Uncrowded slopes make ski break on Whistler enjoyable

  • Mon Feb 22nd, 2010 11:41pm
  • Sports

By John Boyle Herald Writer

WHISTLER, B.C. — And to think, I missed ice dancing for this.

Oh, wait. That’s right, I’m completely OK with that.

After 10 straight days of covering everything from mogul skiing to snowboard cross to downhill ski racing to hockey, it was time for a breather. With a relatively slow day schedule in Vancouver, Herald photographer Jennifer Buchanan and I headed up to Whistler on Monday morning — in the name of journalism, of course — to give you a first-hand look at the ski resort in the midst of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

And guess what? Here’s one of the great secrets of these Games: Outside the competition, nobody is actually skiing.

Sure, Whistler village is packed with people from morning to night, and yes, it’s nearly impossible to score a table for dinner anywhere up here, but if you just want to make some turns, this is your place. Tens of thousands of people have flocked to this mountain town to watch alpine ski racing, sliding events, cross country skiing and ski jumping, but very few of them, it seems, bothered to bring their skis or snowboards.

Lucky us.

By far the biggest wait we faced all day was the ticket line at the base. Once we procured our passes, it was smooth sailing for Jennifer and I. Well, smooth except for the fact that she kept wanting to stop and take pictures. Photographers, you can’t take them anywhere.

At some point on this bluebird day, I found myself thinking, “Should I be covering curling right now?” Then, seconds later, I got over it and got back to enjoying the mostly-empty mountain.

Just how empty were the hills Monday? I managed to run into the same people multiple times despite the fact that Whistler and Blackcomb offer 38 lifts and 8,100 skiable acres. Two runs into my day, I ended up on a chair with the same couple we had earlier ridden the gondola with on the way up from the base of the mountain. A few runs later, Jennifer and I saw former U.S. Olympic ski racer Libby Ludlow, a Bellevue native, who is up for the Olympics working for King 5. About an hour later, on a different part of the mountain, we saw her again.

Anyone you talked to up here had the same story. Other than some minor crowds over the weekend — which were still, by the way, much smaller than those on a usual February weekend — the mountain has been wide open.

After the second run-in with Ludlow and her friends Alex Felix and Sealy Livermore, both former Dartmouth ski racers, I decided to take a few runs with skiers way out of my league while Jennifer headed back to the base to ditch her camera gear.

Now, I’m all for skiing fast, but this was ridiculous. At one point I found myself questioning my sanity while chasing Ludlow — need I remind you that she made a 10-year career out of skiing fast — and her friends down the hill.

Besides putting the fear of God in you, another advantage of skiing with former World Cup veterans is that they know a lot of people. While waiting at Whistler to catch the Peak-2-Peak gondola (that’s the really, really high one that connects the two mountains) we ran into Canadian Britt Janyk and Britton Chemmy Alcott, a pair of Olympians who were up on the mountain doing some training runs in preparation for Wednesday’s giant slalom.

Since I’m pretty sure it is mandatory after a sunny day of skiing, Ludlow, Felix, Livermore and I stopped for a beer in the village after exhausting ourselves (or me at least) with an afternoon of charging down the mountain.

And it was there that we rediscovered the crowds. Looking for a spot to have a beer during these Olympics? Good luck. But if wide open mountains are your calling, Whistler/Blackcomb is the place to be.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Olympics coverage, go to heraldnet.com/olympics