Ski report

Despite the frustration of the Denver blizzard / reroute, we did manage to make it to Whistler Blackcomb for our Christmas ski vacation. We were supposed to be flying out on Thursday December 21, but we ended up leaving Friday night, staying overnight in Vegas, and arriving in Whistler on the afternoon of Saturday the 23rd, nearly 48 hours later than originally planned. I had spent pretty much the entire day Thursday attempting to reschedule the trip. At first, it looked like the only way the trip was going to happen was if we paid an extra $1500 for our hotel.

I’ll spare the gory details, but basically we had to cut our 5-day vacation down to 4, while paying the same price. One good thing did come out of our problems: the best day of skiing was our last day — the day we wouldn’t have skied at all, had the Denver snowstorm that delayed us never occurred.

Whistler Blackcomb is simply an enormous ski resort. It’s got over 8,000 acres of skiable terrain, and a vertical drop of 5,280 feet. While the first two days were windy, with whiteout conditions made skiing at higher elevations next to impossible, our third and final skiing day was gorgeous and calm. It wasn’t perfectly clear, but visibility was such that we could actually see the surrounding mountain range, which we couldn’t do the first two days. Here’s a shot of Jim and Nora on the lift about halfway up the hill:

At an ordinary ski resort, we’d be almost to the top of the mountain — we were about 2500 feet above the base. But here, we were merely halfway there. I convinced the kids to take the lift all the way to the top of Whistler Mountain. Here’s Nora at an elevation of about 7,000 feet:

Here, the lift ascended steeply, over rock pinnacles and across chasms, with huge, steep bowls of deep snow extending miles in each direction. We wouldn’t be skiing down them: Jim was a novice snowboarder, and Nora was just an intermediate skier. Instead, we’d head down the back side of the mountain. The slopes were flat, but the view was spectacular:

After skiing halfway down the mountain, we were ready for lunch. Then we proceeded toward the base. Here are the kids at about 4,000 feet:

It was at about this point that the kids declared they’d had enough. I suggested that I ski ahead and hit the lift at Blackcomb while they headed for the lodge. I wanted to ski a vertical mile, and since Blackcomb mountain was a little taller than Whistler, this was the only way to do it. It takes four lifts to get to the top of Blackcomb glacier (actually about 50 feet below the “top” — you still have to hike to the glacier). Then it’s about a 7 mile trip to the next lift, behind the rest of the ski area, and still 1,204 feet above the base. Here’s a photo of the view from the glacier:

Yes, that’s fog down there. Yes, I was about to ski into it. See, this is me:

My new prescription goggles failed me about 300 yards from this point. Not only were the slopes completely fogged in, my goggles were completely fogged up. I actually removed them and put on my glasses. My glasses proceeded to fog up, and then they decided that it was “bright” out, and the progressive lenses darkened to the full extent they would on a summer day. This was worse than the goggles. I decided to wipe down the goggles and wear them. The only way to keep them from fogging was to ski fast, and it was difficult to ski fast without being able to see — both due to the partially fogged goggles and the actual foggy atmosphere.

In addition, exhaustion was beginning to set in. The fog was probably about 2,000 vertical feet below the top of the lift, and the snow was roughly the consistency of wet concrete. At a normal resort, I would be at the bottom, but I still had over 3,000 vertical feet yet to ski. Eventually I skied through the fog, and stopped for a moment’s breath, at which point my goggles immediately fogged up again. On a mountain this tall, there can be three or more distinct weather patterns, depending on your altitude. It can be sunny at the top, snowy in the middle, and rainy at the bottom. Or sunny, foggy, and overcast, as it was today. When I finally reached the top of the Excalibur Gondola, I needed a break, so I took the Excelerator lift (I don’t make these names up) up to the coffee shop and ordered a double shot. This gave me a boost, but now I’d have to ski over 2,800 more vertical feet to get to the bottom.

By the end of the day, I was exhilarated, but also completely exhausted. I’d skied much more than a vertical mile, ascending to the top of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in the same day. I’d guess I skied about 25,000 vertical feet that day. A great trip, but I think I prefer the snow at Park City (at least the time I was there, two years ago) — a bit lighter, and there wasn’t so much of it. I think we’ll head back that way next year.

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