We have just returned from a fantastic, but somewhat dry, trip to the famed ski capital of the world, Whistler - with dry weather conditions and more hot chocolate in bed than après skiing.
Before heading to Canada we were all geared up for visiting this glistening mountain range with an endless amount of snowy adventure on offer. It was a shame that after a 3 hour transfer to our accommodation the shuttle driver decided to explain, 2 minutes before our drop off, that last year was the worst snow in history... and this year had been worse. "Good luck with skiing" she said! And we thought that Canadians were all polite and warm individuals (they are, and so was she actually). Her slight misjudgement during this particular social situation did give us a shock. However we both like to think of ourselves as fairly optimistic types who imagine the best case scenario. Plus, we hadn't skied in years and thought that any snow was probably fine by us. We grabbed our luggage and said our goodbyes, through gritted teeth.
After settling into our room, knowing we had 2 weeks of the "worst snow in history", we figured it best to start checking the weather reports, like pros, to assess what was what and be prepared to swap local lingo like 'dumps', and other such words. Following our checks we realised that our bus driver cum ski expert was right - there was generally rain and dry patches all around the base of the mountain. So after this grand plan to solve the weather by looking at predictions, and with not much else to do, we then decided to ask the man upstairs for some flurries here and there - just enough to powder the nose of the mountain where the best runs were (so we had heard). We also asked him for sun too because we had packed suntan lotion.
After much wondering about the weather we realised we had some actual admin to attend to. This involved writing a shopping list followed by buying everything on that list. For those interested, we bought breakfast food, lunch food, dinner food, snack bars, alcohol and hot chocolate. This was all very tiring, so shortly after our organisational tasks were over we slumped by the fire to gulp red wine and then receive massive sugar overloads from astonishingly rich hot chocolate and far too many marshmallows for an adult. This kind of sweet hit can send you into a sleepy spin if you are not careful, especially when excited about your first day of skiing the following morning. Luckily, as grown ups, we were fine.
So to the action. Without giving you too much detail about our day to day skiing antics; back jumps, reverse cowgirls and off piste double diamond black runs, I can explain that Lucy, as a learner, got on very well and after just one day with an instructor was able to confidently ski by herself for the rest of the trip. That does not mean she didn't get some friendly advice for at least 3/4 days from a somewhat expert amateur skier who incidentally can barely parallel himself. I mostly enjoyed practising my turns and going a little off piste in between meeting up with Lucy at various points of each slope as I was a fair bit faster.
My main achievement was going down the Nintendo Terrain park after much talk of how cool it was and, on the penultimate date, finally deciding at the last minute to follow some young guys onto one of the boxes / grinder things. My plan was to jump in the air and turn my skis sideways before I landed on the box, to grind along it, like the other boys. I was very successful... in completely misjudging it and falling atop of the box hurting my ribs. However, I was fine and enjoyed laughing at himself more than anything. What a plonker!
Other than spending most evenings in our apartment; cooking nice meals, having a beer in the hot tub or red wine and hot chocolate by the fire, we did make it out a couple of nights to meet up with a friend of Lucy's who was over with her partner and another couple. Our first encounter was in a good old fashioned North American après ski bar called Merlins in Blackcomb. Nachos and pitchers were the order of the day plus some cool funky 80's / 90's tunes.
You can't really go wrong in a place like that, talking up your ski successes and each taking the mick out of one another's ski wardrobe, which is either too flashy or dodgy looking (Thanks Dad for lending me over sized trousers and 1980's giant gloves that are more like sponges than gloves).
The next day "just happened" to be the worst rain of the trip so we didn't need much encouragement from our slightly sore heads to not go up the slopes. Instead we slouched around for the day, visiting the hot tub and the village to check out the shopping. It was our only day off and we chose very wisely. We hooked up with our friends again a few days later in probably the most famous and busy bar in Whistler, called Longhorn - this overlooks the 2 main Gondolas at the base of Whistler and has a very popular outdoor area.
Our luck was in because that night we had the pleasure of listening to none other than Paul Oakenfold - for those of you non ravers from the UK he is a very famous old school dance DJ. He may be 51 but he rocked the joint. Granted he only played between 5-7pm, but the place was jam packed with people dancing on stools - I may have been one of them. After the dust settled we then had a pleasant dinner and coffee followed by bed around 10pm. Rock n Roll.
The following few days consisted of very good sunshine and mixed snow around the two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb. For those who don't know they are two mountains of much the same size next to each other. They both have their own little village which is much the same set up, but Whistlers is much bigger. You can walk between each base in 10 minutes and travel by the Peak 2 Peak Gondola which takes you between each of their halfway points up the mountain in 12 minutes. The two of us skied between both the two mountains, casually meandering down the slopes and stopping off for late morning cappuccinos and then for a midday lunch between the snow top trees, marvelling at the views. It was all very relaxing and a great way to spend our days - being outside for most of it and not working.
Lastly, but not least, we have to mention our Fresh Tracks experience. This is an extra excursion where you give the resort $20 for an early Gondola ride, at 7am, to one of the mountain restaurants where you are treated you to a buffet breakfast and the chance to be the first skiers on the fresh slopes. It was worth every penny and a highlight of the trip. One of the reasons it was such a highlight is because we met another couple whilst doing it. That morning we were fumbling around outside our apartment, in the dark, trying to make our way to the gondola, trying to decide if we should walk or get a bus.
During our unorganised moment we spotted two other eager beavers who confidently strutted towards the bus stop, only about 10m away from us. They seemed nice and knowledgable so we said our good mornings and followed up with a mumbled question about where to get the bus. The response we got was "G'day rippers, we are indeed jumping on the old bus... fancy joining me and the sheila on it? We would be pumped to show ya the way". More Aussies! But... luckily they were good'uns (and did not talk like that at all). Our guests for the journey there and then for breakfast, and for drinks and dinner the next night were Ginny and Liam, a couple from Perth, Australia. We talked about all sorts of interesting things at breakfast and they were not even put off by us stuffing our faces silly at the buffet - notably me who had 4 plates and two muffins for the road. The following evening was to be both our last nights in town so we thought it best to head out to grab some more après skiing action together.
Our last night comprised of more pitchers and a few pretty tasty North American versions of Bloody Marys, called Caesars - they have clamato juice (tomatoes and clam) instead of tomato juice, plus you get a bit of beef jerky and a pickle in it too. Lovely. We enjoyed our tasty cocktails in Merlins again, listening to even more funky tunes, and then we finished off in Whistler Village stuffing our faces with pizza and sweet potato fries. It was all very civilised and led to us making two more facebook friends who have offered us a stay in Perth whenever we want it. I have a feeling we might go to Melbourne via Perth now.
Our overall review of Whistler is that it is very modern and well equipped with everything you need around the villages and on the mountains. The runs were very good, despite the poor snow. We imagine on a good day it would be superb. It did however lack the charm of a European ski village like Switzerland or France, where you might enjoy good local traditional grub whilst staying in more rustic chalets. We barely spoke to any Canadians because all the workers are foreign and the food was a vast mixture of North American and modern European. Sadly, we did not actually feel like we were in Canada.
If we had been up the alps with a couple of small french beers and a fresh baguette filled with cheese rolling around in our backpack, there would be no confusion. If you love quality skiing and modern amenities then go to Whistler. If you prefer traditional foods, drink and atmosphere, Europe may be your best bet