Friday, March 07, 2008

Whistler trip (cont'd)

After three or four years of wanting to go, I finally succeeded in going to Whistler this year. I was a bit concerned that after waiting so long, my expectations would be too high, but in the end, the weather was fine, the mountains were wide-open and gorgeous, and the snow was amazing.

I was told by several people that the trip would be most worth it if we skied for at three or four days. I've never tried skiing four days in a row before, so I figured we could go for four days and ski three out of those four. With travel time from Vancouver, we'd need a total of five days for the whole trip. I chose Presidents' Day weekend, so it would only be two days of vacation time, figuring the Canadians wouldn't be celebrating Presidents' Day, so the lines wouldn't be too much longer than usual.

We flew into Vancouver late on Thursday the 14th, and stayed overnight near the airport. (Yes, it was Valentine's Day, but I never liked Valentine's Day anyway.) The next morning, we got up at 6am, had our free continental breakfast (mmm, waffles), and were out the door by 7am. Unfortunately, it was snowing, and the road was under construction in many places (probably in preparation for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010), so the drive took longer than expected. We also stopped in Squamish to buy our discounted 7-11 lift tickets, and had some difficulty with the parking shuttle, so by the time we hit the slopes it was after 10am.

The first day we stayed on the Blackcomb side. I hate skiing with poor visibility, so I worried at first when the snow didn't stop, but as it turned out, there were actually good ski conditions over most of Blackcomb Mountain. We hit a bunch of the trails near Solar Coaster, Excelerator, Jersey Cream, and Crystal Chair, before grabbing some food at Glacier Creek. After lunch, we decided to brave the mountain host's warning and try out Glacier Express. Bad decision. Visibility was so poor that I couldn't even see the ground right where I was standing. It took us almost half an hour to creep back down to lower elevation, where we stayed for the rest of the day. As an aside, the mountain hosts are super helpful; they stand at the top of the major lifts and give advice on navigation and trail conditions. I really wish every ski resort had them.

We had some trouble finding the property management office to check into our condo, but finally managed to get our keys, got parked, unloaded our luggage, showered, bought groceries, and started cooking around 7pm. We had spaghetti, garlic bread, and spinach, and like all after-ski meals, it tasted amazing. Afterwards we played a game of Settlers before getting to bed.

The second day we checked out the Whistler side. It wasn't snowing anymore, and conditions were excellent at the top and bottom of the mountain. Unfortunately, mid-mountain was shrouded in heavy mist, as we discovered halfway down Franz's Chair. Consequently, we tried to stay mostly at the top of the mountain, in the Harmony and Symphony areas, both of which were very crowded, since it was Saturday, and they had the best snow conditions.

Symphony Amphitheatre, with visible mid-mountain mist:

We actually had quite an adventure getting from Harmony to Symphony. The first time, we missed the green trail that leads directly to Symphony, and bypassed the subsequent black, so we ended up on a blue that took us right back to Harmony. There, we spent 15 minutes waiting for the lift chair, making us quite eager to get away. So, the second time we missed the green trail, we decided to just take the black "Sun Bowl" instead. For some reason, I was in the lead, and I kept pushing to the right side, hoping to avoid the large moguls I was seeing on the left. Unfortunately, the trail kept getting steeper and steeper, until I finally decided to give up; I actually took off my skis and walked about 20 feet back up the mountain, until I could get back over to the left. The walking part was quite a challenge, and I'm not sure I would have made it if my friends weren't helping me with my gear. The left side was a pretty steep, mogul-filled bowl, but we were able to slowly make our way down to the Symphony Bowl, and from there to the Symphony Express. At the bottom of the Sun Bowl, I paused to catch my breath, and when I saw the narrow trail on the left-side bluff that I'd almost ended up on, I was pretty happy about my decision to walk back up the mountain.

At the end of the day we tried to take the Peak-to-Creek trail all the way down the mountain, but we missed the Peak lift by a few minutes, because it closed at 3pm instead of 3:30pm, like the other lifts. Instead, we made our way down some of the runs under the Whistler Gondola, most of which I enjoyed very much. We were much more efficient the second day getting back to the condo; instead of having to drive we took the Whistler Village shuttle, and by 6pm we had dinner on the table. This time we made "soft tacos", which were more like burritos, but messier.

