Whistler-Blackcomb: A Huge Ski Resort

Here are some things I did at Whistler that I’d never done before:

  • Skied a glacier. Unless I did that in Switzerland and just couldn’t see it well enough to recognize that it happened.
  • Rode a T-bar.
  • Hiked up a hill to get to a put-in spot.
  • Skied in Canada.

All these posts are magnum opuses until I start typing.

Skied there January 9th and 10th. The majority of people with whom I rode up chairs were Australian. It was unsettling. The first time in my life I ever encountered Australians was on a ferry between Brindisi, Italy and somewhere in Greece back in 1990. Around 2 o’clock in the morning, having loudly chatted up every college girl on the ferry (the Australians were a bunch of guys), they drunkenly ascended the ferry’s mast until the boat’s crew started yelling at them, possibly threatening to shoot them if they didn’t come down. That remains my enduring image of Australians. Apologies to the decent Australians of whom there are likely several.

What else?

Blackcomb was way better than Whistler. At Blackcomb it was pretty easy to scout out where you were going before you went there, whereas at Whistler I never seemed able to get to the runs I wanted. Despite this, every lift dropped me off at the same dumb place. Except for the one lift that went up to the peak. Plus Whistler had more wind, seemed more crowded, and had a huge lineup for getting onto the gondola.

Magnum opus.

The first day I was there I skied Blackcomb. They didn’t open the Alpine areas until about an hour after the lower lifts started turning. Then I had one interesting run on the Glacier chair, replete with about six inches of new snow and a bunch of exposed boulders. After that, I went back up and then rode the T-bar up to the glacier, except that it doesn’t actually take you to the glacier, you still have to hike some to get to the glacier despite the fact that the glacier is in-bounds and somewhat popular.

Fortunately, walking through Grindelwald in Switzerland had taught me that it’s possible to walk up to a mile in ski boots without dying. Without dying immediately, I mean. Now having walked a mile in ski boots, I will eventually and certainly, though perhaps not imminently, die. It’s the imminence that’s salient here as well as the non-causal nature of the correlation.

I’ve also learned that wherever I ski this year, the conditions will be imperfect. At WB, the snow was pretty good, the coverage was not great, and the visibility was fine for the first hour on Thursday and parts of the afternoon at Blackcomb on Friday, but otherwise pretty bad. Skiing down Blackcomb Glacier, for instance, was probably an amazing experience, I just couldn’t see it to know for sure. I think this, though, has been stated by all people who have ever skied at WB: the terrain is awesome, the snow is pretty good, and the weather is kind of terrible. It wasn’t rainy-terrible, just flat light-terrible. Rainy-terrible might have been better.

Also, the place is huge, so while there may have been locations that were not flat light-terrible, learning of them was problematic and, even had I learned of them, they may have taken an hour and a half to reach. Asking the Australians on the lifts whether they knew of any such locations was unproductive.

Super-tall ski hill, though. The resort claims 5,280 feet from lodge to peak, which is kind of crazy. The cool thing is that this means there’s potential for some long runs. One downside is that it takes a real long time to get from the lodge to the peak — at Blackcomb, this required taking the one gondola (which is at the parking lot that’s above the lodge, actually, so this is sort of cheating) up to the Excelsior lift, taking the Excelsior lift up to the Glacier lift, taking the Glacier lift up to the T-bar, then taking the T-bar up to the place where you have to hike to get to the top of the glacier.

You have to hold on tightly, it turns out, and things get steep at the end. On the T-Bar, I mean. What a weird conveyance: I can see why they’re not allowed south of the border. God bless America!

Also, the way Australians pronounce “glacier” is wholly unacceptable. And the arrogance with which they do it!

Even the beginner chairs here are long, though. The Wizard chair at the true base of Blackcomb rises like 2,400 feet — basically two Blue Knobs high. Seven Springs only claims 900′ elevation (and I kind of think they’re stretching the truth a lot to get there).

