The Road to Whistler Feb 27

My AirBnB host Pat googled road conditions between Revy and Whistler, and he said it looked good. We hadn’t had any snow so I figured I should be ok. My Google Map route was to take Trans Canada from Revy to Cache Creek where the Trans Can cuts south, and I would take Hwy 99 west to Whistler. This route is an hour or two shorter than taking Trans Can to Vancouver and cutting back north to Whistler, so the route was set.

Sometimes I feel as though I am Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road. Things always start out pretty copacetic. The roads are wide, well cared for, interesting and easy. That’s how the trip began between Revy and Kamloops. There were so many places I should have pulled over and taken a picture, but I knew I had over six and a half hours ahead of me, and there were few pullouts. At Cache Creek I left the safety of Hwy 1 Trans Canada and began the shortcut on Hwy 99.

As I study the map today the clue that this section of road would be desolate, narrow and windy is apparent—there is not a town nor village on the map between Lillooet and Pemberton. But as I drove following Google Maps, a person doesn’t get the “big picture” on a cell phone.

The other clue should have been the one lane bridges that were within the first 10 miles, and the fact I don’t recall passing a single semi-truck on the road, although there must have been some somewhere…

One of several one lane bridges, Hwy 99

Hwy 99 would be treacherous if the weather were bad, but I had sunny skies and dry roads for the most part and little traffic to contend with. If only the lanes weren’t so curvy, I could have enjoyed the awesome valleys, canyons, mountain peaks and cliffs that I encountered around every bend before me. Parts of the drive were forested; other parts were barren. Pavilion, which looked like the home of the Pavilion Indian Band, was a wide spot in the road where there was some road construction going on. I looked back to the north and east and saw the Fraser River canyon that was as impressive and humbling to me as the Grand Canyon. There was actually a First American woman with a hand held stop sign to “manage” the traffic through the construction. I think I was probably the only vehicle she saw all day.

I kept thinking as I neared Pemberton that I would begin to feel the outskirts of civilization, since by then it is only a 30-minute drive to Whistler—but in fact as I drove into Pemberton, it reminded me of my home in Montana on the Crow reservation. There’s civilization, but homes have corrals with a few horses, nestled back by the creek that the road followed. It’s civilization, but not the city-slicker type.

The drive through the wilds only magnified the gentrification of Whistler. Calgary had hosted the Olympics in 1988. Whistler had hosted the Olympics in 2010.  What a difference 22 years make, yet the boon to the economy is apparent for both communities. For the Calgary Olympics, the influx of guests helped build the economy back from the closing of the coal mines. The Olympics helped make Whistler one of the premier destination ski resorts in the world.

Whistler-Blackcomb

My Worldmark Cascade Lodge condo was literally a block and a half from the Whistler village entrance. I walked carrying my skis to the gondola. And the condo had a full kitchen and plenty of room, which some of the high demand condos do not.

Whistler is really two mountains—Whistler and Blackcomb. The Olympic Village is primarily on the Whistler side and is a planned community, built for the guests coming to the Olympics. My Canmore friends explained it to me—that the village was built so as a person strolled down the streets, every turn, every pathway opens up to eye-catching and appealing storefronts, restaurants, condos, gift shops. Twinkling lights guide, bridges lead to ice rinks, open air patios blast music and engage young, exuberant après ski clientele gathered in clusters under umbrellas and heaters, creating a most convivial atmosphere at the gondola and chair lifts base.

Unless you are a solo traveler. Then all the raucous, loud music and crowded bars makes for a more exclusive versus inclusive environment. Or maybe it was me. So the first night I avoided the front bars and followed a less traveled street to 21 Steps Kitchen where I sat at the bar and had my mussels, salad and wine.

That being said, I did talk to my extroverted son and told him he should come to Whistler. It’s party central, and the way the town is laid out, I could see how a group would have a rip-roaring time. The two mountains rise above the village, and a good time could be had by all.

