Friday, March 11, 2016

Canadian Backcountry

While we got no new snow during our time spent in Whistler, the conditions on the mountain still provided soft, packed powder turns. However, thanks to our back country day we still got to experience making powder 8's in light, fluffy, champagne powder snow.

About a week prior to heading to Whistler I booked two back country guides through Extremely Canadian.
I can't say enough positive things about the guides and our experience. There were 9 of us in total, 4 who had never toured before and didn't have there own gear. Extremely Canadian has demo gear that they were able to use vs. having to rent, and they were wonderful in taking the time to show how the gear works and provide assistance on the tour as needed. Little did we know we would be taking our skins on and off several times through out the day and everyone was a pro with the gear by the end. 

We expressed to our guides that we wanted minimal uphill time and max downhill time. While that wasn't how it worked out in the end everyone was pretty pumped with the fresh lines we got to ski. Our day began meeting our guides at the base, packing packs with avi gear (which they provided) pre made lunches we ordered from them ahead of time and then heading to mid mountain for lessons in using our beacons, probes and shovels. After about 45 minutes of learning our route began at the top of Blackcomb Glacier, traversing across the top of the bowl to the back country gate. From here we began our climb into the back country abyss. 

The scenery and views kept us in awe the entire trek. With a group of 9 we moved at a comfortable pace for everyone. We had plenty of time to rest when our main guide, Les, took off his ski and packed down every turn for us on the mountain so we didn't have to do kick turns. Thank you, Les. Your incredible hard work on each turn made our group comfortable on the mountain and our day that much better. I've done kick turns on a steep slope once before and it was one of the most terrifying things. With every turn I felt like I would lose my balance and fall down the slope! While the kick turns weren't necessary as we could take small steps in the packed down area to turn, I took advantage of the space and practiced some kick turns a few times. Chelsea, our guide bringing up the rear, was encouraging and helpful with technique.

Our guide Les had the plan of heading over to Decker Glacier. Unsure if our large group of 9 would make it to the top, once we began getting close everyone had their sites set on reaching it and luckily enough we were moving a a pace that would allow it. 

Right after we all rounded this turn pictured above, we were in sight of Decker Mountain summit! 

Breathtaking views for miles, the weather sure was in our favor this day. We took a break on the summit, finished our lunches, snapped a few pictures then headed down the glacier in the most perfect champagne powder.

Once we got down, after what were arguably the best turns of the trip, it was time to slap back on the skins and head out of the bowl. Les led us back up to the top of "body bag bowl" were we skied back into the resort entering around the 7th Heaven area.

My watch started and stopped a few times so my recordings were not accurate. We estimated we did about 3-4 miles of skinning. An exhausting day for all, we ended the day celebrating our accomplishments with pitches of beer.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Oh Canada!

A week ago I got back from an awesome 8 day trip to British Columbia. We skied for 7 and spent a day in Vancouver. 

When planning a ski vacation this year it wasn't easy to decide where we wanted to go! Hearing about El Niño made us seriously consider Taos, New Mexico. Some felt that it wasn't a big enough resort to hold our interest for a week. Some friends we're heading off to the Dolomites in Italy, but that was out of my price range. It seemed to be getting down to the wire when someone suggested Whistler Blackcomb. An insanely big mountain with lots to offer, they were having a good season thus far, the weak Canadian dollar was great for budgets and the flight there was insanely cheap! We were all hooked, and the planning began!

The most difficult part of planning was lodging. It took us a long time to find and secure a place. We were a group of 13 and quickly came to realize it wasn't looking in our favor to all be in one house together. We wanted to be close to town and ski on ski off. We ended up using a website that was known as the "vrbo of canada" alluraDirect and found an amazing deal at Greystone Lodge. Located in the upper village, ski on ski off, walking time of 10 minutes to the main village, we couldn't be happier with our choice. The other half of the group was also able to book a condo here as well. I would highly recommend Greystone and would stay there again when I hopefully someday get back to Whistler! 