WB has the friendliest, most helpful ski resort employees I’ve ever encountered. On the one hand, for the C$109 a day it costs to ski there, they ought to. On the other: well, yeah, but they actually are that good. A lot of them were also Australian, but apparently culled from the more polite part of the country.

The second day there I started at Whistler, but I eventually got tired of its confusingness and bad visibility (though the conversation with the lift stranger who sold his entertainment software company to Disney was the best I had at the resort). I went to the bottom for lunch and got cheap by-the-slice pizza in the village. Apparently food in the village can be considerably cheaper than on the slopes. Then I went back to Blackcomb since it was better.

Here, then, are a bunch of photos from the two days:

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

I couldn’t see during the whole Blackcomb Glacier situation, but it was still pretty cool. At the end, you hit the tree line and things flatten out. You can expect to have to pole your way through the last bit. Still, pretty cool.

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

Kind of seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is all.

Just that seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is all.

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

The this thing at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

The this thing at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

Sometimes I wonder at the wisdom of visiting different ski resorts every time I go skiing. I mean, probably part of the reason the Whistler side seemed bad was that I’d spent the entire previous day getting to know Blackcomb and it seemed unfair to again have no idea where I was or where I was supposed to go. I’m looking forward to skiing the same ski hill twice some time this year. I’m not sure when, but it should probably happen.

Also: the drive up there was sort of interesting. I stayed at a cheap hotel in Squamish, which is about half-way between Vancouver and Whistler (about 50 minutes from each). The road from Vancouver to Squamish is very twisty, is always either going up or down, and seems frequently beset with fog and hard rain. It was dark the first time I drove the road and, having already been driving for four hours from Tacoma by the time I got there, the twists, hills, and fog made it an irritating drive. The way back was in the light, though, and it’s an amazingly pretty stretch. Shannon Falls coming down right next to the highway is stunning. No photos though. Sorry. Was trying to get down to Vancouver before rush hour got bad. Just meaning to indicate that it’s worth trying to avoid driving that highway at night.

So — yeah. BTW, Whistler was my first stop using my Mountain Collective ski pass. The pass cost $379 and gets me two days skiing at each of WB, Mammoth, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole, and Aspen. IOW, regular blog readers may have to endure further such reports. Or just not read them I guess. You’ll survive either way — for a time.

bkd

 

 

 

Mt. Robson and the Berg Lake Trail

I’m just gonna throw a bunch of photos up. Two nights, two days essentially. Park up in British Columbia, borders Jasper; Mt. Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies iirc. Iffy weather. Photos.

Highway 16 running through Mt. Robson Provincial Park (Fraser River at left).

The goat welcomes, the clouds warn.

You can ride your bike for the first 3.5 miles -- but no further.

Bridge over Robson River near Kinney Lake in-flow.

Disappointingly stable.

Lunch-time view from the shelter at the Whitehorn campground.

Whitehorn Mountain and the Robson River: the money shot.

Same place, other money shot.

Photo of the Falls of the Pool

View from the Emperor Falls campground.

Berg Lake and Berg Glacier from the trail up Toboggan Falls.

Mt. Robson and Mist Glacier and clouds.

 

Outflow from Berg Lake.

 

It's sort of like the waterfall is dreaming of the mountain. It used to live there after all.

The bottom of the steep part.

The river below Kinney Lake.

Enough.

  • Camped first night at Whitehorn, second night at Emperor Falls.
  • There are a lot of people backpacking in this area. Many are friendly. It’s supposedly the most popular back country trail in all of Canada.
  • It was way less crowded than Banff/Jasper.
  • Very nice, very well-maintained camp sites — there are pads with bark and benches and stuff.
  • Have to make reservations a month or so in advance.
  • Took my point-and-shoot camera, which doesn’t do well with bad lighting; i.e., it’s prettier than these pics make it look.
  • On second day hiked up to Emperor Falls, set up camp, walked down to Lake… eh, I forget. Some lake on the Jasper side of the line. Then hiked up Toboggan Falls (probably worth it), then went back to camp and played solitaire.
  • Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki is pretty good.
  • The two miles between Whitehorn and Emperor Falls is the steep part, but you pass by three big waterfalls, which sort of breaks up the horror.
  • The first three miles (to Kinney Lake) is a tourist hike. I saw a Mennonite family biking up to the lake (the women were wearing dresses, it was sort of cool).
  • I think the weather there is usually iffy.
  • I don’t like breakfast.
  • A&W in Canada (the restaurant) is awesome. Just really, really awesome. No joke.

bkd

Assorted Other Tourist Photos from Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay

Banff and Jasper are the ultimate in drive-up outdoorsmanship. So few reasons to go more than a hundred yards from your car, all packed into a 200-mile highway. It’s brilliant in its way.

