Posted by: Feet Banks
Guest Blogger: Mikey Nixon
“Local” is a relative term in Whistler. While there are plenty of “locals” who’ve arrived from Ontario, Quebec or Australia and decided to stick around, only a handful of people actually grew up here. On the ski hills, however, it’s a bit different.
Once you know where to go (and what to do when you get there) the mountains in Whistler really start to feel like a second home. And once that starts happening, you can start seeing (and skiing) this place to its full potential. Not to mention, it’s easier to make friends with the hard-core locals who ride the hill every day and learn some new secret spots.
So yeah, Whistler is the kind of place that can easily blow your mind so here are 10 tips to give yourself that insider’s edge once you get here and start exploring the mountains. Be careful though, after a week on the slopes you might just end up cancelling your plane ticket home and getting a night job washing dishes at one of the restaurants in the Village. Trust me, that happens all the time.
1. Do Your Homework
The Ski and Snowboard Guide to Whistler Blackcomb (by Quickdraw Publications) is the best resource you can ask for. You can buy it here in town at Armchair Books in the Village but the best idea is to get one a month before your trip, put it next to your toilet and study it carefully.
2. Ignore That Hangover and Get to the Hill Early
Locals pride themselves on burning the candle at both ends. The best pow turns always go to those who show up at the lifts at 8 AM with smiles on their faces, even if they’re faking it.
3. Sort Your Affairs on the Gondola
The ride up the Whistler Gondola takes about 25 minutes, which is ample time to eat your breakfast, do up your boots, close a business deal and text your mom. This way you’re on the slopes 25 minutes earlier than you would have been otherwise.
4. Get in Shape
Before my father comes to visit me in Whistler he prepares himself by sitting against the wall until he can do it for five minutes straight. Of course, he still has to stop and regroup after every pitch we ski, so it might be worth a more modern exercise routine like going to the gym or trying the Insider’s Guide to Ski Season Fitness.
5. Don’t Forget About Blackcomb
Visitors are often so overwhelmed by decisions when they get to Whistler that many automatically go skiing on the mountain that bears the same name as our town. But there’s a whole other mountain on the other side of Fitzsimmons Creek. And a lot of people think it’s the better of the two.
6. Be Prepared
Locals know better than to wander into the backcountry without proper gear and training. So if you’re going to step out of the boundary, do it only with the necessary gear and experienced partners or, even better, hire a guide.
7. Pay Close Attention to the Weather
It’s easy enough to know when a storm is coming but factors like freezing levels, wind direction and solar radiation can all affect that perfect, creamy pow. Check the weather specifics of every storm, Whistler and Blackcomb are so massive that conditions are rarely the same all over each mountain. When in doubt, ask the person in the lift line with the most snow stuck to their toque.
8. Keep an Eye on the Lightboards
Unless you have a radio keyed into the ski patrol frequency, these on-mountain lightboards are your best bet for knowing when the lifts are going to open.
However, just because you see The Crystal Chair, Peak Chair or Glacier Express go on “Standby” doesn’t always mean it’s time to stop skiing and start lining up. Things like high winds and amount of snow can mean it will take patrol longer to open the alpine. You may as well enjoy another mid-mountain lap (or two).
9. Don’t Get In Over Your Head
This is where studying that guidebook can really come in handy and give you a good sense of the terrain you’re dropping into before you actually commit. Also, keep an eye out for on-mountain signage and follow it like the law. Nothing says “I’m from outta town” like accidentally launching off of a 20 foot cliff or getting lost in a permanently closed area.
10. Give a Warning Before Lowering the Chairlift Safety Bar
This is more important than it sounds. For whatever reason part of the culture in Whistler is to throw caution to the breeze and dangle unrestrained from the lifts. It’s frivolous, really, and if you do want to put the bar down no one will mind, just be sure give a word of warning first —“Bar coming down.” No one likes getting unexpectedly bonked by the bar.
11. (BONUS) Take the European Après Approach
Remember that hangover I talked about earlier? Well it can be a non-issue if you celebrate Après properly between the hours of 3-6 pm and put yourself safely to bed by 7:45. Then you’re as fresh as can be when the lifts start spinning the following morning.
No matter how many of these tips you abide by, the truth is the more runs you get the more fun you’ll have and the more comfortable you’ll feel (and the more appealing that local dish washing job will look). Ride hard and keep an eye on Whistler.com for all the info you need on skiing, riding and everything else Whistler related.