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Whistler beckons

Whistler is quaint, and it’s cool, offering the ski experience to beginners up to experts. Non-skiers will love the town too, as it has much more than slopes to boast of. Photos by GEORGE TAPAN

MANILA, Philippines - I made my first snow angel on Whistler Mountain, and I saw my first – and so far only – black bear in the wild on Whistler Mountain.

On my first visit to Vancouver one early spring many years ago, my friends loaded me into their van for the 150-kilometer drive north to Whistler – “We must go there, para makita mo ang snow (so you can see snow),” they insisted, since seeing snow is most likely on every Pinoy’s bucket list.

It was too late in the season to get in even a beginner’s run on the slopes, but yes, we did see snow, enough for my obligatory romp and roll and the snow angel.

The black bear sighting was, in truth, more of a thrill for me. We were told by staff to be on the lookout for wildlife – especially the over 50 black bears resident in the mountains – when we are on the chairlifts. And indeed, that was how we spotted the bear, foraging among the vegetation. We didn’t see any marmots, although we were also told to look out for their bushy brown tails and white bellies as they stretch out on rocks sunbathing all day. But we certainly heard them, their distinct whistling sound that gave the mountain its name (marmots are also called whistlers).

Although Whistler and the Blackcomb mountain next to it offer enough attractions for casual visitors, it is skiing that brings the bulk of visitors, topping two million a year. Whistler Blackcomb – originally two resorts that merged in 1997 – is the largest ski resort in North America; the 4.4-km. Peak 2 Peak Gondola between the two mountains is the highest (436 meters above the valley floor) and longest (at over 3 kms.) unsupported cable car span in the world. 

Whistler was developed as part of a bid to host the Winter Olympics of 1968. But though that did not materialize, construction started anyway and the resort opened in 1966. Extensive expansion of the resort occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, and became the centerpiece for a renewed Olympic bid for Vancouver/Whistler. This time around it met with success, as it was chosen for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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Together, Whistler Blackcomb has over 3,300 hectares of skiable area with over 200 runs ranging from easy to expert. The longest of these is the 11-kilometer Peak to Creek run. Primary skiing terrain starts about a third up the mountains. Five gondolas and 34 chair and surface lifts transport skiers at a capacity of over 65,000 persons per hour.

Non-skiers too will find this a worthwhile destination, especially in the spring and summer when biking and hiking are popular activities. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park has nearly 50 trails totaling over 250 kilometers for all skill levels – smooth trails for beginners and leisure bikers, tight trails with jumps for advanced riders, and challenging trails with giant jumps, drops and root- and rock-strewn terrain for expert bikers. The park hosts two annual mountain biking competitions, in the summer and in the fall.

Many years have passed since that first snow angel, but Whistler still beckons. And though I may now be – like that black bear – older and slower in gait, I still intend to answer Whistler’s call and take to her slopes...the easiest one, of course. Whoosh!

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