Emerald Lake in Yoho NP -- so I shouldn't blame Banff/Jasper for this one.

And this guy was in Kootenay NP -- but still.

And so was this -- but all the rivers look the same there anyway.

 

This is Marble Canyon, but there isn't even any real marble there.

Another interchangeable river view (Bow River, Banff NP).

The mountain peaks are likewise interchangeable.

Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield, the ultimate drive-up glacier experience.

Athabasca Falls, which is mostly covered by a highway overpass.

Maligne Lake + Bad Lighting = Tourist Nirvana.

 

Maligne Canyon and by trying to get as few tourists in the shot as possible I totally missed the story.

And when I finally left Jasper for the last time, heading west into the unknown wilds of Mt. Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia, it was with a profound sense of relief.

bkd

Twin Falls Hike in Yoho National Park

This was a hike on which I went. FWIW, it was the most worthwhile day hike I went on in the greater Banff-Jasper area (although it’s in Yoho NP, a little ways west of Lake Louise). Cool hike, a solid A-minus, etc. I guess this post is a review now.

Hike starts at Takakkaw Falls, then heads up the Yoho Valley along the Yoho River for which the Yoho National Park was Yoho named. I just hiked up to Twin Falls and then came back via Marpole Lake, so it was sort of a lollipop hike and about 10 miles. (Supposedly making the hike longer by taking in part of the Iceline Trail and/or heading up Little Yoho Valley is also worthwhile, although I’m distrustful of recommendations regarding hikes anywhere near Banff/Jasper, especially when they add 2,500′ in elevation.)┬áMy hike goes up the river, passes a couple of small waterfalls, then passes the bigger Laughing Falls, then continues up-river until you get to Twin Falls, then comes back down via Marpole Lake. Ten miles round-trip and iirc 2,000′ or so of elevation gain.

Here are pictures:

Yoho River near the trailhead somewhere.

Falls, laughing.

Shadows on the Yoho.

I used to live in Twin Falls, Idaho, but those looked different from these.

Evidence that I was there and that my hair was messed up.

Same falls, more down-river.

Marpole Lake.

A wild marmot.

Takakkaw Falls = back to the start.

I dunno. It was nice. There’s a lodge at the falls where you can I guess stay the night or get tea or lunch. I’ll have to do that one time somewhere.

Okay.

bkd

Takakkaw Falls Is a Great Drive-Up Waterfall

I think it’s probably top-five among drive-up waterfalls anyway. I’m thinking Niagara, despite all those hotels on the Canadian side. Multnomah probably is in there. Huka Falls in New Zealand was pretty striking. Snoqualmie. Yosemite. Wailua’s nice. Takakkaw is very, very tall. It may or may not be the tallest waterfall in all of Canada! (Canada being a large country with a lot of waterfalls.) I’m guessing it’s top three probably. I’ll let my vast readership debate which the other two are.

Takakkaw Falls is located in Yoho National Park, which is in British Columbia and adjacent to Banff National Park (in Alberta). It’s kind of surprising how the tourist population decreases by half immediately upon crossing that line.

My pictures do a poor job of conveying the waterfall’s epicness. You’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s taller than Holy Jim Falls.

The falls and the Yoho River.

Note the lack of people in the photo. The glorious, fantastic lack of people.

Same falls, different view.

I probably should have waited around for some different light and bluer skies, but I’m not a very patient photog. If I can call myself a “photog”.

Then I went on a worthwhile hike.

bkd