By Carolyn Price
There is no question of where you are when you arrive at Whistler/Blackcomb.
First of all, as you gaze upward from the Village, you’ll see the world’s longest and highest gondola, Peak 2 Peak crisscrossing the valley between these two monstrous British Columbia mountains.
Second, reminders of the 2010 Winter Olympics dot the landscape: there are dozens of colorful Olympic rings (many of which are big enough to pose in for photos), as well as souvenirs of the Olympic mascots – Miga, Quatchi and Sumi – based on the local wildlife and First Nations legends, mythologies and legendary creatures.
Third, there are piles of carefully stacked and balanced rocks in human-like form nearly everywhere. The logo of the 2010 Winter Games, the “inukshuk” is a stone landmark that was used by the Inuit people of North America to mark fruitful hunting and fishing spots as well as a reference or navigation point for travelers.
When you think about it, though, aren’t rocks the biggest reason people flock to this volcanic mountain area?
Snow on these steeps was the allure for hosting the world’s greatest snow athletes four years ago. And the winter is still the biggest draw for the thousands upon thousands who enjoy the Whistler/Blackcomb snow experience every year.
The summer season here is rapidly growing. Hiking (and mountain biking) are turning Whistler/Blackcomb into a bonafide four-season resort. With lift-served access to over 50 kilometers of hiking, running and interpretive walking trails, there really is something for everyone within this volcanic landscape.
We visited Whistler in late August when the mountain temperatures were anything but cool. Even as we soared 1,400 feet above the valley floor at an elevation of about 6,000 feet in the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, we were comfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts.
If you haven’t been on the Peak 2 Peak, there is nothing to be afraid of – as I initially was. The 11-minute ride would take us nearly three miles across the valley, but within minutes of starting our ride, my fear subsided as I hopped from seat to seat to take photos and wave to people going by in the opposite direction.
Once on the Whistler side, we got a snack at the Roundhouse Lodge and then walked down a short, wide trail to board the Peak Express Lift that would finally take us to Whistler’s summit at 7,087 feet.
Hmmm, I craned my neck and looked up. I then tilted my head back even more to try and see the top. I suppose in the winter it would look a little less scary, but without the snow, the lift up these craggy exposed rocks was sharp and steep. I read that it had 1,300 feet of vertical during the 3,300-foot chairlift ride.
I almost didn’t get on but my family insisted I would regret it if I didn’t go. Even though my legs went forward as my head said no, I found myself on the chairlift, holding my 11-year-old daughter’s hand during the 10-minute ride up.
Take it from me – do this; you won’t regret it.
In addition to the inukshuk rock piles randomly scattered about at the summit, we could see for miles on this clear August day. In the distance we identified the iconic Black Tusk, which is actually a lava dome formed more than 170,000 years ago.
Walk around Whistler anywhere, look up and you’ll probably see Black Tusk. And, if you want to hike there, plan ahead to find out what kind of route and distance you want; you can’t walk there from atop Whistler’s Summit.
At the Summit, we took the trail that most tourists take. The Whistler Summit Interpretive Walk is two intersecting loops (one steep) that total a mile and will take you about 60 minutes to complete, depending on how many times you stop and take pictures and/or keep exclaiming to your hiking companions, “Wow! Look over there!”
Pictures taken, water bottles almost empty and stomachs growling, it was time to take the Peak Experience lift back to the Roundhouse Lodge where an incredible mountain-top BBQ buffet awaited us.
Surrounded by scenic vistas on the open-air deck parked at 6,000 feet high, we were in post-hiking bliss as we wolfed down yummy BBQ, a variety of fresh salads and more than one dessert – all washed down with a couple of Canadian Kokanee’s and lemonades.
With dusk approaching, we boarded the Whistler Village Gondola and headed back down to the Village. Planning our adventure for the next day, we picked up some brochures on renting mountain bikes and headed to our condo at the Coast Blackcomb Suites at Whistler.
Although the day had exclamation marks stamped all over it, we were happy to leave the rocks on the mountain and lay our weary heads on our pillows. Tomorrow, we would do it all over again on our bikes!
(Note: The Peak 2 Peak ceases summer operations Sept. 21.)
Carolyn Price is publisher of OutdoorsNW magazine.
Coast Blackcomb Suites at Whistler: www.coasthotels.com/hotels/bc/whistler/coast-blackcomb-suites