6 Days, 2 Mountains, Let’s go!
“The mountains are calling and I must go” – This quote by John Muir I have always found powerful. As a child I spent time with my family exploring majestic peaks, now in my twenties the mountains hold a special place in my heart, they are filled with wonder and adventure.
The real fun of the mountains I believe is in, the grin splitting, fist pumping, high fiving, that comes from sharing the experience with friends. To share the accomplishment of reaching the top, to be there when you fall and sit silently on the summit to take it all in is something quite special.
So it is with anticipation each year my boyfriend Martyn and I plan our annual trip to the snow.
This year was the big one, Whistler.
If Canada is the Mecca for adventure seekers, then Whistler is the shangri-la for snow sports, a hive of energy swirling around in a blizzard over 8,171 acres of powder and with over 200 trails. Whistler boasts the longest unsupported gondola (4.4k,) joining the Blackcomb and Whistler peaks. In an average year they have 11m of snow, making this a powder capped heaven! With a great mixture of blue, red and black runs Whistler has something for everyone.
As you can imagine I was super excited to get out there and test out the slopes.
Arriving late Saturday our 2 hour 30 min transfer from Vancouver to Whistler along the sea to sky road, was long! This is a stunning trip in itself following the meandering lakes. Arriving at our hotel the Fairmont Chateau a beautiful ski-in ski-out resort I knew we were in for an incredible week of luxury and snow!
Jet-lag couldn’t stop us, Sunday morning we were on one of the first lifts to the top to check out what was in store on the Blackcomb side of the mountain range. The gentle flakes of snow which had been falling from the sky since we arrived made the visibility low, about 30metres which was not great, so we spent the afternoon chilling out after a few runs enjoying the outdoor swimming pool and gym.
Having only snowboarded in Europe before I was excited to try somewhere new, Whistler is very different to Europe the trees are tightly packed together and the runs are vast, with large areas of off-piste.
We stayed on the Blackcomb side exploring the runs and off-piste areas for the first two days, the runs were beautiful and long with some mogul sections which I was not a fan of! The queues for the gondolas and lifts could be quite long but there was so much terrain you could be the only person on a run at times which was exciting, it was like you had the whole mountain to yourself.
By Tuesday evening it hadn’t stopped snowing and I was missing the sun. One of my favourite parts of snowboarding is the crystal clear skies and rays of sun creating jaw dropping views at every turn.
On Wednesday we were woken to striking rays coming through the curtains. The sun makes a huge difference, the mountains peaked through the clouds showing off their tremendous tips of white fluffy snow, the added visibility is also a huge confidence boost and allows you to really get into the flow.
As the weather had opened up we went across on the Peak 2 Peak gondola to the Whistler mountain side and into the Symphony Ampetheatre, a huge expanse of open off-piste, where we spent time making fresh tracks and enjoying the sun on our faces. Getting tired of falling over and digging myself out of waist deep snow it was time for a well-earned break and to plan our next lift.
We made our way back to the Peak 2 Peak lift and from there made our own routes down to Creek-side, for what turned out to be the best and biggest bowl of pulled pork nachos I have ever seen!
Thursday we went out into the back country with Coast Mountain Guides. We met our guide, J.F at the bottom of the Whistler gondola with nervous anticipation. We talked through the avalanche safety gear and created a plan for the day.
Coast Mountain Guides was started by Guillaume Otis with his Dad back in 1998. They operate all year round and provide mountain guiding services for a wide range of client’s skills and abilities.
We took the lift up to the top of Blackcomb Mountain, to get into the glacier bowl we had to use the toggle lift, which I expertly fell off twice! We started to traverse the glacier ridge on foot it was absolutely stunning, in every direction mountains towered over us gleaming in the morning sun.
After a short run down we entered the back country gate, making sure our transponder’s where working as we passed through, we left the lifts behind and walked into Mother Nature’s playground.
Martyn and I had never been back country before or walked up a glacier for that matter, so a brief lesson on how to split our board in two and then how to add the skins (sticky pads which ran along the length of each ski), so that we could climb the mountain. It was an odd feeling after being on a board to split it in half to use as skis it was easy to do once you got the hang of it.
