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Checking Olympic venues at Whistler Mountain
Story by Lee Juillerat
Photos by Larry Turner

Oh, the tales I’ve heard about skiing at Whistler. About its vastness. About its incredible scenery. About ski runs that dive down steeps and weave through ever-changing kaleidoscopes of terrain. About the nightlife in its village. Friends who assumed I’d visited at least once were always quietly stunned when I confessed that, nope, I’d never been to Whistler. I’d skied on three continents, in five countries and at a hundred-plus ski areas big and small, but not Whistler.
No more. Now I have my own Whistler tales to tell.

Whistler Village
End of the Day Chat
Blackcomb and Fairmont Hotel
Evening Diner
Amsterdam Pub
Whistler Plaza

Whistler is actually Whistler Blackcomb, a pair of ski areas that individually would be world-class destination resorts. Combined, the side-by-side hills offer a bouillabaise selection of ski terrain over a combined 8,171 acres with a vertical rise of more than 5,200-feet. The longest run on each mountain is seven miles. The areas have 38 lifts, from T-bars to high-speed quads, and more than 200 runs for first-time beginners to experts seeking adrenalin-rush bowls, cliffs and jumps. The area is so large that the usual trail map is, appropriately, termed a “Mountain Atlas.”

Blackcomb Powder
Whistling Slopes
Big Air Boarder
Neon Inspiration

Whistler’s mind-boggling offerings aren’t exactly a secret. More than two million visitors make yearly pilgrimages. Just two driving hours north of Vancouver, B.C., it attracts skiers and snowboarders from the Pacific Northwest and, with easy air connections, around the globe. As I learned, Whistler is cosmopolitan, with accents and languages from all over. Whistler Blackcomb annually rates at the top of the charts as one of the world’s most-favored destinations for skiers and snowboarders and, in summer, golfers, hikers, mountain bikers and vacationers.
That buzz is intensifying because Whistler will serve as the host mountain resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Unusually, most of venues are already in place at Whistler, Vancouver and other nearby sites. Whistler will host several Alpine events - the downhill, super G, giant slalom and combined – plus the Nordic events - the biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined – along with such sliding events as ski jumping, bobsleigh, luge and skelton. During the Games, nightly medal ceremonies will be held in the village’s Celebration Plaza. And, as officials like to brag, more than 90 percent of the terrain on Whistler and Blackcomb will be open to skiers and riders throughout the games.

Grooming Whistler
Last Run

Checking the Map
Evening Light

The statistics and facts about Whistler are incredible, but what genuinely matters, as I learned, is the experience.
John Paulson, an experienced Whistler visitor, guided photographer Larry Turner, another Whistler first-timer, along the maze of lifts and runs. Good thing. That first day, partly because of fog and low clouds, John focused on Blackcomb, which has more runs in the shelter of trees and, conviently, was easily accessed via the Wizards Express, the chairlift reached by Lower Cruiser, an intermediate run located just outside our slope-side lodging.
We moved as the skies briefly cleared and the upper mountain chairs opened. We began with runs off the Excelerator, Jersey Cream and Crystal chairs, then joined the throng to fluffy runs off the 7th Heaven Express. After lunch in cozy Horstman Hut, we skied through a tunnel to the Blackcomb Glacier, loaded on the Showcase T-bar and eventually worked our way to the Glacier Express until polishing off the afternoon, and our putty-like legs, on runs from the Solar Coaster Express.
The next morning, under falling snow, we joined others for the pre-dawn ride up the Whistler Village Gondola, up and up to the 6.069-foot elevation Roundhouse Lodge for the Fresh Tracks Breakfast. The runs opened before we’d packed away the last of the scrambled eggs, so we scrambled outside. Like gerbils we skied non-stop to the Big Red, Emerald and Harmony Express chairs, jumped in line, rode to the top and zipped back down, searching for, and finding, pockets of untouched or lightly skied powder. Back at Whistler Village we rode the Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola back to Blackcomb and readied for an afternoon zipline tour.

Zipline Bridge
John Zipping
la bosca café

Marriott Hotel
Longhorn Saloon

Whistler Village
Dining at the Irish Pub
Irish Pub


I’ve zipped elsewhere, but Whistler’s is a ripping zip-trip. Ziplining, for the uninitiated, involves flying across valleys and rivers while harnessed and clipped onto a steel cable. John set the standard on the first of five lines, tilting on his side. At the final line, which parallels a lower mountain ski run, John, Larry and I took turns stepping backwards off the platform, leaning back, kicking our feet in the air, and – zip-beedy-day - flying upside down with arms spread through the trees and past shocked skiers.
Maybe it was the upside-down zip, or maybe the great dinner, and possibly the Murphy’s on-tap at the Irish pub. However, whatever, on Day 3 my legs kicked in and the skiing was truly spectacular. It didn’t hurt that the grooming had smoothed uneven surfaces, or that the sun was shining, or that the rental boots that had cramped my feet mysteriously seemed to fit. Like a yo-yo I rode lifts up, then zip-zoomed back down, mixing runs and terrain. Focusing on Blackcomb, I explored new territory. Ironically, that morning I had misplaced my pass and been left behind while John and Larry took off without me. When we eventually regrouped that evening both were genuinely concerned that I’d missed a great day on the slopes. And both were equally delighted to learn that, magically, I had found the pass and, with it, one of the most joyous skiing days of my life.
 When You Go
Whistler Blackcomb is located in the Coast Mountains north of Vancouver, British Columbia, about a two-hour drive on the visually spectacular Sea to Sky Highway. Scheduled bus service runs from Vancouver and Vancouver Airport. Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city with air service from around the world. The two cities will be host cities for the 2010 Olympics, which run February 12 to 28, followed by the Paralympics March 12 to 21.
Construction-wise, the big news for Whistler Blackcomb is the $52 million Peak to Peak Gondola that will unite the two areas, with opening set for December 2008. The gondola will transport winter and summer guests 2.73 miles from Whistler’s Roundhouse Lodge to Blackcomb’s Rendezvous Lodge in 11 minutes. Along with allowing winter skiers and snowboarders easy access to the two mountains, it will transport summer hikers, backpackers and sightseers to the mountains expansive and high alpine terrain.
Whistler Village and the neighboring region have 115 hotels, condos and bed and breakfasts with more than 5,800 rooms, 230 hostel beds and 172 campsites. There are more than 90 restaurants and bars and more than 200 retail shops. About 48 percent of Whistler’s 2.1 million annual visitors come during the winter with 52 percent in the summer.
About the authors
Lee Juillerat writes for the Klamath Falls Herald and News in Southern Oregon and is a freelance writer-photographer for several magazines, including Northwest Travel, Oregon Coast and in-flight magazines for Horizon and Alaska Airlines. He can be contacted at lee337@cvc.net.
Larry Turner is a freelance photographer. His award-winning photography has appeared in numerous magazines, books, calendars and newspapers. Information on purchasing his photographs is available by emailing him at skiturn789@yahoo.com.


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