We purchased lift tickets ahead of time from Liftopia. Another great deal. They offered 6/7 day passes or as others chose to do a 5 day pass and a 1 day pass for a cheaper price. I had $60 in liftopia credit that I had accumulated over the past year or two, making my 6 days of skiing average somewhere around $55! (Hint: if you use liftopia get the app. If you have ever gotten a gift card you can enter the number right into your account on the app and it will store it until you're ready to use it, had I not done this I'm  sure I wouldn't have remembered where I put all of the gift certificates) 

Highlights of the trip

#1 Skiing

My favorite day of skiing was day 4, our back country day which deserves its own post. But skiing at Whistler Blakcomb was amazing. Days 1-3 were the best conditions while days 5-7 were still good, but not AS good. No new snow during the trip was a knife to the heart. But even so, it was still easy to have the best time.

Every day I was constantly amazed by the terrain. The vast wide open areas and bowls were stunning. It actually took the full 6 days to hit all areas (of interest) on both mountains.

Favorite Runs: Whistler Bowl (Pictured above, just off to the right of the center peak) & Blackcomb Glacier. I did countless runs on each. Whistler Bowl is located just off the peak express lift. This is the lift is a go to if you want to bag runs. I found that most lifts were often long rides, which means longer runs, but it was nice to have a short lift ride as an option with a fun, challenging trail to ski down over and over. Blackcomb Glacier is located off the Showcase T-Bar. A short, 5 min boot pack brings you into the vast glacier with many lines to choose from, Blackcomb Glacier offered the best snow through out the week, even on day 7 when the rest of the mountain got a little hard.

Favorite Lift: Peak to Peak Gondola. Not only does this 11 min ride makes it easy to travel in between Whistler > Blakcomb and vice versa, but is is a tourist attraction in and of itself. It holds the title of longest free span between ropeway towers and highest distance from the ground in the Guinness Book of World Record. Personally, the glass bottom cabin is not worth waiting for! We all thought the glass bottom would span the entire floor of the cabin, but it is a tiny gated off section in the center. The other cabins actually offer more room and we enjoyed them better.

 #2 Celebrations/Food 

Night 2 we celebrated Kristen's Birthday. We dined at Araxi Resturant. I'm sure Indulge Inspire Imbibe will be doing a full recap of all things food.

Night 8 we celebrated Bobs Birthday in Vancouver and dined out at Minami

In between there were lots of great meals out as well as cooked in the condos. Lunches on the mountain were also very noteworthy. I have never seen so many choices at a mid mountain lodge. Burritos, ramen, burgers, poutine. Also, WB has several huts around the mountain that serve specialty items. They are probably all worth checking out. My Favorites? Hortstman Hut for the Glühwein and Crystal Hut for the waffle.

And we can't forget about the most important meal of the day, breakfast! (No not the waffle, that was lunch) Also in the planning phase of the trip included the purchase of a Fresh Tracks ticket. WB does this daily, and I highly recommend doing it at least once. You ride up the gondola @ 7:15 and can be doing runs mid mountain before crowds hit. Fresh Tracks is most popular on powder days (they say you need to be in line @ 6:30) but in our case, we didn't have one of those. Still so worth it for an all you can eat breakfast buffet followed by 5 runs on fresh corduroy with no lift lines, it really made our day.

#3 Après-ski

We Apred at : Longhorn Saloon and Grill, Garibaldi Lift Co, Black's Pub, Merlins and Whistler Brewing Co. 

Favorite Spot? Hands down, Merlins (Located @ Blacocomb base). The awesome band, packed house, shot ski and dance party made for the ultimate apres ski.

Whistler Brewing Co. is located about a 10 min drive out of town. We went here on day 7 when were were headed back to Vancouver. A laid back vibe in an industrial type building with good beer. Ask for a black nut.

#4 Spa

No photos to be shared, but our time at the Scandinave Spa was the most relxing,calming and revitalizing experience I have ever had. I actually researched quite a few spas in Whistler before booking massages at Scandinave, nothing quite compared to what their facilities have to offer. It is a 10 minute drive from Whistler and they also have buses that run there. We arrived an hour before our 5:15 massages and then spent an additional hour and a half at the facilities after. You could spend all day going through the traditional scandinave relaxation treatment; warm the body for 15 minutes, cool the body in a cold plunge then relax in a tranquil room for 15 minutes. They have two large hot tubs, steam rooms, saunas, cold plunge pools and several solariums/resting spaces. Don't skip out on any of the steps! While it is hard to dunk into a 55 degree pool once you get out your body quickly warms and makes it easier to relax after. You may think the no talking policy is strict at first, but you will quickly learn to appreciate it once you are in there.

I loved my first trip to British Columbia and hopefully will get to go back sometime in the future!