We started the traverse to the summit. Using the ski tracks of the people that had been before we slowly zig-zagged up the side of the mountain not dissimilar to the way you would mountain bike up a steep hill.
Each binding had a heel riser so your heel stayed high to make walking up steep terrain possible, looking behind I was amazed at the distance we had covered considering we were moving slowly.
Reaching the summit, the Fitzsimmons Range stretched out before us like a scene from an action movie, the wind howled around us, whirling snow into tiny tornadoes. I felt in awe at the sheer power of the wind and the vast expanse of snow reaching out before us. Although a little chilly I felt humbled by my surroundings.
We worked quickly to remove the sticky skins wrapping them back in our packs, releasing our bindings from each ski and slotting them back together to form a board.
Then we were ready, with the wind thrashing around us, we swooped over the edge into pure white powder, it was like riding through whipped egg whites. The board carved through the deep snow descending quickly down the slope.
We traversed the side of the glacier bowl staying high so we didn’t end up in the flat valley below. It was unbelievable gliding through fluffy clouds of powder making fresh tracks where no one else had been.
Making our way to the next climb, we stopped beneath the ridge, where we had to climb in the bowl for a lunch stop with a serious view.
The approaching storm shrouded the tops and the dark clouds looked ominous, our perfect visibility was about to be snatched. After a few bites it was time to split our boards, apply our skins and make our way into the cloud. It was hard, hot work climbing pushing your ski forward with your toe and the pushing down with your heel so the ski gripped the snow.
At the top we used our skis to compact the snow, to make a ledge to work from, then it was time to reassemble our boards. The trees gave us shelter from the wind and we worked quickly. Stopping anywhere in high up mountains in changeable weather can be chilly work and the colder you get the slower you get.
Ready to go, the visibility was making our route through the trees tricky so our guide J.F went first then I boarded down to just below him and then it was Martyn’s turn. My first tree run was good however on my second run I didn’t turn quick enough and ended up in a tree… The powder was so deep my left leg sunk out of sight and all the pulling in the world was not budging it, when I looked up all I could see was snow which was a little frightening. I shouted to Martyn who heard the slight panic in my voice and came to my rescue. It’s times like these that you appreciate the wild of the wilderness and understand the respect that should be given to outdoor sports and mother nature.
Making my way down to J.F to rest, it was Martyn’s turn. J.F had scouted a jump for Martyn who expertly carved through the fresh powder launching off a jump into the air, landing in thick, thick snow.
As we split our boards ready to head back up through the trees the snow quietly fell and the only sound was coming from us, crunching back through the snow covered trees. It was hot work walking up hill and I was nicely roasting by the time we stopped.
Our last backcountry run of the day was epic! The visibility had been reduced to about 15m because of the storm. It took all my concentration to work out the contours in the snow, so that I could make good turns. Once we were lower the visibility opened up as we weaved through the trees and dipped out into a long run down to Whistler village. Buzzing from our day in the back-country full of stories, memories and feeling exhausted we stopped for a well-earned drink.
Tips for back-country:
- Hire a professional guide, the equipment for avalanche safety is expensive and with proper knowledge of the areas guides can help you get the most out of your experience
- Layers, going from snowboarding down to skiing up your temperature changes constantly so having layers to zip and unzip makes it more comfortable
- Food and hydration, My water froze so a lucozade type drink would be better, every time you put your skins on take a sip to make sure you stay well hydrated
- Being able to put your helmet and goggles inside your bag will mean they don’t fill up with snow! Mine did it was a brain freezing experience putting them back on!
Our time in Whistler was over too quickly. We met some wonderful people and you cannot fault the Canadian hospitality, everyone is super nice and welcoming. Whister village has a great selection of outdoor shops for perusing and a buzzing après ski scene, although to be honest we spent more time on the slopes than in the bars.
The Blackcomb side of the mountain has, in my opinion the better longer runs and on the Whistler side you have more powder and glaciers to explore. The blue runs are like red runs in Europe and the black and black diamond are more advanced. The whole area is vast and we only touched the surface on ticking off the runs.
We will be back!