I only had a couple days at Whistler-Blackcomb, so I took the Whistler Village Gondola up. I knew that both mountains had mountain tours, and planned on taking them. The information concerning the tours was sketchy—I had to do some intense searching to find out where to go and at what time the tours started. Since I got to the mountain early, I took a couple runs to warm up. The Harmony chair that services an interesting face of the mountain broke down while I was waiting in line.  I debated on waiting, but knew the tour started at 12:30, so I hiked/skated over to the Emerald Express.  I got a funny vibe on the Whistler side—I can’t quite describe it—but maybe it felt more touristy, or maybe it was that like me, everyone came to ski Whistler, because that is the known entity.

Regardless, I decided I had time to take the Peak2Peak tram that runs mid-mountain between Whistler and Blackcomb, and that’s really when my day began.

It was a sunshiny day. Again. The tram between mountains dipped down into the clouds, then rose up out of the clouds. It takes about 15 minutes to cross. I got off, went to the Blackcomb trail map sign where a mountain information host was waiting for me—it seemed.

I was warmly welcomed and the man explained the tour format. He encouraged me to stay on the Blackcomb side to take the tour. He was Canadian Japanese (!). I decided to stay and take the tour.

These tours are worth every dime (of course they are free but that’s beside the point.) Our guide was a retired school teacher/principal and had lived all over Canada. She had retired to a condo on the Blackcomb side with her husband who wasn’t a skier but was beginning to take lessons! She took us from one side of upper Blackcomb mountain on the north east side where we skied the smaller glacier to the west facing 7th Heaven.  We learned about these Inukshuk rock welcoming statues that were spread out over the two mountains and had been established as a sign of welcome during the Olympics. I skied over 18,500 vertical feet that day and had a rip-roaring good time.

To say the least, I was whipped.

I planned on taking the Whistler tour on Day 2, but poor weather conditions cancelled out the tours. Wind closed the Harmony Ridge and Peak Express, both service the top of the mountain. No bluebird day this day. The wind was howling, and for a while I was the only person waiting for the tours. I had already skied quite a bit of the mid-mountain runs, taking Emerald Express and Big Red Express, but not Garbanzo Express. Weather conditions being as they were, I called it a short day, and went down to the Village.

Because it was early, and because the weather was stinky, the Village was quiet. I went to the Longhorn Saloon, one of the patio deck bars right at the base of the mountain. Whereas the day I had arrived the place was hopping—it was around 4 pm that day—I came off the mountain around 2 pm, and had the place almost to myself. I ordered up a Canadian Caesar knowing this would be one of my last chances to try the Canadian version of a Bloody Mary. Technically I was told it is a Bloody Mary made with Clamato juice instead of tomato juice, but I am not sure this one was. But the spicy salt and pepper on the rim had a bite, and the drink wasn’t bad, either.

Canadian Caesar

I really needed at least another day or two at Whistler-Blackcomb. Like Banff/Lake Louise, the question begs, which is better? In all fairness, I wasn’t able to ski most of Whistler because of the weather and the chair that wasn’t working that first day. Also, Whistler-Blackcomb is significantly larger in skiable area than Banff/Lake Louise, so it would take more time and miles to truly assess.

But my gut says Blackcomb, primarily because the hosts were so welcoming. I think part of the issue is that Blackcomb is like an afterthought—they get less publicity, less credit, fewer clients. Consequently they really go out of their way to be hospitable.

Whistler-Blackcomb are part of the Epic Pass/Vail Resorts and there’s definitely a personality that Vail is going after. Upscale, big, world-class. It was worth the price of the ticket.

As a side note to Worldmark owners, the Cascade Lodge that I stayed at is primo for access to the trendy Whistler village but it is a hotel-like setup, with hallways and several stories. The other Worldmark Whistler Sundance is on the Creekside gondola access and is a more mountain condo setup where the units share a wall, but each has its own entrance along an outside walkway. I would book the Cascade Lodge again because of the location—the fact that we had TWO false fire alarms at 9 and 10 pm… well, if I catch those teenagers, I’ll wring their scrawny little necks.

Whistler Fire Rescue–Worldmark False Alarm

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