No fear. Sure, it was a cheesy clothing brand in the ’90s, but it sums up Whistler in two simple words. It began with its founders, who hacked for days through coastal rainforest and swamp just to get to the bottom of a 6,000-foot behemoth, and endured unto Intrawest, which brilliantly predicted that high-speed lifts to the top of snow-pummeled peaks would, in the end, let them sell opulent timber-frame weekend chalets for millions a pop.
The weed- and LSD-fueled counterculture ski bums who first starting dropping the wild backcountry lines offered up by Whistler’s expanding lift system in the late ’80s weren’t afraid either. Not of the cops, not of hotboxing the “ganjala,” nor of the giant cornices and wicked avalanches that come with over 40 feet of snowfall a year. The fact that Whistler Village, which as recently as the mid-1980s was a black-bear-infested dump, didn’t scare them either, though it was no easy task building one of North America’s first replicas of a European ski village, this one eventually to be complete with Lululemon concept stores, raging nightclubs, iced-in vodka cellars, and over-the-top restaurants where sommeliers saber the tops off of the champagne bottles.
Of course, fearlessness isn’t always a good thing. Whistler Search and Rescue regularly hauls flocks of flatlanders from the deep backcountry. Either the ill-fated newbies followed tracks of locals beneath boundary ropes, or the call of untouched pow was just too strong. They often freeze to death, or, perhaps more tragically, they’re extricated with drawers full of poop (it’s called the New Jersey hot pack—true story).
Whistler groms are a special breed, with patroller parents who start taking them on sweeps of the slopes before their tenth birthdays. When cork-sevens get to be dull as dishwater for these kids, sphincter-clenching chutes like Friday the 13th and Exhilaration become easy warmups for the huge backcountry objectives they’ll soon be lapping. Think Mount Fissile’s Psycho Chute, or Blackcomb Peak’s DOA. All this well before they even finish middle school.
This town isn’t afraid to send it through the après either. Inebriated internationals clunking through the village in sweat-pooled ski boots at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday are de rigueur. Since the party heyday of the ’90s, when clubs like the Savage Beagle and Tommy Africa’s ruled with go-go dancers and the babe-to-dude ratio was unparalleled in the ski universe, you’ve always had to be on the lookout for the “Whistler itch.” Sorry for the TMI.
Fifty-million-dollar Peak 2 Peak Gondola? Whatever. Alpine bowls riddled with cliffs, chutes, and closeouts? Why not? More shops than you could visit in a lifetime? Get them in there. This is Whistler, and Whistler isn’t like any other place on earth. It’s where you go to be a rock star or die trying (or just seriously maim yourself). It’s where you go to spend all your money. That one true place where you can ski, really ski, until your heart is brimming with contentment. Until tomorrow, that is.
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