Opening day has been and gone this past Saturday, almost two weeks ahead of schedule. That must mean that it's awesome up there, right?
Well, that kind of depends on your definition of awesome. If you are happy to be back on your boards, cruising the groomers and catching up with winter friends in mid-November, then yeah, you're going to have fun. If you're under the impression that the mountain is good to go, then take heed of the signage and warnings in all the media blasts this week.
Basically Whistler Blackcomb is discouraging anyone and everyone from skiing outside the temporary boundary, which on opening day was roping off popular runs like Green Acres, Lower Whiskey Jack and Dave Murray Downhill. Pika's Traverse is open for hiking, though any terrain beyond that Temporary Boundary rope — terrain that's within the normal resort boundaries — should be treated as backcountry with the appropriate equipment, skills and decisions.
Of course, few people listen to those warnings which is why ski patrol is always busy carting injured folk off the mountain whenever the mountain opens with a mediocre base. With just 64 centimetres at Pig Alley as of Sunday, trees and rocky alpine ridges are off the card. Hooking a ski under a log is a quick and nasty way to snap your ankle and possibly give you a concussion, or worse. Ditto for the alpine rock gardens — they may look like smashable pillows but you may end up damaging more than the base of your skis.
Basically, the snow is the deepest where the snowmaking department has been the busiest. High traffic groomers like Pony Trail, Whiskey Jack and Orange Peel. Not the most exciting runs on the mountain, but if you want to be ready for when the big storm does arrive, this is where you should be warming up your legs.
But it's so easy to cross that rope whenever everyone else is doing it. If your curiosity is getting the better of you, just remember to ride cautiously and treat every bump and cross-ditch as something that could swiftly end your season. If you are hiking towards Harmony and the Peak, respect the avalanche closures and hold off on going too big over cliffs. In Whistler, everyone wants to tell the story that they were first this winter to ski a run like the Glacier Couloir or Excitation. Some of those people learn to cool their jets the hard way.
I was hiking to the Peak on opening day a few years ago and even though there was considerably more snow than this year, much of the alpine terrain just wasn't ready. My friend and I were schlepping our skis towards Whistler Bowl next to a long-time Whistler veteran and passed by the entrance to Glacier Couloir where a couple of skiers in bright suits were scoping the cornice entrance littered with rocks. The veteran — a formidable skier himself — turned to us and said: “I don't know about that, I'm just happy with some hippy turns today.”
That advice has stuck with me every opening day since.