Whistler Ski Resort. Summer or Winter. World Class Either Way
Years ago we heard of the Whistler Ski Resort via the grapevine. This is the long winded manner that tells the story of what led us to build whistler-outdoors website.
Irma and I lived in the small island of Cape Breton on the northern end of Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. Whistler was a brand new dot on the map in British Columbia. Well, new to the white man anyway. Of course the Coast Salish First Nations were using the area for thousands of years before the white man appeared in the area.
So, what is it like to experience a ski trip to Whistler Ski resort? Fantastic. Nothing short of fantastic. Before we go on, I must tell how we arrived in Whistler to begin with.
In 1992, Irma and I had to take jobs as tree planters in the highlands of Cape Breton as employment had simply died. We planted side by side with teenagers. We were 57 years of age. It was very tough going but we held our own and managed to earn enough to get us through the winter. In August we flew to Whitehorse in the Yukon territory to attend the wedding of one of our four daughters. We arrived a week early. A friend loaned us a car and we took off for a few days of adventure. We had our backpacks and tent with us.
We drove through part of the Alaska Highway that was built in a very short time by the USA army during the war second world war. It was, and still must be, one of the most monumental construction projects ever completed. We drove through the village of Haines Junction and entered Kluane National Park and made our way along the spectacular St. Elias Mountains to the Sheep Mountain Visitor Center. I wanted to hike the 22 kilometers to the Kaskawalsh Glacier. Irma, in her wisdom, talked me out of it as it would have meant fording deep, fast rushing, icy creeks and very tough terrain. The park guide told us of a 10 hour hike we could do up over Sheep Mountain to view the many Dall sheep that live there.
We slept on the beach nearby. The area is very near the Artic Circle. At midnight the night sky is still very bright, it darkens for a couple of hours and by 4 am it bright again. After our breakfast we set off on the hike. For the next few hours we climbed up to the top at 6,400 feet elevation. Looking back down from where we had come we were rewarded with the most heavenly sight we ever saw. Kluane Lake lay far below us. The water, where it comes down from the glacier and enters the lake, is a pale fawn color as it contains the finely ground powder created by the grinding power of the millions of tons of ice. As the water moves out into the lake the powder slowly disperses to the bottom leaving behind the most incredible emerald jewel of a lake. It will blow your mind.
We were surrounded by the most beautiful mountains we ever saw. We could see Kaskawulsh Glacier 22 kilometers away. Rising thousands of feet above us and across the valley rose a spectacular mountain and everywhere we looked we saw Dall sheep dressed in their pure white woolen coats. We counted 100. There were plenty of cute little babies playing nearby. As we sat down in a gigantic wild flower bed we noticed a group of 24 male sheep lying peacefully perhaps 100 meters above us while they took in the scene below them.
The flower patch where we sat was covered in a blanket of tiny flowers not anymore than an inch or two tall. It was if they wanted to keep their heads down in an area that must be windswept most of the year. After all this area of the Yukon will experience 60 degrees below zero in the winter and with the winds blowing a gale across the wide open tundra a long necked flower would not last long even at the best of times in summer.
The scene laid out before us was so beautiful. The beauty of the lake, the pastoral scene with the sheep, the rugged mountains surrounding our little spot caused something from deep within my brain to tell me "Why Not." Why not move to this part of the country and start our lives over again.
Irma and I talked about it. Were we crazy to travel some 8,000 kilometers across the country at our ages? What would we do for a living? What if…
We talked about how nothing in life is guaranteed. For the past few years it had been tough enough financially, never knowing what would happen with the economy so poor in Cape Breton. Irma is a gutsy lady. She said "let's just do it." We decided to go back home after the wedding, sell the house and be back by June of 1993. We did just that.
Woops, I am getting ahead of my story. First we must get off the mountain.
From our little picnic area we were still four hours and a long way from our car. We had two choices. Go back down the way we came up, or descend a different way. Below us we could see a creek in the distance. The lady in the information office told us there was a valley out there with a well worn trail. She advised us to make plenty of noise as we hiked as there was a grizzly bear and cubs in that vicinity. So we opted for that option.
When we approached the creek we noticed an abundance of wild flowers. They were everywhere and unlike the short flowers up on top of the mountain, these were growing up to a foot high and every color of the rainbow. An hour or so later we hit the trail and yes, we saw bear tracks but we made enough noise we must have kept them at bay.
We arrived back at the lake and our car after the ten hour hike with feet screaming hot. We waded into the lake. The cold water was pure heaven on our feet. Only one hour ago this water had melted from the glacier. It was freezing, but wonderful.
We arrived back in Whitehorse for the wedding and soon flew back to Cape Breton Island. We met with the realtor that very evening and began to plan our move to our chosen new home so very far away.
Here was our situation. We did not have any money. We were drawing enough unemployment insurance to pay the bills and put food on the table, but that was it. We needed to get rid of the car and buy a van. That was a major problem. We sold the car and paid off the balance owing and ended up with $500. in the bank. We had seen an old van sitting in a field 30 miles from our home. It had a big hole through the windshield but other than that it was in reasonable condition. We bought it for $500. And said good bye to our savings. We found a gent who had a windshield sitting beside a shed in his yard. He sold it to us for $20. And had a friend install it for $20.
