Keepin’ this blog rollin with the long-awaited (yea right) Whistler Post. Sorry it took so long to get this one up. One of my goals for the New Year is better time management. Needless to say, there is still some work towards my goal left to do (and a 3 week jaunt to Costa Rica didn’t help, more on that to come).
Anyway, we last left off with our trip in Vancouver almost over. We’d had some issues getting the whole group together since one of our party was trapped in Washington D.C. This was when D.C. was hit with the first of their big snow storms this season. Eric’s sister had essentially missed the whole trip because she was trapped in a block of ice, so she and his parents decided to spend her one day in Vancouver exploring and having fun in the city. This meant it was just Eric and I that left the apartment at 6:00 am to catch the “Snowbus” at 6:30 am. We were committed to Snowboarding that day (apparently).
The Snowbus is this great shuttle between Vancouver and Whistler. We picked it up at 6:30 am and it made a few stops in Vancouver to pick other people up. It was an early ride but the bus gets you up the Mountain right when it opens at 8:00 am. We laughingly thought his would mean we would avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, everybody else had the good sense to get to the lifts when the mountain opens too. Oh well, we still beat most of the crowds because we already had our lift tickets. We bought a round trip ticket and our lift ticket for $109.29 (student rate). This INCLUDED gear rental for the day. Here are the rates for all combinations of tickets and bus fares. We thought that this was a pretty good deal. You can buy the tickets online, or at tourist info desks around the city, or on the bus in the morning. I’m not sure if you can also get your lift ticket if you just show up in the morning though.
The website talks about the awesomeness of the bus including movies and free onboard wi-fi. These “movies” just mean a ski video that is way too loud and jarring when you’re tired after a day on the mountain. And there was no wi-fi on this bus I’m pretty sure. But who’s bringing any electronics all the way to Whistler when you’re just going to be riding all day anyway?
Either way, the bus served it’s purpose and the ride was really pretty as the sun was coming up. We passed by a beautiful lake, with big rock islands jutting out of the water. Also, there was no traffic since it was so early. I’ve heard of similar buses here in the Bay Area going to Tahoe, and I’m sure if you live in some other ski area they have the same type of thing set up. I recommend it if you don’t have a car to drive there yourself or if you want a simple transport up there. We didn’t take anything really, except some food (to avoid airport-style prices at the Mountain Cafeteria) and sunscreen, we wore our snowboarding clothes and just picked up our gear when we got up there.
The rental system at Whistler was fairly efficient. They were pretty swamped but when we got our stuff (after about 30 minutes) the girl who was helping us (from Australia, of course) was such a sweetheart and took it one step further by giving us free helmets for the day and walking us over to where we needed to go. She definitely went above and beyond so that sort of made up for any amount of time wasted waiting around for gear.
Finally! We got to the mountain. It was pretty cold that morning, it was snowing where we were but we noticed that they still had the snow machines going full blast. Perhaps they were trying to get some snow built up for the Olympics (I wonder how that worked out for them, :D)?
We did several runs and had fun. Eric was very patient and would wait for me. Just so everyone knows, Eric is a wonderful snowboarder, whereas I like to call my technique “X-treme Falling Leaf”. This is where I do the Falling Leaf very, very fast (or at least I think it is). I’ve never properly learned to snowboard really, so this is pretty much what I have developed to have a good time. Someday I’d like to take a private lesson and have some Drill Sargeant of a snowboard instructor whip me into shape to make me do it correctly, but whenever I try to get myself to turn I fall and I always feel like I’m going to snap my neck. I quickly tire of the charade I play, like I’m actually going to be good at snowboarding at the end of the day (ha!), and I revert to my “X-treme Falling Leaf” (gosh, I’m cool). I digress….
So after almost half a day we’d been having fun but were pretty cold. We popped into one of the cafe’s to continue our Hot Chocolate Tour of Canada and to eat our snacks. It had been really cloudy all day and we realized at lunch that we had only been riding on the lower section of the mountain! We had been doing different runs and exploring but hadn’t even scratched the surface of what was there, and we had been riding for about 2 1/2 – 3 hours!
After realizing this we headed to the top of the mountain. As we rode up we realized what the problem had been. On the lower half of the mountain, it was cloudy, at the top of the mountain, it was bright and sunny! I hope this expresses the scale of this mountain, the fact that one half of the mountain lies below the clouds, and a whole other half lies above them. I’m trying to tell you that Whistler is ENORMOUS.
