Monday, May 18, 2009

North of the Border Skiing

Immediately after Jennifer, the kids, and I spent the final weekend of the midwestern skiing season at Ski Brule, I had to travel to the Seattle area to provide software training to one of our customers, Puget Sound Energy (PSE). I booked an extra day onto my trip and optimistically packed my powder skis, hoping to visit one of the nearby ski resorts on Wednesday, April 22, after my work was complete. I needed to be at PSE on Monday morning, and thus had to travel on Sunday evening. My trip began in Madison, Wisconsin, which offered the most convenient flights I could access on our way home from the weekend trip to Ski Brule.

Unfortunately, the few nearby ski areas still open for the season had shifted to weekend-only operation. My best choices would be Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada or Mount Hood, east of Portland, Oregon. Each area was about 4 hours by car from Bellevue, assuming light traffic. Each area operates deep into the spring, with Timberline at Mount Hood offering nearly year-round skiing on their snowfield. I took a shared limo to my hotel in suburban Bellevue, sharing the ride with a local and a couple other visitors. My skis stretched across the center of the passenger area of the limo and the local guy asked where I was headed. I described my limited choices and he suggested Whistler, since the traffic through Portland can become quite congested. Armed with that knowledge, my decision was made.

As it turned out, the traffic to Whistler was rather heavy in both directions - especially rush hour around Vancouver, BC and to a lesser extent on the Sea to Sky Highway, which is getting upgrades for the 2010 Olympics. After spending most of fall and winter on my rock skis or race skis, I was excited about the chance to pull the fat skis out of storage. However, the top 2/3 of both mountains was total ice, which would have been OK on giant slalom racing skis, but it was not so pleasant standing over a 95 mm waist. The area experienced low temps and very high winds the night before, so anything that wasn't groomed was jagged and chunky where old tracks had frozen solid. I went to the top of Blackcomb in the morning and was pretty much the only moron that tried the bumps. It was a waste of time and energy. The conditions were more Loveland in January than West Coast in April. I never thought I'd be seeking out the groomed on my powder skis. The lower mountain had good spring conditions, but there just isn't much terrain down there. The runs on both mountains funnel tightly to a common base area at Whistler Village.

I skied a few cruisers on the middle of the mountain until midday, then headed up Whistler Mountain to check out the 2010 Olympic Super G and Downhill course. I was surprised by how easy it seemed, but I'm sure it will be a different animal injected and at 70 mph. Still, it ain't no Birds of Prey. The bottom half of the course was roped off as the smaller Creekside base area had closed for the season. The sun was hitting that side of the mountain and it seemed like there was nothing better to ski, so I ducked under, hit the nicest spring bumps on both mountains, and caught a bus back to the main village. It was too bad Creekside was closed, because it looked like it had nice intermediate and advanced terrain all the way to the bottom.

With the sun still out, I figured I'd try the top again and hit Whistler Bowl - a big mistake and another big waste of time. It was still jagged ice and the clouds rolled back in. One guy passed me on the way down, but I was really fighting it. I was parked on the Blackcomb side and slightly above the base area, so I needed to get back before the lifts closed. It was a perfect opportunity to ride the brand new Peak 2 Peak Gondola which crosses 1427' over the valley floor - pretty neat - a lot better than the skiing on that day anyway. By this time it was even snowing at the base, which is only about 2200' above sea level. In late April!

It was A LOT of driving for some very marginal skiing, but it still beat a good day at work! The drive was gorgeous as well, especially along the coast just north of Vancouver. The mountains rise straight up out of the ocean, with the road cut right into the edge.

"The Chief" as seen from the bay at Squamish, BC (from a user of
Other neat pictures from the area

1 comment:

Ragfield said...

Sounds like a fun trip. That's so cool that you skied some of the olympic courses.