After starting the engine I hit the road. Instantly the van took off, veered across the highway and if I hadn't turned the wheel violently I would have been in the ditch. Suddenly I was heading for the ditch on the other side of the road. The steering was crazy. Side to side I went. I soon discovered that driving very slowly I could anticipate which way the van would veer and after almost two hours I made it home. Turned out that a part in the steering system was totally worn out. Fortunately the part cost less than $15. And I was able to install it myself.
The van had been stored for a number of years inside a garage. Rust was not a problem considering it was 20 years old. The tires were in reasonable condition.
Irma and I tried to figure out what we would do for a living once we made it to the Yukon. We talked about trying many things. We bought a few magazines looking for some kind of enterprise we might find. Because I was 57 years of age I figured it may be easier to work for myself than finding a job so we focused on that aspect.
Soon we found what we were looking for. A reputable company manufactured a machine for cleaning the dirt off ceilings and walls. They also sold the chemical detergent to get the job done. There was one tiny problem. The machine cost $5,000. My dad had passed away a year previously and we had inherited a few dollars that we had set aside in the bank. We figured that if we could somehow buy a machine and get it and ourselves to the Yukon we could find customers for the service. Whitehorse is a fairly affluent city. The seat of the Yukon Territorial government. Because it is located far away from a major cosmopolitan area there were many tax incentives available for the residents as well as excellent salaries. This meant the homeowners had those extra dollars for a better quality of living than most of their big city friends. We figured they would be eager to hire us to do the house cleaning if we had our machine.
All we needed was the dollars to buy the machine and get it, and our van, 8,200 kilometers away to the Yukon Territory. At this point we had no more than half of the money we would require to carry off our plan.
We made a pact. We would only spend money on what was absolutely necessary to live on. Every penny we had extra was to go into the bank. We sold some furniture. We had a yard sale. We used the wood heater to keep warm instead of the electric heat.
Slowly but steadily we saw our bank account swell. We walked everywhere rather than drive and spend money on gas. As spring approached and winter snows melted away we began to make ready to leave. We decided to arrive out west by early June. To save money on the trip we decided to camp in our tent all the way. When May arrived I built a huge roof carrier out of wood and fastened it to the roof of the van. We were taking the bed, box spring and mattress as well as the Maytag washer and dryer Irma emphatically announced she would not part with. We needed the space.
We were calling our business Reliable Cleaning. We bought some vinyl graphic material from a printing shop. Painted the van with a paint roller and painted a big white splash on the sides of the van. Onto this we placed our huge happy face graphics with the lettering "let us put a Yukon happy face on your ceilings and walls." We bought some magnetic material and had business cards printed. With this we produced our own fridge magnets for a few pennies each.
After loading everything into the van we only had room for the foam pads and our sleeping bags and tent and the camp stove. On May 20th. We said good bye to our friends and hit the road.
We arrived in our nations capital, Ottawa on the third day, attended a class for a few hours and learned how to use the machine. Because we needed to be near the dealer the next morning we stayed in a flea bag motel that night. The tent was much better. It rained over night and the floor was flooded when we got up in the morning. The company agreed to ship our machine by truck as we did not have the room in the van for it.
Once again we were on the road. We had not realized how far it is from Ottawa to Winnipeg. Canada is huge. Driving through Ontario we began to hit many steep hills and the van would really slow to a crawl. Even on the level it would go no faster that 40 miles per hour. I began to be concerned.
Finally we arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This is the middle of Canada. I pulled into a service station and the mechanic advised us that we were running on 7 cylinders. One cylinder of the 8 was dead. It would probably cost from $200. to $400. To repair. Our concern was we did not know if we had to drive up and over any steep mountains on the Alaska highway that ran from Edmonton to the Yukon. We decided to take our chances as we decided if we could not drive up and over the mountains we could always back up in reverse which seemed to be working ok. We thanked him and hit the road again.
Canada is a huge country. You will never realize just how big and vast it is until you drive across it. You may look up at a jet aircraft flying overhead and not realize it that it is traveling at over 500 miles per hour. It takes 8 hours to cross the country at that speed.
As the miles slid under our wheels we slowly crossed this beautiful land. Each day we saw something different. One day it was two moose crossing the highway. Another a large black bear stood at the roadside and not moving. Being from the Maritime Provinces we had never seen grain elevators up close. We saw some straight stretches of highway seeming to go on forever on the praries.
One night we found a small campground well off the highway. In the middle of the night we heard the siren of an ambulance off in the distance. It seemed like a long time before we realized it was coming to our campground. After some time we heard it leave again with the siren wailing as it went. It was possibly an hour and a half later when I was again awakened by a vehicle approaching our area. It stopped. It left a few minutes later. After it was gone I heard a lady crying in the darkness. Her moaning was heartbreaking. Obviously something dreadful had happened but since we left that morning we will never know the reason for her sorrows or what exactly caused her grief.
