by Matt Barr
I’ve spent the last four days in Whistler, as a guest of the resort for the swanky, all singin’, all dancin’ opening of the new Peak 2 Peak gondola that links the two mountains in the resort: Whistler and Blackcomb. If you’ve not seen any coverage of the opening, the new 3024 metre, 28 million nicker lift crosses the Fitzsimmons Creek valley and means skiing both Blackcomb and Whistler in one day is now easier than ever before. Here’s a lovely representation of the lift made entirely out of cake, snapped at the celebratory press junket on the evening of the opening.
I was in Whistler with a large group of UK journalists, including ski writers from the Observer, Independent, Mail on Sunday and Times, as well as Ski and Board, In The Snow and OK magazine. On Friday 12th December, the day of the official opening, we all squeezed into car number 6 and merrily sailed off across the valley towards Blackcomb. Here’s what we could see through the murk.
So how was it? The official line is that the Peak 2 Peak is to be a ‘new icon for the resort’ (at least according to construction manager Rick Temple) and – get this – ‘a testament to the human spirit … proof of the power of optimism’. That last line, lifted from the brochure (and my friend Tom’s Guardian write-up, sorry about that Tommy!) they were handing out on the day, should give you some idea of the level of hyperbole and general razzmatazz the Whistler people were trading in as they celebrated the opening of this lift. I mean, check out Miss Blackcomb, who was also on hand to help celebrate proceedings on lift opening day. You don’t get that kind of liftie in France.
So it was obviously an important day for Whistler. But you can imagine how this kind of hype went down with a cable car full of jaded European ski hacks with experience of resorts such as Zermatt, Paradiski and Chamonix in their time. That’s right: with a certain amount of cynicism. After all, each of these resorts have lifts that either predate or, frankly, piss all over the Peak 2 Peak. I couldn’t help wondering if anybody at Whistler has ridden the Aiguille du Midi, or even been to Europe. Here’s a pic of the Aiguille du Midi, just to make the point:
Then there’s the fact that some locals are unconvinced by the need for the lift, given that it links to mountains rather than, say, a new backcountry area. For Whistler, the USP of the P2P (always wanted to write something like that) is that it is now easy to switch mountains should the need arise. But was that really so much of a problem in the first place? After all, you might as well build a monstrous gondola lift between Saulire and Cote Brune in Meribel to cut out that pesky middle valley in the Three Valleys. Still, I have to say that using it the next day was rather handy when we were on Blackcomb and had to meet some friends in Whistler. Somewhere between the two extremes of Emperor’s New Clothes-style cynicism and the jazzy PR chat about changing the ski world lies the reality of the Peak 2 Peak lift: that it is already part of the furniture in Whistler, and that everyone is already going about their business as if nothing happened. Well, until this little incident that is:
http://whitelines.com/features/category/debris/whistler_gondola_collapses Check that out. Yes, a scant three days after the big unveiling of the P2P, one of Whistler’s slightly more venerable lifts let the side down good and proper by … well, collapsing is the only way to put it really. At the time of writing I’ve only read the news reports but it seems that a pylon went down on the Excalibur gondola. The terrible snow cover in Whistler also meant that the gondola was unusually busy with people downloading, rather than skiing or riding down. Luckily nobody was killed, but I did spare a thought for all those Whistlerites who had invested so much energy and cash in publicising the Peak 2 Peak opening. Imagine: you spend years on a project, which opens to generally lukewarm reviews. Then, a few days later, an unforeseen calamity effortlessly garners headlines around the world. So it goes, as someone smarter than me once said.
Elsewhere, I spent my time over in Canada doing some snowboarding and partying. Typical: Europe gets its best opening to the winter for something like 50 years, and I’m scratching around on the three runs they’ve managed to open in Whistler given the complete lack of base. I heard later from my friend Joel Muzzey that I shoulda hooked up with him and some friends. I’d seen Joel at the press thing the night before with some locals, one of who’s name I didn’t catch. I asked what he did and got a few smirks from the locals. Once home, I emailed Joel to check who it was. His reply? ‘Yeah, you were talking to local Canadian shred legend Shin Campos. You shoulda come riding with us the next day! Shin and the boys had a good secret (closed) pow run we kept hitting’. Doh…
Matt traveled with Inghams (+44 (0)20 8780 4447;inghams.co.uk) which offers a week at the five-star Fairmont Chateau Whistler from £829 room only, including flights and transfers.