~Thursday, September 29, 2022~
Day 101 of Alaska Trip
Today, we feel like we finally got acquainted with Whistler, at least for the Fall season. The outdoor playground that it is, sure knows how to entertain visitors from around the globe, year round, which makes pretty much every season an “on season”. Set against the Coast Mountain Range, Whistler has a myriad of things to do…..mountain biking (which seems to be the number 1 sport here in the summer), ziplining, gondola rides, valley hikes or stunning alpine treks. Even if you’re not into the great outdoors, there are plenty of shops and restaurants to keep one entertained.
For us, it was all about a gondola ride to the top. Unfortunately, the Whistler tram was closed for the season as well as the Peak 2 Peak which traverses both Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb. We were pretty bummed that we weren’t able to take that one. But what WAS open was the Blackcomb Gondola which evidently offers equally stunning views as Whistler Mountain does, and a number of worthwhile alpine hiking trails to experience the mountain first hand. Some people even hike to the top via the Ascent Trail which has an elevation gain of 3,772 feet in 5.6 miles. It’s not uncommon to see hikers make the difficult trek by foot to the top, while returning on the gondola. This experience brings back fond memories of our time in Girdwood, Alaska this past summer, where we hiked the North Face Trail to the top of Alyeska with a 2,000 foot elevation gain in 2.2 miles (about the same steepness as this one, just not as long). But the difference with these 2 trails, is that the trail in Girdwood, was more picturesque. Most of Blackcomb’s stunning mountain scenery is actually at the top, not so much on the way up.
The Blackcomb Gondola was built in 2018 to replace the two separate chairlifts that previously carried people up the mountain.
As we left the Upper Village making our way up, we had a cool perspective of the Fairmont Hotel as well as gorgeous views of Lost Lake, Alta Lake and Green Lake. The Fall colors became more evident the higher we got. We even spotted a few hikers slowly plodding their way up the mountain making us appreciate our decision that much more. In awe of the expansive landscape that laid behind us, we could only imagine how amazing it would be to ski here. So we crunched some numbers on the way up. Assuming a one week vacation joining one other couple, you’d fly into Vancouver, rent a car (1-way) to Whistler and 1-way back to the airport upon leaving, split the cost of a condo, plan on eating out 50% of the time, and purchase 2 or 3 days of lift tickets. You’re looking at around a $5,500 price tag; about the same as 1 week in Hawaii. Crazy!! There is one solution though in helping your budget…..buying the Epic Pass for $879/season which gives you unlimited skiing for Whister/Blackcomb, as well as 5 top notch resorts in Colorado, 1 in Utah, 3 in California (Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood), 1 in Washington, 3 in Vermont and even 1 in Australia. All it takes is 5 ski days in a season for it to pay for itself. Hmmm…….food for thought.
Once at the top, our alpine journey began. But first, fueling up with a few burgers at Rendezvous Lodge with those good ‘ol resort prices. It was quite delicious and the views couldn’t be beat. The Blackcomb hiking trails run in a linear route and the different trails are basically sections of one large trail, so you can make your routes as long or as short as you want them. Keeping in mind the last call to the bottom of 5:15, we set our phone alarms for our turn around time. The Alpine Loop Trail is one of their more popular trails, scenic and very easy. It winds through huge fields of boulders and mangled alpine trees to breathtaking snow capped scenery. But the views became even more dramatic once we got to the Overland Trail which put us on the Lakeside Loop.
There were some pretty tough steep sections in there, but no rock scrambling or anything of that nature. But the payoff was seeing the staggeringly beautiful Coastal Mountain Range from this vantage point. Seeing this alpine wilderness brought back fond memories of our 2016 month-long trek on the JMT (John Muir Trail). Getting to Blackcomb Lake ahead of schedule, it was tempting to go further. It just wasn’t worth risking having to hike down the mountain, arriving after dark.
What’s great about gondola rides if you take them in both directions, is that whatever you miss on the way up, you’ll get a second chance on the way back down. However, the lighting wasn’t quite as favorable for excellent photography, so I’m glad I got plenty earlier in the day.
Arriving back to the bottom at Blackcomb Village, we enjoyed checking out the mountain bike scene with its eager group of young and old cyclists taking advantage of some challenging terrain down the mountain. We’ve never seen so many mountain bikers in one spot. And what a fun way for them to experience these ski runs in the off season. As we walked the village, we enjoyed the European resort vibe from the architecture to the layout. Blackcomb Village seems to draw a younger, outdoorsy crowd likely due to the variety of outdoor activities….not being just shops and restaurants. We later crossed Fitzsimmons Creek that separates Whistler and Blackhomb resorts. Its cloudy appearance is fed by glacial meltwater which contains “rock flour”, which is ground rock compressed by glacial forces. These tiny pieces of rock are almost weightless and stay suspended in the water, thus giving it its cloudy appearance.
Whistler and Blackcomb merged in 1997 to become one of the world’s largest resorts with more than 8,000 acres of skiable terrain. And what better place than Whistler/Blackcomb to host the winter Olympic games which it did in 2010. So of course we had to check out all the details on that.
Like many winter Olympics, the sporting events didn’t occur in just one location. For example, they held events at the Whistler Sliding Center on Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley and on Whistler Mountain at Creekside. Whistler Village was the gathering/celebratory place for athletes where victory ceremonies occurred on a nightly basis. And a trip to Whistler wouldn’t be complete without a photo op in front of those 5 Olympic rings!
As we were getting ready to head out, there was a cycling event near the Blackcomb gondola lift we had taken earlier in the day, so decided to hang out a little longer, enjoying a glass of wine at Longhorn Saloon and Grill while watching the evening’s festivities. We certainly made the right decision, foregoing laundry duties to have more playtime in this fantastic playground that is Whistler.