On the tenth night we stopped at a park on the side of Muncho lake in the Yukon. It was pouring rain. We hit the sack as soon as the tent was ready. Half an hour later a fare collector arrived to pick up the $5.00 charge. We had been sound asleep. It was still raining heavily.
In the morning the rain had stopped but the lake had frozen over. We had to break the ice to wash our faces in the icy water as there was not a washroom to be found. Needless to say, the water was ice cold.
Later that afternoon we arrived in the city of Whitehorse where three of our four daughters resided. We felt we were home at last. The trip across Canada took 11 days. It was the trip of a lifetime. Our van? We had one flat tire and did not need to back up even once.
In a couple of days we rented an apartment and got our business off to a good start. We were off and running. We cleaned the ceilings and walls of houses and offices with the new machine and it worked perfectly. We were asked to take a look at the living room ceiling of a very nice home. We did so and it looked to be an easy task to clean it. I asked the gent that owned the home what he did for a living and he informed me he was an auto mechanic. He opened the garage door to show me the nicely tooled repair shop within. I asked him to take a look at our van with the sick engine. Having done so we agreed. He would fix the engine problem and we would clean the ceiling. We began to like the Yukon already.
I made a friend of a gent who supervised work for the Yukon government and through him we cleaned schools and government offices. We even cleaned bank swallows off the outside of some schools with the aid of power washers. We enjoyed the work.
In the fall the work in the houses fell off as expected. We found more work cleaning ceilings and light fixtures in hotels and by Christmas we had enough money in the bank to carry us through until the spring when the work would pick up again. However, we were not the type to sit around so we made the decision to go to Vancouver after Christmas to perhaps find some work through the winter instead of depleting our bank account.
We gave our landlord our notice, loaded the van once again but this time Irma and I had decided to sell the washer and dryer. She was finally convinced we did not need it. We said our goodbyes to our daughters and friends and stepped outside where the temperature was hovering at -53 degrees Celsius. This cold was extreme. The van engine had been plugged into the electric power overnight and started ok.
By 10 AM we reached Watson Lake and tried to turn into a service station but the wheel would not turn. I had to back up and by twisting and turning I managed to get to the pumps. The power steering system had frozen solid.
For the next three days the temperature remained about 50 degrees below. We were prepared for practically anything that could happen on the road. That first day we met only 7 vehicles. There was plenty of snow all over but the highway was mostly clear. We dared not travel very fast. A steady 40 miles per hour worked. The last thing a person wants is to go off the road into a ditch at that temperature. There were many large animals to be seen and some found it easy to walk the highways. Moose are huge animals and if you hit one you, and the van, will be the loser.
We arrived in the beautiful city of Salmon Arm, British Columbia on New Years eve. My sister was a resident there for many years. We stayed with her and her husband for a couple of days and then headed to Vancouver some 5 hours away.
We knew not a soul in the city. We had one name of a couple who were superintendents in an apartment building. We found them and over a couple of hours they told us all about the position of a building superintendent. We decided to look for work in the field.
A couple of weeks later were hired and trained in a nice hi-rise tower. Shortly after, an opening came up in another tower and we were offered the position and moved to the city center. It was the beginning of ten amazing years living and working in one of the worlds most beautiful cities.
As soon as spring arrived we drove to Whistler Ski Resort area. The moment we arrived in the small picturesque town we were hooked. It was beautiful. The resident population swelled during summer and winter by more than 2 million visitors. They come to play in the snow in winter and enjoy the hiking, bicycling, camping and golf the valley has to offer.
Soon, we too were taking part in all it has to offer. We tented and hiked all that summer on every weekend. We climbed up to 8,400 feet on one mountain and backpacked into places where the scenery was mind blowing.
The first winter, we purchased ski gear and aimed our vehicle for Whistler Ski Resort. It was one of those beautiful mornings you feel happy to be alive. In a little less than 2 hours we had purchased our lift tickets, donned our ski boots and boarded the gondola at Whistler base. The two, side by side mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, sit side by side. They feature 200 ski runs and three gondolas as well as high speed quad chairs are strategically located everywhere from the bottom at 2,400 feet elevation all the way up to 7,800 feet.
We skied everywhere. I was a little braver, so I thought, and took a chairlift to The Peak. The lift goes up the side of this steep, rocky mountain to the top. I was scared to death not knowing what to expect. However after getting off the lift I took a look around and really, the scene facing you is absolutely mind boggling. It is so beautiful our brain cannot handle everything at once. Looking around there were trees in grotesque shapes totally plastered with snow when the high winds added natures touch. As far as the eyes could see there were mountains and valleys.
Here I had two choices. Practically commit suicide by taking a almost vertical drop off the mountain as the young and brave skiers were doing, or, taking a beautiful 11 kilometer run from the peak to the base. Guess which one I took!
After enjoying all of the thrills of the Whistler Ski Resort corridor we decided to set up this website for all of the world to see and enjoy.
Sorry for the extended length of this note but now you know why we fell in love with the fantastic Whistler outdoors.