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Party on in Whistler

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The Dubh Linn Gate begins to fill up at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

It’s 4:20 p.m. on 4/20 in Whistler and the aroma wafting through the village is unmistakeable:  Axe body spray with just a hint of beef jerky. It smells like a high school locker room, which is probably why my 15-year-old son Ryan doesn’t seem to notice. Either that or he’s carrying too much Axe and beef jerky to notice.

The final weekend of Whistler’s ski season is also the final weekend of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. That means all manner of free arts, music, and sports events. It also means free giveaways – Axe, beef jerky, Monster Energy drinks and yoghurt. It’s an odd combination, but a popular one among teens nonetheless.

It makes for an eclectic scene: Sweet-smelling kids amped on caffeine. (Monster drinks are for over-18s, but plenty of parents were indulging their under-18s.) Bandana-wearing dogs fresh from Whistler DogFest, mingling with toddlers and locals mingling with visitors to the beat of G. Love and Special Sauce, (they’re a band). Somehow it all works.

You want some Axe with that beef jerky?

You want some Axe with that beef jerky?

We’ve skied out to the village just in time for Fashion EXPOSED, a fast-paced, high-energy show on a catwalk set up by the main stage. Macklemore’s infectious hit, Thrift Store is booming over the speakers as models come and go every few seconds. G. Love and Special Sauce, the day’s first live act, are up next and pretty soon everyone from the decks of the Garibaldi Lift Company to The Longhorn to the crowd in between are swaying to bluesy hip hop. The lead singer looks like Justin Timberlake and plays a mean harmonica.

Aside from abundant yoghurt and beef jerky, our immediate après options look sparse with lineups at almost all the bars fronting the main stage. Thank goodness for the Dubh Linn Gate where there’s room at the back. Pints of Guinness and a poutine and fries later, we’re back outside for Vancouver’s very own enduring hip hop band, the Swollen Members. They’re a more than capable warm-up act for the ever-popular Big Air event and Monster Energy Shred Show. (Try saying “Shred Show” fast! It’s easier after a Monster Energy drink.)

Lab chills out to G. Love and Special Sauce.

Lab chills out to G. Love and Special Sauce.

As darkness and temperatures fall, pro snowboard riders soar upwards of 70 feet in competition for a $15,000 cheque and the 2013 Big Air title. It’s an impressive finale made all the sweeter by 18-year-old Canadian Maxence Parrot landing a Triple Cork to beat a Norwegian and an American for the victory. As the lineups to the village’s bars and clubs grow ever-longer, we head back to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and find refuge in the Fitzsimmons Pub (The Fitz, as it’s known to locals) opposite the hotel. No lineups, great food and a solid beer list. ($13.75 a pitcher!)

Telus no longer sponsors the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, but that has not diminished the event’s appeal. On the contrary, organizers expanded the WSSF’s arts and culture scene this year. Open daily at the Whistler Conference Centre, State of the Art celebrated the mountain community in a variety of media. Storytelling and improv were the themes of the Mountain Multiplicity Show and the Chairlift Revue. And Vengeance in the Valley, the resort’s inaugural roller derby bout, sold out.

Skiing on Blackcomb continues until late May. Meanwhile golf season starts May 4. Visit fairmont.com/whistler for details of Whistler golf packages, starting at $139 per person.

For everything else Whistler, visit whistlerblackcomb.com.

G. Love's Garrett Dutton treats Whistler to a 'Booty Call'.

G. Love’s Garrett Dutton breaks from ‘Booty Call’ to harmonica.

Written by nevjudd

April 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Big White pops its cork for Champagne powder

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Written by nevjudd

December 10, 2011 at 9:25 am

Faster, higher, longer: Riding Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola

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The girls aren't too bothered about dangling by a steel thread 436m above Fitzsimmons Creek.

Confined within a steel and glass capsule, suspended by a galvanized thread 436 metres above Fitzsimmons Creek, Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola is no place for acrophobics. Fortunately, a fear of heights tends not to afflict skiers and boarders, who’d otherwise be stuck on the bunny hills forever.

In fact, judging by the hum of conversation in the cabin, our cruising altitude of 2,000-plus metres above sea level appears to concern no one.

