Whistler/Blackcomb, often just called Whistler, is a ski resort in southern British Columbia, about 70 miles North-northeast of Vancouver. The largest ski area in North America, the dual mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb provide over ten square miles of skiable terrain, ranging from easy beginner runs to some of North America's steepest in-bounds "extreme" terrain.

The town of Whistler is also known for its lively social scene, sporting many clubs, bars, and whatnot; although it is dominated by tourist shops. One nice feature is that the central part of town is pedestrian-only. However, the town did seem a little bit Disneylandish, being carefully engineered to look like a quaint alpine village.

The Ski Area

While generally getting ample amounts of snow, the Snow Conditions of Whistler/Blackcomb are not as dependable as ski resorts in the Rockies or other such places in the interior. While often recieving bigger dumps than such areas, Whistler/Blackcomb does not tend to recieve as consistent of snowfall on average. And yes, it can and does even rain from time to time. But this is not to worry, for having a mile of vertical drop as it does, the resort's climate can be drastically different in the high alpine than down at the village. When I was at Whistler/Blackcomb, the problem was not so much rain as ice, for it hadn't snowed a great deal that winter. Nonetheless, in the general case Whistler/Blackcomb is actually known for having quite decent snow conditions, often reaping the benefits of both El Nino and La Nina.

Whistler Mountain

General Layout: Whistler Mountain is unquestionably the more sprawled-out of the two Whistler Mountains . Having its main base in Whistler Village and an alternate base about four miles down the road at Creekside Village, Whistler Mountain is incredibly wide, especially at the top, where about five or six enormous bowls drop down off of the skyline traverses. This has its advantages and disadvantages. While it's nice to have all that skiing to choose from, the sheer sprawledness of Whistler Mountain can make it a hassle to get from one area to the next, especially if you make a wrong turn and end up down at Creekside (a mistake I made at least once).

The best places to ski found at Whistler are probably in the open bowls and such; if you're looking for tree-skiing or runs with trees in general, Blackcomb seems to be quite a bit better for that sort of thing. Avoid the groomers at all costs!, there are swarms of novices milling around on them (the greener, the more irritating). As for the bowls, Harmony and Symphony bowls have some nice pistes, but are apt to be rather crowded at times. The Saddle and Glacier Bowl (mostly The Saddle) can also be congested, but are worth skiing just cause the experience can be rather spectacular. Whistler Bowl is also worth checking; when I was there it a huge, huge mogul field. Probly one of the best, though, is Doom & Gloom, a vast, expansive sort of valley that drops off below and to the left of Whistler Bowl. When I skied it, I saw practically no one else, which was quiter refreshing in so bustling of an area. Whistler certainly doesn't draw up short as far as double-diamonds either (check out West Cirque, it can be awesome on the right day), though Blackcomb has more sustained steep pitches and is thus preferred by the freeskier population.

All in all, as far as spots not to miss, the main thing that comes to mind is the Peak Express, a high-speed quad that goes right over the top of the sheer cliffs surrounding the summit of Whistler Mountain. If the weather's good, Symphony Bowl is also well worth checking, and is not nearly as crowded as the neighbouring Harmony Bowl.

Blackcomb Mountain

General Layout: Although it is right next to Whistler Mountain, Blackcomb Mountain has something of a different personality - some skiers vastly prefer one mountain over the other. Developed relatively recently, Blackcomb was carefully designed and engineered to provide a coherant run layout, and to ensure that runs cut through the trees followed the fall-line of the mountain. While Blackcomb is sprawled out in the middle, it is relatively concise at the top and bottom, making it very easy to get from one part of the mountain to the next, unlike such as is the case with Whistler Mountain. The major irritant as far as layout is the fact that none of the lifts are very long, so it takes about four lift-rides (about an hour of time that could be used for skiing) to get from bottom to top. With Whistler Mountain, only two such lift-rides are necessary.

Well, really there are a heck of a lot of good places to ski on Blackcomb Mountain. The lower part of the mountain provides quite a few steep bump runs through the trees, as well as a number of gladed trails. Cruisers are abundant throughout the mountain, and aren't nearly as crowded or irritating as those on Whistler Mountain. Up near the top, there are open bowls and glades going in all directions, and spectacular rock formations as well. The Seventh Heaven area is probably the best bet for open glade skiing, but be warned that it can get incredibly crowded and probly gets cut up pretty fast on pow days. As for double-diamonds, the wall off the West of the Horstmann Glacier has some pretty nice stuff, including a 1500-vert, 45-degree run called Couloir Extreme that hosts the world's steepest Giant Slalom race every year. The three enormous alpine bowls accessible by hiking Spanky's Ladder comprise Blackcomb's classic "extreme terrain" (they hosted the 2002 Extreme Skiing Championships), but based on the two of them that I skied, they aren't really that menacing.

Don't miss the Blackcomb Glacier. Not only is it one of the most spectacular runs at Whistler/Blackcomb, but it is some of the best skiing there is and doesn't get tracked up as fast as some of the other stuff (especially the stuff at Whistler Mountain). Much more menacing than the Glacial Piste itself is the Blowhole - a 45-degree chute that provides a bit of a steeper route into the glacier (though once again, it isn't as intimidating or spectacular as it looks when you actually ski it). Another place that can be really nice is Lakeside Bowl, a run along the very fringe of the ski area (accessed via traverse) that can be a wonderful powder repository. In fact, just the experience of riding the Glacier Express is pretty cool cause of all the spectacular rock formations.

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