Splendor in the snow
Most of the shale atop Blackcomb started as mud on the seafloor about 100 million years ago. The place still resembles a beach in July. That’s when summer skiing is in full swing and public displays of nudity are commonplace. OK, not full-on nudity like Whistler in the 60s, but there’s plenty of flesh visible 7,500 feet up on the Horstman Glacier.
I’ve never been summer skiing before and I pack with excited anticipation bordering on paranoia: neck-warmer, gloves, fleece jacket, Under Armour and longjohns compete for space in my backpack with water, emergency chocolate and a camera.
It’s too heavy so I ditch the longjohns and eat my emergency chocolate.
It’s 11 a.m. when I upload on the Wizard Express at the base of Blackcomb. The temperature in the village is about 25 degrees. (Thank goodness I ate the chocolate.)
The first thing I enjoy about glacier skiing is the journey. My skis are stowed on the chair in front; I’m wearing a T-shirt and enjoying the warm mountain breeze. Compared to the winter experience, it’s liberating.
Above Merlin’s run I spot two deer and on Upper Main Line a solitary bear appears from the bushes. We switch to another quad chair – Solar Coaster Express. The first snow comes into view moments later above a black diamond run called Sorcerer, and there are more banks of white where the Nintendo Super Pipe used to be.
Solar Coaster takes us to the Rendezvous Lodge and the Peak 2 Peak Gondola where a bus awaits to ferry us the short ride to 7th Heaven Express and the last chairlift to the Horstman Glacier. Two T-bars, terrain parks and endless blue skies await.
At the top I find every kind of tourist: adventurous seniors hiking on the shale, international students up for lunch at the Horstman Hut, couples posing for photos at the inukshuk, and parents watching their kids play in the snow. Then there are the skiers and boarders – mostly half my age and seemingly unencumbered by back packs full of winter gear.
Undeterred, I spend the next hour skiing numerous variations of what are essentially two runs to the Horstman T-Bar. It’s where most of the skiers and boarders are funneling and the lineups are surprisingly long. But it’s warm, the views are spectacular and everyone’s happy. Not surprisingly the snow is soft and slushy in places, but I’ve skied on worse in January.
For a while I perch beside the public terrain park and photograph the jumpers whose attempts to defy gravity mostly end in wipeouts. I tell myself I’d try it, but what with the backpack and all; I don’t want to land on my camera, right?
I stop for lunch at the Horstman Hut and lather on yet more sunscreen, putting extra under my chin and nose – the most vulnerable spots for snow-reflected sunburn. I order a beer and a deli platter of bread, meats, cheese and pickles. From the deck, Black Tusk’s ominous spire is hard to miss in the distance – it’s the kind of day photographers set aside for brochure assignments.
With some effort I step into my skis again and prepare for another run to the Horstman T-Bar. That’s when I notice the Showcase T-Bar has largely emptied. It’s normally reserved for private lessons, like the Dave Murray Ski and Snowboard Camps. With an hour of skiing left till downloading at 3 p.m., I ski across and get the green light from a liftie to ascend.
It’s only about a 500-foot climb, but the Showcase T-Bar takes me to one of my favourite winter skiing spots, the entrance to Blackcomb Glacier. I seem to have this side of the mountain mostly to myself for the final hour and take full advantage, picking my routes beside the jumps, the half pipe and the inflatable landing spots for aerial gymnasts in training. With a bouncy castle to land on I’d almost consider attempting a jump. Almost.
I leave myself a little time to ski out on Green Line, a narrow strip of snow left among the rocks and the wildflowers beginning to bloom. Twice I almost fall while mesmerized by the epic landscape before me and it’s a relief on my legs to finally board Solar Coaster for the download. A mum and cub are basking on one of Blackcomb’s lower runs. At the bottom, a dozen horse-riders are wending their way uphill.
Within an hour I’ve revived sore muscles in the pools and hot tubs at the nearby Chateau Fairmont Whistler where – as luck would have it – the Mallard Lounge is serving $5 happy hour drinks and free appies. Somehow on reflection, those terrain park jumps don’t seem so daunting.
Maybe next time.
If you go:
Weather-permitting, glacier skiing on Blackcomb is one of a multitude of summer activities on offer in Whistler. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is in full swing and the Alpine Wonder Routes – a vast network of hiking and running routes – is becoming more accessible with every day the snow melts.
The Peak 2 Peak Viewing Gallery is a new series of videos showcasing construction of the gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb. It’s on a raised walkway in the Peak 2 Peak Terminal on Whistler Mountain. Also new is the Alpine Theatre at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain. Movies with an alpine theme air every 30 minutes.
During our weekend in Whistler, I got to relive my adolescence dancing to The English Beat, part of the free Whistler Presents Concert series. Whistler Olympic Plaza hosts free weekend concerts throughout the summer.
Details of all these activities are at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a few seconds’ walk from the Wizard Express chair and offers numerous summer accommodation packages. For more details, visit www.fairmont.com/whistler/ or call 1 800 606-8244.