Words & Images: George Bale
We are just about to leave the UK when we get a message excitedly telling us about the snowfall in Whistler, describing how the town is covered and the conditions will be perfect for our two weeks in the area. This is our first trip to Canada and we were looking forward to spending a fortnight hiking, skiing and living the mountain lifestyle, we could not be more excited for deep snow and cold weather.
As the plane landed at Vancouver International the snow immediately turned to rain. A rain that would not stop for two weeks, the two weeks we were in the area, spring had come early and it was announcing its arrival in a spectacular way.
Whistler village is located 120km due north of Vancouver and is a Village in the Coast Mountain Range. Across the two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, the area is the largest skiable location in North America although it is famous for both skiing and mountain biking, two very opposing things. Due to these contrasting disciplines it should not come as a surprise that at some point the snow will melt and the skiers shall leave and give way to a warm summer climate and the bikers. We had the fortunate experience of witnessing the transformation first hand.
The first week we spent hours walking along snowy trails, the ground still cold, covered in a thin layer of slush and ice but offering a brilliant contrast against the darkness of the trees, that were now clear of snow and beginning to feel the warmth of the approaching springtime. Just days before these trails were in heavy use by cross country skiers, their tracks just visible as parallel grooves slowly melting, with the warm rain washing across them.
Around Whistler there are a large number of lakes, which over the winter freeze to such an extent that one, Green Lake, is used as Whistler Airport. Throughout our stay we could only watch in amazement as these huge expanses of ice disappeared before our eyes.
There were many drastic indicators that spring truly had arrived, rumours of bears coming out of hibernation did not scare me as much as the locals thought it should, while the skate park turning from a indistinguishable mount of snow to a warm concrete area with t-shirt and short wearing skaters really did make me take a step back. The temperature in Whistler Village was now warmer than it was back home in Bristol, UK.
Heading south from Whistler Village is the Cheakamus, a fast flowing river full of rapids and waterfalls like many waterways in the region. The river is beginning to rise with the early thaw creating spectacularly powerful waterfalls consisting of perfectly clear water streaming directly from the mountains above. The ferocity of the river can be seen in the churning of the water and the size of the tree trunks being pushed down stream.
Further south again, in the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, high above the town of Squamish the trails are completely devoid of snow. Despite the rain, the setting appears nearer summer than still well into the winter season with the evergreen trees looking the same all year round. The view from the top of the climb really shows the extent of the early thaw, there is almost no snow to be seen in the full panorama at the north end of Howe Sound.
The effect an early thaw can have on this area is not so devastating as one might think, with such strong mountain biking and skiing industries in both summer and winter respectively, no matter the weather there is always something to do and always beautiful scenery to enjoy.