The third day, we slept in, and then wandered around Whistler Village for awhile, stopping at the library, a camera store, an ice cream store, a bunch of other little shops, a hamburger joint, and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. I'm totally addicted to freshly made candy, so I bought some pecan and cashew turtles, some old English toffee, and some fudge (German chocolate and B-52). Yum. We also spent some time in the bookstore, before heading home for a few games of Settlers (or Seafarers, rather). For dinner, we went to the Bavaria Restaurant for fondue. We ordered cheese fondue, Chinese-style meat fondue, and of course, Belgian chocolate dessert fondue. My favorite was the cheese fondue; the cheese was a mix of Gruyere and Emmental, the wine didn't overwhelm the cheese, and they'd also added a touch of brandy. The chocolate was also very good; in retrospect we probably should have ordered four or five of them (for the six of us) rather than just three.

Fondue time!

Monday the 18th was the last ski day, and it was also the best. Since it was the last day, we decided to go hard-core, so we woke up early, and were at the bottom of the Whistler gondola by 7:30am. We bought "Fresh Tracks" tickets, which let us go up the gondola early, and also gave us access to a pretty decent breakfast buffet. After loading up on pancakes, muffins, fruit, eggs, sausage, and bacon, we got out on the mountain just after the lifts opened (around 8:30am). We were determined to get up to the Peak since we'd missed out the last time, but the Peak lift didn't open until 9, so we took a few runs nearby while we waited. When we finally got to the Peak, we took a billion pictures of the view, as well as the giant Inukchuk statue at the top, before heading down the Peak-to-Creek trail. It took us over 35 minutes to get from top to bottom, and although we did stop a few times to admire the snow and the view, we were still going at a pretty good clip. I think that was my favorite run of the whole trip.

A very large Inukchuk:

Looking down the gondola at Whistler Village:

After that, we tried out a few easy blacks in the area (Dave Murray, Bear Paw) and then headed over to the Blackcomb side. We hadn't had a chance to try out the 7th Heaven area on our first day, so that was where we went first. There, we discovered a slight downside to the beautiful weather. It was actually so warm that the snow was starting to get a little damp and slushy. We only ended up doing a couple of runs before deciding to head to the less-sunny part of the mountain. We had a good time on both Glacier and Crystal (since we could actually see the terrain this time!) and I even tried another mogul-y black, Heavenly Basin, which turned out to be not too bad; the top was steep but less bumpy, and the bottom was bumpy but less steep. Unfortunately, at this point, our group split into two. Half of the people didn't want to try the moguls and half did, and we lost each other when we got confused as to the lift at which to meet. Luckily, it was already around 2pm by this time, so we just skied the rest of the day apart. As it turned out, no one ate lunch, so we all had nearly eight hours of skiing that day. Apparently we'd managed to stuff ourselves sufficiently at the breakfast buffet to last until closing time. My group caught one of the last lifts at Solar Coaster right as they were closing, and then did almost a straight shot down. The one short break was at my request; my legs were starting to feel pretty jelly-like at that point.

The view from the top of 7th Heaven:

For our last dinner, we put in two pre-made lasagnas, stir-fried some green beans, and I personally ate quite a bit of my candy that I had bought the previous day. We actually did a pretty good job of eating up the leftover food, but I did end up bringing home a bottle of corn oil and some Cheerios. I also tried to bring home some chips and guacamole, but the guac got confiscated by the TSA as a "liquid".

Overall, I thought the trip went extremely well. The weather was okay the first day, good the second day, and awesome the last day. The snow was good all three days (it was actually best the first day), except when 7th Heaven started to melt on the last afternoon. The condo was pretty expensive ($400+) but we easily fit six people, since we had two bedrooms plus a pull-out sofa bed. We also had three full bathrooms (which came in handy after skiing each day), a pretty good-sized washer and dryer, a full kitchen, and a pretty decent-sized living area. The Whistler Village shuttles were convenient and ran regularly, which made it really easy to get to the slopes (except on the first day, when we hadn't checked in yet). Plus, the Village itself was actually pretty big and had some cute shops and restaurants; it was fun walking around on our day off. In short, I would definitely consider going back at some point in the near future.

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