By Jed Hauck
I love winter, I love snow, and I love speed. But somehow over the years I’ve just never gotten it together enough to strap into a pair of skis or a snowboard and learn to conquer the slopes.
So a couple years ago, when I found myself at the breathtaking Winter Olympics venue of Whistler, British Columbia, amid bracingly crisp weather and two giant mountains packed in snow, what did I do? I went zip-lining and snowmobiling, of course!
After a mini “get acquainted” run on a 50-foot zip-line close to the ground near the Village, the Ziptrek Ecotours bus motored up the winding road between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains to an elevation of a few thousand feet, where we then set out along a series of boardwalks and suspension bridges to a platform built around a huge Douglas fir, some 200 feet in the air. This was the first of a series of five “launching pads” from which we would zip down the mountain, criss-crossing the glacial waters of Fitzsimmons Creek.
I admit right here that I was a bit daunted — after all, I usually fly with a Boeing 767 underneath my derriere, and I’m not the pilot. But when a gray-haired gentleman in my group eagerly stepped off the platform to begin his first zip, I felt I had no excuses left. The pros from Ziptrek — who virtually invented modern zip-lining — attached my harness to the thick steel cable while I adjusted my provided helmet and gloves. After they gave me a thumbs-up, I cast my fate to the wind and stepped off.
Within three or four heartbeats, I was hooked. OMG, I’M FLYING — AND IT’S AWESOME!
After I traversed the line, the automatic braking system kicked in, and I gently glided onto the landing platform while laughing hysterically. Now I could barely wait to get to the second zip. And with each successive run down the mountain, I was more able to enjoy the incredible views, to scream and wave at my fellow group members, to bask in the flying experience itself.
The final zip is over 2,000 feet long, drops about a dozen stories or so, and gets your speed up to about 60 mph. Thoroughly in the moment, I wished it would never end!
(As of this writing, Ziptrek has announced that it is constructing a zip that will run approximately 2 kilometers and span Blackcomb to Whistler Mountains. So now I’m trying to figure out a way to get back to Whistler…)
I’ve spent much time at Lake Placid as well as the European Alps, but I don’t believe I’ve seen more awesome winter vistas than at Whistler. The brilliant white snow clings to the branches of Western red cedars, mountain hemlocks, spruces, Douglas firs, lodgepole pines, paper birches, and Pacific dogwoods, while the glacial streams run absolutely crystal-clear and sparkling under dappled sun. And you get to see all of it, up-close, from the saddle of a snowmobile.
I zipped into the supplied snowmobile suit (a breathable, waterproof, full-length zip-up suit) and gloves, pulled on my helmet, and made sure everything was tight-fitting and comfortable. I then joined up with my fellow group members at the staging area, where the crew had already fired up the sleek machines.
Driving a snowmobile is a cross between riding a motorcycle, driving a car, and steering a sled with handlebars, except that you control the speed at all times. When you’re riding on a groomed snowmobile trail, it’s intense and thrilling. Beyond the fun of actually piloting the sled, we spent hours zooming through a canopy of snow-laden evergreen trees, witnessing winter scenery that everybody else misses. It was a back-country dream!
Alpine, Whistler Style
After this round of exhilarating adventures, I returned to my room at Delta Whistler Village Suites, an excellent value alpine-style retreat that’s one of the many superb resort hotels in the Village. All modern and sleek, my two-bedroom suite had a welcome fireplace that blazed away and made the evenings cozy, plus a balcony that was ideal for people-watching. I later stayed at Delta Suites Vancouver prior to my flight home from this amazingly civilized city. This downtown high-rise hotel is also very modern and offered unbeatable service, all just a few blocks from harborside.
Experience Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Nestled in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia just two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler is Canada’s favourite year-round destination and the best place to turn a weekend getaway into a long summertime retreat.
The most consistently ranked number one mountain resort in North America, Whistler offers two side-by-side mountains spanned by the world record breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola and access to endless alpine terrain: wildflowers, rainforest dwelling black bears, volcanic peaks, mountaintop restaurants and kilometers of hiking and mountain biking trails. Add in the Valley Trail, the world-famous Bike Park, lakes, perfect golf greens, a plethora of patios and restaurants, and you have a summer vacation destination that checks all the boxes.
Surrounded by the mountains of the Coast Range, anchored by a cobblestoned, pedestrian-only village, with a fast-evolving cultural scene rich in original festivals, events and award-winning museums Whistler caters to families, those with a sense of adventure and those with an appreciation of the finer things in equal measure.
Those who’ve spent time at the mountain resort say that Whistler’s staying power is in the way the place hooks you in, drawing you back year after year. Whistler is a hard place to leave, and that’s okay. The welcome mat is always laid out.