Early on Tuesday morning, Jacqueline and I woke up on the North Shore of Vancouver. Today was the day we planned to hit the snow for the first time up at Whistler. Her father offered to drive us up, so we packed everything into the van and set off. Driving through the dark on the Sea to Sky highway was not a pleasant experience. It was raining which made visibility difficult on a fast but winding highway with no median strip. But after we reached Squamish, we slowly started to climb in elevation. Slowly, the roadside started to get a blanket of snow, which grew in depth as we travelled on. However, just a few miles from the villages, we got caught in a massive traffic jam that took a long time to clear.
To try and make up time that we had lost in the traffic, we were dropped off at the Creekside Gondola, a satellite ski resort to the main Whistler village. The resort consisted of two separate mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, which are joined by the Peak-2-Peak Gondola. We would spend the first day on Whistler Mountain. After putting on our skis, we headed up the Gondola. It was only my second time skiing, after a relatively successful outing in Austria at Kitzbühel back in February. Jacqueline’s plan was to head to the Whistler learning zone to give me a chance to remember what I had learned, but coming up from Creekside meant that we were on the wrong side of the mountain. Fortunately, there was a relatively easy escape run between the two, so we followed down the Expressway.
Apparently I had not forgotten all that much since February, and Jacquline was sufficiently impressed with my abilities that she decided to head straight for some proper runs, skipping the learning zone. We went up another gondola to the Roundhouse Lodge, where several of the chairlifts meet. It formed a central hub to most of the trails on Whistler. We spent the rest of the first day going up and down the Emerald Express chairlift, focused on the green runs of the Ego Bowl and Whiskey Jack. I picked it all up again fairly quickly, until we took a wrong turn and ended up on an ungroomed section of moguls at the bottom of a blue run. There, I spent more time in the snow than on my skis. We called it a shorter day and headed back down the Olympic run to Whistler Village. There, we met Jacqueline’s father again who drove us around to Brio, where we would be staying. Shirley, one of Jacqueline’s parent’s friends, had invited us to stay with them in a house they had rented, but they were still making their way up from Vancouver by the time we arrived, so we were able to relax through the afternoon in the hot tub. Eventually, Shirley arrived, with her two daughters Isabel and Claire, and Isabel’s boyfriend Kyle. After greetings, we settled in for dinner.
The next day, Jacqueline and I woke up early eager to hit the slopes again. Shirley kindly drove us into the village, before going back to wait for the others to wake up. This time, we headed up Blackcomb Mountain. Jacqueline thought that I was skiing well enough to try some of the easier blue runs. Tepid, we headed down to Jersey Cream to do a few runs there. Somewhat to my surprise, I was able to do the blue runs fairly successfully, being able to turn through the corners with at least a little bit of style. But on the second run down Wishbone, my calf started to cramp up quite heavily, so we stopped for a while at Rendezvous lodge to recover and grab some lunch. Calf cramps would be a recurring problem as I tried to adjust by equipment and skiing style to adapt. After a longer run down to the Excelerator chairlift, we decided that the mid to lower slopes of the mountian were a little bit too icy. We stopped for a bit and grabbed some lunch from the cafe at Glacier Creek. From there, we ventured slightly further out to some higher elevations, going below Jersey Cream to reach the Crystal Ridge chairlift. We stayed out there for a bit doing runs like Ridge Runner, but my calf kept cramping so we had to take it relatively easy. We then headed in for some shorter runs back at Jersey Cream. Soon enough, it came time to download, so we headed down Springboard and Stoker back to the village. There, we met Isabel, Claire and Kyle who had been skiing and snowboarding up on Whistler. Shirley drove us back to the house, where we settled in for the night.
On Thursday, the skiing conditions did not look that good. Given that we were in Whistler for six days with a five day ski pass, we opted to take this as our day off. Instead, we rested our tired muscles, and then wandered into the village to have a look around. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant in town, but otherwise stayed home.
By Friday, the poor conditions had passed and a load of fresh powder was up on the mountain. But the effects in the valley were still to be seen as the steep driveway into the garage had iced over, making reversing out of a perilous task. But when we got to the mountain, even early on, the gondola queue was packed, so we opted to take the older Fitzsimmons/Garbonzo chairlifts up to Whistler Mountain. Now with some added confidence, we spent some time on the runs around Big Red and Franz’s chairlifts. Franz’s was one of the oldest and slowest lifts on the mountain; so old that the chairs were not being disconnected at the bottom or top, and you just had to ski out and get on a chair at full, albeit slow, speed. It was all going well until Jacqueline suggested a route that got us stuck at the bottom of a creek having to climb up a steep slope on our skis to get out. It wasn’t very pretty. We grabbed lunch at Roundhouse, before Jacqueline decided she wanted to show me the Peak-2-Peak gondola. It was one of the larger gondolas on the mountain, and hung down over the valley between the two, previously rival, mountain areas. It gave some really pretty views and helped contextualise where we were skiing. When we got to the other side, we saw that 7th Heaven, one of the upper parts of Blackcomb mountain, was open, so we headed up there in search of good snow. Fortunately, we found some, and the runs were some of the most fun of the trip so far. When there was a break in the cloud, there were excellent views across to Whistler Mountain.
On Saturday, Jacqueline’s parents had returned to Whistler, her father opting to do a little bit of skiing himself while he was here. Also, Shirley asked to come follow us; as apparently Isabel and Kyle were too fast for her. Claire had crashed and stayed at home, sore. We headed up to Whistler, again on the chairlifts instead of the gondola. By now, I was skiing very well, so we tried out some of the harder blue runs around Emerald. Soon enough, Harmony opened, so we could go to the top of the ridgeline on Whistler for the first time. It was very busy up there, as many of the more advanced skiiers were using it as a launching point for runs down into the Harmony bowl. We instead stuck to the ridgeline route on one run and the base of the bowl on the other, before Shirley decided it was too foggy near the top to continue quite so high. So instead, we headed for the other side of the mountain, where the snow was just as good. Over here, I attempted my first black one, albeit a slightly easier one: the Upper Dave Murray. This was the run that was used for the Olympics downhill events back in 2010. Fortunately, I didn’t come unstuck, which was a major boost to my confidence. We had one more run up to the T-bars, before heading for home.
Sunday was the last day of skiing, and Jacqueline wanted to take me up to the Peak chairlift on Whistler, as it had only just started running. We were without Shirley once again, and so while we waited for the Peak chairlift to start, I tried out a gladed, forested run for the first time. It wasn’t quite as successful as I had hoped, but I didn’t hit any trees. Finally, after the Peak chairlift did open, we joined the queue to get to the highest point on the mountain. At that elevation, the cloud and fog had set in, and so we got a little lost. We were intending to ride the Peak-to-Creek run, but took a wrong turn and ended up at the top of The Saddle. This was the steepest run I had yet seen, in deep powder snow. I was quite nervous, and despite Jacqueline’s suggestion to side-ski down, I took a deep breath and set off. Everything that I had learned came into practice, as I made my way to the bottom. Naturally, it was only when the run flattened off did I finally fall. No matter, we rode the Peak chairlift up again and this time successfully found the Peak-to-Creek run. It was utterly gorgeous, the clouds parted just in time for the best view over the valley of the entire week, and one of my favourite runs. We had just enough time to make our way all the way up to Harmony again, before heading down for one last, easy run. Back in the village, we met up with Jacqueline’s parents again, got out of our ski clothes and headed back towards Vancouver, with a Tim Horton’s stop at Squamish.