So it was kind of a revelation to arrive at the top of this mountain to find even more runs we could go on. We had a great time taking runs to the mid-mountain and then coming back up to the top. When we got to the top of the mountain we realized that we had been snowboarding on something called Blackcomb Mountain. Apparently when you buy a pass to Whistler you can go on both Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain. I’m sure locals are aware of this but I was happily surprised by this fact and it made the price of ticket that much more worth it.
When we realized this we decided to head on over to Whistler Mountain to see what all the fuss was about. One of the best features about coming to these mountains is that there’s a PEAK2PEAK Gondola that connects the two mountains. Now, Whistler/Blackcomb has all shapes and sizes of lifts and small gondolas going up and down the mountains. Something I had never seen was a bunch of lifts that had these plastic shields you could bring down over you to, I guess, protect you from the falling snow.
The Gondolas fit about a dozen people and the whole top half was windows so you could look all around. Two or three of the Gondolas are glass bottomed so you can see the views below you. Unfortunately, we didn’t get one of these special rides but we were still blown away by this experience.
After poking around the website just now (and watching some particularly cheesy videos) I’ve learned that this Gondola is 4 1/2 times higher than the Statue of Liberty and 3 times as long as the Golden Gate Bridge! It took us about 15 minutes to go from one side to the other. Because it goes from the top of one peak, down the side of one mountain and back up the side of the other mountain to it’s peak, that meant that we dipped back down below the cloud line for a bit and then came back up through it. This made for a particularly impressive experience.
I put in so many photos because this was a really cool part of the day. When we arrived on the other side it was beautiful and sunny there as well.
Here are some panorama photos that Eric took at the top of Whistler Mountain, click to enlarge them.
We did a few runs half way down the Mountain, taking in the view on this side because we were going down the back of the Mountain. On that side there were great views the valley that lies behind the two Mountains filled with clouds.
At around 2:45 pm we decided we probably one had time for one more run to get all the way down the Mountain. We set off, and man, was I in for a shocker. It took us 1 1/2 hours to get all the way down the Mountain. Obviously this was mostly my fault because I had to stop several times because my legs were killing me after riding for so long on my back edge. Needless to say I was kicking myself for thinking that my “X-treme Falling Leaf” would get me anywhere. But, I think anyone who Skis or Snowboards will recognize that this is an incredibly long time to get down any one mountain with or without stops. Again, I hope this gives you an idea of how GINORMOUS this mountain is.
So after a several battles with my snowboard we finally got all the way down the Mountain. We turned in our gear and snagged some more hot chocolate. It’s worth noting that we stopped into a bookstore before catching bus back at 5:00 pm, because it was at this bookstore -after perusing the Travel section- that Eric decided the next location for our travels – Costa Rica!!!
All in all we had a wonderful day at Whistler. It was a really fun mountain and we got some great snowboarding time in. We were really happy that we went and if any of you go to Vancouver I highly recommend this day trip. I think Snowboarders or Skiers who are more serious than me will enjoy it even more than I did, (and I imagine they may get down the Mountain quicker!).
So this concludes my stories about Vancouver and Whistler! I’m so happy that I got to go to Canada (especially before the crowds poured in for the Olympics) and it was a really special trip being with Eric’s family.
I just have a few last minute notes; from my last post I got some feedback that people wanted to hear some more personal stories about us and what we did. They also said that they wanted to see more photos of me and whoever is traveling with me. In this post I tried to bring in some more personal stories but I still want this to be a more professional travel blog – one that gives information and recommendations to other Occasional Expats – so I don’t feel comfortable putting up photos of myself and using this as a proxy Facebook. How did I do? I’d really love some constructive criticism and feedback about what you all think about this issue. Should I keep it more distanced or should I make it more personal? How much should I favor one side or the other, or should I try to balance it? Anything you guys can tell me I’d appreciate. I know a lot of my friends are writers or have blogs of their own, so I bet they’ve got something to say that would help me out. Leave me comments!
Besides that, thanks for reading guys! As I mentioned earlier, we just got back from our 3 week trip to Costa Rica. I hope put up the first post in a series about that trip sometime this week. Hope you enjoyed it and keep wandering!