“I’m gonna have a burrito for lunch,” says the 20-something Aussie woman in front of me. “What’s in that then?” replies her male English friend.

Grounded by just four towers, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects the top of Whistler to the top of Blackcomb — a distance of 4.4 kilometres.

A man from Pemberton, sitting across from my wife, is showing off his $600 goggles, which came with prescription lenses and a de-misting fan. “You’ll never need to buy another pair,” he tells her. I do the math and realize his goggles cost more than my family of four’s second-hand skis, poles, board, boots and goggles combined.

The kids on board are discussing their best wipeouts of the morning. (Funny how parents never do that.)

The miracle of engineering that put us here is the last thing on anyone’s minds and most passengers do not immediately appreciate the view. That could be because the journey’s so smooth, it feels a bit like we’re floating.

It’s more mellow glide than thrill ride.

Grounded by just four towers, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects the top of Whistler to the top of Blackcomb — a distance of 4.4 kilometres. Three kilometres of that distance dangles between two of the towers, making this the world’s longest unsupported span for a lift of this kind. It’s also the highest.

“It’s iconic,” says former Intrawest vice-president, Hugh Smythe, who started as a ski patroller in Whistler back in 1966. “It truly differentiates Whistler as unique.”

Smythe was skiing in Zermatt, Switzerland, in February 1997. An idea took shape while looking down at the vast expanses between peaks as he flew above the resort in a helicopter.

“I said, ‘Gee, we could connect Whistler to Blackcomb,” recalls Smythe.

It has been 10,000 years since the Overlord glacier that once connected the two peaks retreated to leave Fitzsimmons Creek on the valley floor. It only took 11 years for Smythe’s idea to be realized and for the mountains to be connected again. (Albeit by a cable 2 cms in diameter.)

In 11 minutes, the Peak 2 Peak does what used to take skiers like me half a day to do.

When the $52-million Doppelmayr-type lift opened two years ago, I wasn’t initially thrilled.

I’d always been fond of clumsily working my way down Whiskey Jack and Olympic runs from Whistler’s Roundhouse to ride Excalibur and Excelerator up Blackcomb. Admittedly, I’m the kind of person who longs for the days when keys, not swipe cards, opened hotel room doors, and when people raked leaves instead of blowing them, but really, must everything be sacrificed for the sake of time and convenience?

Then, on our first evening in Whistler earlier this month, I got talking to Stu from Utah in the hotel hot tub.

“I rode the Peak 2 Peak today,” he told me. “Whistler was socked in, but it was sunny on Blackcomb so we scooted over.”

Funny, I thought to myself. I’d never considered that.

Other unexpected benefits became obvious the next day when we finally boarded the Peak 2 Peak on Whistler.

Our modest party of 14, including six children, had spent much of the morning arranging meeting points by cell phone after becoming split up on runs or in lineups for chairlifts. After finally assembling at The Roundhouse Lodge, we moved next door to the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.

The lift’s 28 cabins each hold 28 people (24 seated and four standing). Two cabins are built with glass bottoms, reducing capacity. Fitting 14 people isn’t exactly a squeeze, and with a cabin departing every 49 seconds, lineups are minimal.

Each of the lift’s 28 cabins have room for 28 people to get cozy (24 seated and four standing).

The day we first boarded, it was Whistler village that was socked in, leaving us to glide across a valley floor coated in cotton candy-like mist. To the east soared the peaks and bowls of Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Below, the meandering black streak of Fitzsimmons Creek was just visible through the cloud.

And then skiers and boarders on Blackcomb’s upper runs came into view.

“Look at the ants, Dad, look at the ants,” said my daughter Emma, excitedly. Navigating black runs and occasionally dropping off into the trees, they might have been pine beetles on planks from where we watched.

Disembarking on Blackcomb, we paused to take group photos by the lift station before, inevitably, getting split up during the descent of Blackcomb.

The next day, I was back taking advantage of the fast track in the sky. The lower slopes were icy and fogged in. From mid-station up blue skies heralded an inversion that blessed both peaks with temperatures well above freezing.

But which peak to choose?

It only took 11 minutes to figure out.

Written by nevjudd

December 7, 2011 at 10:05 pm