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by Jane Cassie
For Travel Writers' Tales

The mountaintop breeze brushes my face and bites through my woolen toque yet, in spite of the wind-chill factor, I feel warmed by the adrenaline that rushes through my veins. This thermal adjustment could be due to Mother Nature and the effect that her surrounding beauty has on me. Or it may be triggered by the anticipation I feel just before launching off on my downhill journey. It's hard to say. But this magical phenomenon happens every time I escalate to any of the mile high pinnacles that hover over the resort town of Whistler.

Photo 1 Whistler high speed chairs whisk us to the summits

Aptly named, Seventh Heaven is the first of many scenic perches that I revel from during my visit to this favorite North American playground. Jagged powder peaks embrace her divine summit and on this crisp, clear day, they contrast vividly with cobalt blue skies. Waiting to entertain my descent, is a sun-kissed bowl that glistens in its wintry overcoat. And just beyond the wide-open terrain, is the fringe of evergreens where carved out runs, like Angel Dust and Cloud Nine, offer blissful ways back to civilization.

Photo 2 Enjoying one of the classic cruisers

From my panoramic Blackcomb lookout I also have vistas of her neighboring sister, Whistler Mountain, where similar paradise pathways also attract die-hard skiers and snowboarders. Together, the compatible couple renders over eight thousand ski-able acres including sixteen magnificent bowls, three scenic glaciers, and over two hundred marked runs. While some go in search of perilous fall lines and powder that's as light as goose down, the less adventuresome have the choice of classic cruisers and wide open groomers.

Photo 3 Whistler snowboarder takes the steep way down

They funnel down to the quaint alpine village far below where lights decorate frosted evergreens and the pedestrian hub bustles with activity. Flanking the village's interconnecting pathways are over two hundred stores. From souvenir shops, art galleries, and accessory emporiums to gift stores, trendy fashion outlets and sporting good shops, there is something for everyone.

Photo 4 Whistler Village lit up with lights

Being a Vancouverite, I'd had the privilege of skiing these slopes as a youngster, and watching Whistler evolve over the past four decades from what was once the town dump to the international acclaimed resort that it is today. But Whistler's roots extend a lot further back than mine do.

Early settlers first trekked the three-day journey to the shores of nearby Alta Lake, and in 1911 Alex and Myrtle Philip followed their dream after purchasing four hectares of property for seven hundred dollars. Their remote fishing resort, Rainbow Lodge, attracted enthusiasts to the isolated area and in 1914 when the Pacific Great Western Railway rolled in, it opened the valley up to the outside world. Exceptional service matched the superior fishing and by the 1940's this remote destination reached its prime as a western hot spot this side of the Rocky Mountains. Outnumbered by other resort options the enthusiasm faded, thereafter, and it wasn't until the 1960's that this area became alive again.

With a passion for powder and an insight into the big picture, a group of Vancouver businessmen developed what was then known as London Mountain into an alpine ski area in hopes of hosting the 1968 Olympics. Runs were carved into the hillside and in honor of the whistling hoary marmots that resided in rocky outcroppings, the name Whistler was contrived. Although the Olympic bid failed, the evolution of Whistler did not. Slowly, but surely, T-bars were erected, chair lifts were established and aluminum gondolas whisked ski hounds, like myself, over an hour-long journey to Whistler's sensational summit.

Thirteen years later, the European style village evolved, Blackcomb united in a symbiotic relationship with Whistler, manicured golf courses snuggled up alongside five star resorts, and in 2010 the Olympic Winter Games finally became a reality. And it comes as no surprise that this internationally acclaimed resort is, once again, ranked North America's top ski resort.

Even though Whistler has vastly expanded since those early days, and my passion for steep terrain has waned with age, I realize from this mountaintop perch that, there are some things about this prime destination that will never change. The Sea To Sky Highway, that paves the way, will always boast some of BC's most incredible vistas. The picturesque resort, dominated by glacial peaks, will always nestle in a valley of unspoiled beauty. And from Blackcomb and Whistler's sensational summits, I will always feel a thrill of excitement before launching off on every downhill journey.

Photo 5 Taking off from another summit



PHOTOS: compliments of Tourism Whistler, photographer, Mike Crane

1 Whistler high speed chairs whisk us to the summits
2 enjoying one of the classic cruisers
3 Whistler snowboarder takes the steep way down
4 Whistler Village lit up with lights
5 Taking off from another summit

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