This article, and distribution, was paid for by the Canadian Ski Council and produced in conjunction with POWDER.
Words by Steve Ogle.
“Dadda, I’m hungry.”
Normally, this is small concern when skiing with kids – a lodge cafeteria is often in sight. But when you’re somewhere in the middle of Whistler Blackcomb’s immense 8,000-plus acres of terrain, well, let’s just say it becomes a big one.
“Let me consult the map,” I lie, trying to stave off a complete meltdown as I pull out my phone and start texting my pro-skier friend Chad Sayers.
“Need you … We’re lost,” I text.
One wrong turn could lead down miles of moguls – not to the nearest mini-burger and fries. We’re a couple of newbs: Deer-in-headlights dad and wide-eyed son Fletch – visiting from afar and tragically unaccustomed to planning. An hour earlier in the village we got as far as choosing a gondola, grabbing a terrain map (which I’ve since lost), and heading up. And up. Fletch’s 5-year-old world opened wider with every lift tower until he seemingly reached the stratosphere.
We didn’t waste time at the top of the Whistler gondola before snaking our way down, hitting side berms, mini-tracks, and anything else with a foot of air beneath it. With a soft coat of fresh snow overnight, it was a kid’s dream come true. Until it wasn’t anymore.
From what I guess is the bottom of Bear Cub, we catch sight of Uncle Chad (as he is known to my kids) shredding down to us with a grace that’s landed him on the cover of dozens of ski magazines over the years. Like a Saint Bernard dressed in a red Arc’teryx jacket, he promptly delivers sustenance in the form of energy bars no doubt allocated by some sponsor for a far-flung expedition. Fletch finds a newfound vigour for this, the biggest mountain experience of his young life. We contemplate hitting Roundhouse café, but instead decide to feast on the copious untracked snow in the trees. And more energy bars.
“Let’s do this tour,” says Chad, and proceeds to lead us down Enchanted Forest and Banana Peel, satiating not only Fletch’s interest, but my own curiosity of what comprises mid-level terrain around here: tree-skiing heaven with rolling, cut runs where you can open it up. All around I can see young and old, local and tourist, finding their own white bounty. The full gamut of weather is provided by an alternating mix of sparkling sun and convective white-outs.
With its coastal storms and limitless terrain, it’s clear that blindly cruising around Whistler Blackcomb for the first time is a great way to push your adventure threshold. Either that or end up in the arms of a ski patroller or mountain host.
“You’ve gotta tread lightly,” Wendy Brookbank told me over the phone a few days later when I called to inquire about Extremely Canadian, the mountain’s sanctioned ski-the-gnar guided program. Brookbank, an ex-Warren Miller star, has been guiding tourists like me for 25 years here.
“It’s so huge. There are so many hidden little spots, so much terrain,” the mother of two girls cautioned; her 16-year-old, Josephine, has narrowed down her options to the terrain park. According to Brookbank, Whistler’s park is smaller and more manageable: “It’s like hanging around at a skate park.” Whereas, she notes “Blackcomb’s is the big one – one of the best parks in the world. My kids won’t let me ski in there. They figure it’ll be embarrassing.”
Brookbank escorts private guests (some entire families) down mountain classics like Spanky’s and the Saudan Couloir. For the first-timers, getting shown around may be the ultimate mountain intro, removing the stress so they can focus on simply having fun – something paramount to all skiers, not just 5-year-olds.
Meanwhile, we’re cruising up the Peak Chair, and Fletch is definitely having the time of his life. I ask Chad about the Saudan, and whether it’s skiable today. After a pause he answers, “Depends,” which I take for local’s sarcasm. Either way, we’re headed to what he considers a must-do for newcomers on a stunning powder day: Whistler’s Peak. From the top, we gaze over to the legendary Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park and the Tantalus Range across the Sea-to-Sky Highway that got us here. Bustling Whistler Village is far below.
Uncle Chad’s preferred option – skiing West Cirque to Christmas Trees – is beyond our team’s capacity this time, so we consider the epic seven-mile-long Peak to Creek. Evidently, though, that wouldn’t have enough cat-tracks to air, so we point down The Saddle and the endless secret stashes that await between the alpine and the village. Fletch coins a few new run names, including Hurt Legs.
An hour and a half later, I’m ready for another meltdown, this time my own, so my team drags me into the Garibaldi Lift Co. (GLC) for the only known adult cure. All day we’ve hungered for discovery, but now it’s time for a bacon burger and some “daddy pops.” Tomorrow is another day. And this time, I’ll bring snacks.
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