Pars and Powder

Published on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 in Features


By Dick Stephens

There are tucked-away little pockets on Earth where the environment and geology produces something unique. As I get older, I am drawn more to these places, where a confluence of different elements smash together to form something rare.

Whistler, B.C., is one of these places — one of a small handful in the world where you can combine two recreational favorites, golf and skiing, on one unforgettable day. Each of these places have high glacier fields, making it possible to ski above the treeline in the morning, while glacier melt feeds the golf courses in the valley below with its unique, bright-green water. It’s always been a dream of mine to do both in the same day — this year, I finally made it happen.

At Whistler, your window to ski and golf is May through early June — any earlier and the courses are covered in snow; any later and the mountain serves hikers and bikers, not skiers.

At 7,494 feet, Blackcomb Mountain served as my canvas for the skiing portion of the experience. Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains make a truly world-class, year-round resort destination for skiers and golfers alike — but these two things are rarely done together, nor marketed that way. Skiing on Blackcomb can be done — weather- and snowpack-dependent — well into June, while portions of the Horstman Glacier, where I skied, remain white year-round. Blackcomb is a haven for spring and summer skiers; it’s not uncommon to see international alpine and freestyle skiers and snowboarders training there to stay sharp.

It’s a real trip to start your morning off with breakfast in your shorts, flip flops and a golf pullover, eating outside in a Whistler Village bistro at 2,200 feet as you look 5,000 feet up at the glacier summit to your right. After coffee and a high-carb breakfast, I hit the Nike Performance Golf Fitting Studio to hit balls in the 70-degree warmth, before heading up to Blackcomb.

Nicklaus North Golf Course, as seen from atop Blackcomb Mountain.

Nicklaus North Golf Course, as seen from atop Blackcomb Mountain.

The “powder” part of my skiing experience is slightly different than your traditional skiing day, where you don your ski pants and parka, ski to the lift line and start up. It could be 65 degrees up there or 35 and windy; the weather turns on a dime, so you dress accordingly, in light layers. And you don’t ski to the lift line – you walk in your ski boots, with skis slung over your shoulder. That’s because there’s no snow on the bottom of the mountain at all; in fact, it takes two lifts to reach the start of skiable terrain.

I chose the route served by the Wizard Express and Solar Coaster lifts, so I could get to the mid-mountain lodge and finally set my boots into my bindings before skiing to the next lift that serves the glacier summit. The Rendezvous Lodge is a haven for sightseers and hikers; half of the folks on the lift are heading up to spend the morning overlooking the valley’s incredible views. From the lodge, at 6,100 feet, I could see both the Whistler Golf Club and the Nicklaus North Golf Course below me — both of which looked like scorecard map layouts at this elevation. Four hours from this moment, I’d be on the first tee down there at Nick North — now, it was time to ski.

Lift prices are more than 50-percent cheaper in late spring and early summer than the peak winter months, making it an affordable day out. And, if you wish to bring your kids or ski with beginners, you can ski greens and blues the whole way down.

I took an easy ski route to acclimatize, called Expressway, before skiing to the Seventh Heaven lift, which goes straight up to the top of Blackcomb. As I glided along the ridge, I chuckled to think that I was hitting balls just 45 minutes ago.

Once you hit Seventh Heaven, the world changes a bit. It starts to get cooler and, before long, I passed through the cloud line; by the time I summited, the golf courses below had disappeared. At 7,494 feet, I was well above the treeline, and more than 5,000 feet higher than I had been just a short while ago. It’s one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen.

From here, you can take many routes down. There are green, blue and black runs that plunge down below the treeline. And the snow is heavenly — softer than the winter version, but still firm enough to carve. Your legs will feel the burn, though, as you drop back down into the softer snow below. From the summit to the base, the temperature varied by 25 degrees. In fact, I took off my jacket and zipped the bottom of my pants off on the last run of the day, as I went from Horstman Hut to the peak of the Wizard Express, where the run dwindled to just a 25-foot-wide strip of snow.

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