Canada

The Pandemic Made Her Home Slopes Feel Unfamiliar, So One Longtime Skier Is Taking Them Back

During the pandemic, Whistler Blackcomb was transformed into a place that barely felt familiar to one avid local. This season, she hopes to get reacquainted with her home mountain.

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I wish words worked like virtual reality. Or better yet, like a reverse Vulcan mind meld. If they did, I could use these very words and sentences, here and now, to fill your entire being with a sensory experience of how it feels to ski and live among the big Canadian mountains I have come to call home. 

If I wrote about hot-lapping Whistler Mountain’s Peak Chair three, four, five times in a row—flowing nonstop from one steep line to the next, bounding through pillows of powder and leeward chuff, gliding over mountain contours as familiar as the hand of a beloved, soaring into the runout back to the base and getting scooped uphill again—you would experience in your own skin and bones the wonder and adventure on tap at Whistler Blackcomb. 

Once that feeling of complete satiation washed over you, I could more readily explain why the place I most longed for during the pandemic, the place I most want to ski this coming season, is … home. 

Whistler Destination GuideLocal legend Mike Douglas surveys the expansive backcountry accessed from Blackcomb Mountain. Photo: Eric Berger

I long for it even though I was right here in my adopted country skiing Whistler Blackcomb last winter, one of the million or so Americans with the legal status to be north of the Canadian border during the 506 days it was closed. 

I long for it even though skiing mountains as spacious, majestic, and snowy as British Columbia’s Coast Range during the pandemic offered a rare kind of grace. Whistler Blackcomb’s physically
distanced, reduced-lift-capacity queues were unbelievably massive and slow-moving. They were also well-managed and a gift, really. I was grateful every time I stood in them long enough to get up into the heights and soar among the spires and glaciers like a raven. It brought relief and ease, joy and delight—commodities in shorter global supply lately. And yet there was so much I missed about the place I most love.

I missed Whistler’s dynamic internationalism—what Darin Newton, Restaurant Director of Whistler’s exceptional Il Caminetto, calls “People bumping elbows from all over the world.” I missed dining and socializing—skiing to swanky Christine’s on Blackcomb with my husband for our annual Christmas Day lunch and meeting my girl gang for a slow dinner of long laughs at Earl’s. I missed wrangling a prime-time booth at Sushi Village where the  owner would sidle in for a sake before the five-spice tofu and seared salmon box sushi arrived. I missed openings at the Audain Art Museum, live bands in Whistler’s big plazas, the World Ski & Snowboard Festival’s photo and filmmaker challenges. I missed silly fun like crooning “Weeee are the champions” with a few hundred other après-skiers and the rocking house band at Dubh Linn Gate and dancing in ski boots at the GLC while DJ Foxy Moron spins. 

More on Canada: You’ve Never Thought About a Powder Highway Road Trip Quite Like This Before

Most of all, I missed the specific satiation of bagging heaps of steeps and powder on athletic, rock-and-roll terrain. Those three, four, or five hot laps on the Peak normally take less than an hour and cover some 6,500 vertical feet of couloirs, ramps, faces, and bowls. During the pandemic, lift queues made nabbing more than two Peak laps in that time a Herculean feat. It was a privilege and a pleasure, but it didn’t satiate.

When Whistler first sucked me like a mothership’s tractor beam from my home turf in Santa Monica, Calif., more than 20 years ago, the lure was all about Whistler’s signature mix: Mountains as big as Alaska but with a smart network of fast lifts. Terrain like the High Sierra on steroids. Fresh snow some 99 days per winter. A ski season that ran from November through May. And a vibrant, buzzing, and cosmopolitan yet very Canadian mega-village at the immediate base of it all, with wilderness mere steps away. 

In those days, it was a skier’s mountain and a skier’s town. These days, it’s a different place—and the pandemic is not the only reason the Whistler Blackcomb experience may never again be what it was before. 

But if words worked like virtual reality and I wrote of booting up Blackcomb Mountain’s Spanky’s Ladder with a single-file queue of hard-chargers surging ravenously from behind, you would experience in your own skin and bones something enduring and elemental about the Whistler ski experience. You would hear both your own heart thumping and a raven’s wing whispering overhead. You would see your focus narrow to the next toe kick point then the next as you clamber up a slippery, rock-exposed, 50-foot pitch. At the top, your scalp tingling with adrenaline release, you would taste what it’s like to be completely immersed in the Coast Mountains as you click into your skis, say “Good to go” to your crew, and drop into Gemstone Bowls, the rugged, sprawling, nature-made kingdom of north-facing double- and triple-black diamond terrain that descends to Blackcomb Glacier. Later, after rifling through moody cedar forests then banking big arcs down the long boulevards back to the valley floor, you would know all the feels as if they were your own. Ahhh. Yes. Home.

What’s New in Whistler

Whistler village Destination GuideWhistler Village, where you can burn the candle at both ends. Photo: Justa Jeskova

New Lodging in Whistler

At the Four Seasons Whistler, a new interior facelift brings fresh style to all guest rooms, common areas, and dining. At the new Braidwood Tavern, pan-Latin meets PNW on a menu from Chef Richard Sandoval. At the slopeside Fairmont Chateau Whistler, an $11 million transformation of Fairmont Gold creates an inclusive luxury boutique hotel experience within the larger grand hotel, complete with three daily culinary offerings  in a private mountain-view lounge. 

New Dining in Whistler

Four all-new restaurants, including Vancouver’s classic chophouse Joe Fortes and a roomy Thai-Vietnamese eatery called 88 Mekong, plus a dramatic expansion of Basque-inspired Bar Oso, two hip new coffeehouses, and Freshii grab-and-go.

More Long Reads From the 2022 Destination Guide

A Dolomites Trip Serves Up Powder, Adventure, and a Deeper Connection To Someone Loved and Lost
How a Weekend Trip to Zermatt Transformed One Skier Forever
There’s No Place Like Skiing at Home, Even (Especially) If Home Is New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley