the surface.

You’d think getting around such a huge place would be a bit of a challenge, but the Peak-to-Peak gondola is a game changer, connecting Whistler and Blackcomb peaks just below treeline. I rode it in one direction or the other 5 times in 3 days. It’s a bit odd for me to start off a trip report by gushing about a lift, but the Peak-to-Peak is just that impressive.

Peak-to-Peak, Whistler side

P2P gondi cabins are big: 24 passengers

2 mile unsupported span, 1400' above Fitzsimmons Creek

Peak-to-Peak, Blackcomb side

They say that if you’re at Whistler for anything more than just a day or two you’re likely to experience rain, snow, sun, clouds, fog, powder, packed powder, frozen granular, ice, wind, calm, empty slopes, crowds, ski-on lifts and 15 minute lift lines. We got most of that, except for the rain and the powder. It hadn’t snowed for the better part of a week before our arrival, so the best snow conditions were higher up on the mountain (above mid-station) where chalky, dry packed powder was the rule on and off piste (looks like they’re about to go through another big snow cycle though). Our biggest weather challenge came from occasional flat light conditions when the sun went behind the clouds – if you’ve ever been in a wide open alpine bowl when the light went flat, you know what I’m talking about.

Heading for the V-D trees, Whistler

Howard about to drop into a cloud layer

Beautiful groomers on Whistler

Symphony lift

Scott skiing through superb scenery off the Symphony lift at Whistler

Dramatic lighting but tricky visibility for skiing

It’s probably a good thing that it didn’t dump on us for 3 days straight. That would have shut us out of most of Whistler’s alpine terrain and killed any views of the stunning scenery, and that would have been a shame. The amount of easily accessible expert terrain is mind-blowing, and while some of the stuff I wanted to ski was skied-out and firm (or I was there when the light went flat), I found plenty of exciting terrain with great snow. The terrain off Spanky’s Ladder was stellar – a 5 minute climb from the top of the Glacier Express led to spectacular alpine bowls running 2 thousand verts down to the Blackcomb glacier run-out. Blackcomb Glacier was another favorite, not so much for challenging terrain (it’s probably low-end black diamond) as for the awesome scenery, great snow conditions and the cool run-out past the foot of the glacier (a couple of my ski buddies ventured into the ice cave). You just can’t ski stuff like that back east.

Greg on a steep pitch off the Horstman t-bar

Hiking up to ski Blackcomb Glacier

Me dropping into the Blackcomb Glacier run

Foot of the glacier

Blackcomb Glacier runout

Spanky's Ladder

Dropping into Ruby Bowl off Spanky's Ladder

For my last run on our last day, I hiked to the top of Whistler Peak. The chairlift that accesses Whistler Peak had been shut down (wind hold) since 10am. It wasn’t a difficult climb (half a mile or so from the top of the Harmony lift), but obviously there weren’t many skiers making the ascent. I hiked with a Whistler local, and when we got to the top I asked “Whaddya think?” His response: “You can ski 30-plus degree double blacks in flat light to the right, or follow me to the left.” We went left down the Peak To Creek trail. 7 miles and 5 thousand vertical feet back down along the ski area’s boundary to the Creekside base, on a Saturday afternoon with nobody in sight. If you’ve ever skied 5 thousand verts in a single shot, you know it’s a leg-burner. Yes, I stopped. More than once. Probably the perfect ending to a Whistler visit.

View of the Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park from Peak-to-Creek

Here it is 5 days after our trip, and I’m still on a Whistler high. We’ve got a few other places to get to, but I’m sure I’ll be back with the family before too long.