With a wintry-mix of emotions, the YPWGP crew departed Baker and headed north in hopes of drier snow and better visibility. One border crossing and 3 hours road travel found us in the self-proclaimed “outdoor adventure capitol of Canada”: Squamish, British Columbia. Located at the end of an impressive stretch of Fjords, surrounded by lush forest, and encircled by lofty precipices, it is easy to see how this small town earned the title. Despite the ever constant misty precipitation and shoddy hot tub at our hotel, we were pleased to call Squamish base camp for BC powder pursuits.
The forecast for Whistler was nothing exceptional (1-3 inches overnight) yet we had high hopes that at North America’s largest resort some minor searching and traversing would yield some soft white fluff. Optimism flying high, we suited up and got ready to bring a new level of elegance and stoke to Whistler Blackcomb. What better a place to hold a board meeting than at North Americas premiere resort, and if the $114 lift ticket was any indicator this place was high class.
The first cause for concern came as we reached the mountain base and the line for the gondola was longer than Boomers bar tab at Mangy Moose. While this was somewhat troubling, it was to be expected at the central base of a premiere resort during a long weekend. At the largest resort in North America one would think that such a large crowd would easily disperse over the terrain and that the upper mountain lifts would be vacant. This was not the case. While the upper lifts were not quite as densely occupied as the lower, we spent much of the morning in queue.
The majority of the morning was spent lapping the Peak Express on Whistler Mountain, where the snow was significantly softer than lower portions of the resort [read “dust on crust”]. In spite of the difficult visibility and inconsistent snow conditions, fun was had and cliffs were dropped.
As a testament to the poor snow quality and persistent mobs of snow tourists, one of the day’s highlights came not in the form of face shots but rather a marvel of modern engineering. The Peak-to-Peak gondola connecting Whistler and Blackcomb certainly was impressive. The specs speak for themself:
-1.88 miles of unsupported cable span
– 1,427 foot vertical drop
While we were pleased to experience such a modern marvel, the Peak-to-Peak did not transport us to better conditions. In fact, Blackcomb Mountain was significantly more crowded, icy, and foggy. We happened upon a bustling mid-mountain lodge and opted to conduct our board meeting over a few beers.
We concluded the day back at Whistler Mountain off the Peak Express and had a variable top to bottom run starting with thin pow and concluding with 3,000 vertical feet of hard packed icy groomer, YUCK! We turned up at Creekside base, approximately 1 mile from our parked car and with the lifts closed were forced to take a bus back to the main base area. To make sure they have sufficiently milked you dry, Whistler charges each stranded pow-skier for the short bus ride back. Not a huge deal financially, but it sure is a slap in the face to be charged for a baseline service such as internal resort transportation. This was especially aggravating after having coughed up $114 for congested lifts/trails and poor snow conditions.
While we had heard rumblings that ever since hosting the Olympics Whistler-Blackcomb had become a crowded and overpriced tourist trap, we held out hope that a resort of its magnitude and prominence could cater to powder enthusiast such as us YPWGS’s; we were very disappointed.
In retrospect it is true that much of the days struggles and shortfalls were not explicitly the fault of Whistler Blackcomb. We realize that timing is everything and that with better weather conditions we would be singing a different tune. Yet the cards fell as they did and we drove back to Squamish with a bad taste of Whistler in our mouth.
Will we ever go back to Whistler? Some of us remain bitter and hard-pressed on never returning. Others are more sympathetic to the poor weather window we had and are not counting out a future return trip. Perhaps this is all a part of a powder lovers natural transition away from lift serviced terrain and into exclusive backcountry touring. Will we ever reach that point? Do we have unreal expectations for resort powder? Are we putting the powder on a pedestal? Do we need a new approach to booking trips? It was a trying time in the pursuit of powder and we left that day with more questions than answers. Double doses of beer, red meat, and self-reflection were in order.