I recently returned from yet another journey to one of my favorite places on the planet: Whistler, British Columbia. Visiting as many times as I have, you would think there would be few surprises in store, yet each time I discover something I haven’t seen before.
As you might imagine, this blockbuster, top-rated resort is having a raging snow year. During the three nights and days when I visited, those wonderful white, flaky, moist things just kept falling. Six inches of new snow the first night, five the next, five the last. Moreover, the temperatures were cold enough for the snow to be honest-to-goodness powder, more than my fatigued quads could handle by the third day.
If you follow snow sports at all, then you know that Vancouver/Whistler is the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Whistler will be hosting the Alpine events (downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom), Nordic (biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping), and the track speed events (bob sled, skeleton, luge).
The speed track is already constructed and reportedly will be the fastest in the world. I did get a chance to look at the track, and all I know for sure is that anyone who saddles up on this one should be tested for sanity. The ski jumps are so high they almost disappeared from view in the low cloud cover.
There are two noteworthy construction projects yet to be completed at Whistler. One is the continuing, ever-present road construction on the Sea to Ski Highway from Vancouver to Whistler. The amount of rock being moved is staggering, but the end result should make getting to the Olympics a much easier drive. As it is right now, the completed sections are an engineering marvel, having eliminated many of those tricky turns alongside the cliff overlooking Howe Sound.
The other construction project is a very visible one, because it is right smack where every resort visitor can see it. Whistler is undertaking the construction of a gondola that will link the top of Whistler mountain to the top of Blackcomb mountain. I don’t think this will be a ride for the squeamish. Traveling 2.73 miles from peak to peak at a maximum height above ground of almost 1,400 feet, this ride may require some fortitude just to get in one of the 28 cabins. I should mention that about 1.8 miles of this gondola is between two towers, making it the longest free span of its kind in the world.
Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing, told me that two of the cabins will even have glass floors, just to enhance the experience. With an expected opening date of December 2008, this lift will most likely change how people ski the mountains.
I should also mention that new U.S.-Canadian border procedures were put into effect on Jan. 23. Although going into Canada shouldn’t be any different, getting back into the United States will require a passport or birth certificate. I don’t know what the penalty is for failing to comply, and I don’t want to find out. Those border agents don’t smile, so why tempt fate?
One thing that isn’t better at this mega-resort is the value of the U.S. dollar. For all the years I have been snow sliding at Whistler, I always knew that the price I paid in Canada would be one-third less once I got back to Mercer Island. I didn’t realize how engraved that observation was until this trip, when I noticed my automatic reaction about pricing was to say “sure, it will obviously be less,” then to come back to reality that everything is at par. Old habits die hard, but Whistler definitely has become more expensive for Americans.
On this trip, I had a chance to do something at Whistler I had never done before: I went swinging in the trees on a ecotour called Ziptrek. Already world-renowned, Ziptrek tours sends participants, who hang by a climbing harness, speeding along steel cables called ziplines through the trees and over Fitzsimmons creek. The 2.5 hour tour includes five rides on cables from 80 to 2,000 feet long, this last one allowing me to approach 50 mph. The five segments are joined by a network of boardwalks, trails, aerial bridges and stairways up to 80 feet high in a forest canopy.
Tours run throughout the day, virtually every day, at a cost of $98. The meeting point is in the basement of the Carleton Lodge, situated just downstairs from the Longhorn Pub at the base of both mountains in the village. Our guides (Jeff and Renee) were spirited, well trained, and very informative about the temperate rain forest through which we were zipping. It turned out to be a heart pumping adventure high above the narrow valley below. Ziptrek employs more guides than any other adventure tour in British Columbia.
If you are considering going north, you might consider between Feb. 18-24. Whistler will host the best racers in the world for the Women’s Downhill and Super Combined, and the Men’s Super G and Giant Slalom on the new Olympic race courses. If you can find lodging, it could be quite a party.
John Naye can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.