Snowmobiles and storms

It’s hard to believe I reached the age of 34 without ever riding a snowmobile, especially considering the way I feel about skiing and motorbikes. Thanks to a Christmas gift Groupon for a Blackcomb Snowmobile tour, that oversight has now been corrected.

It was a slushy start in the Callaghan Valley, and initially I was surprised by how much the sled slipped around in the wet snow. It took me a few minutes to overcome the years of motorbike conditioning and adjust to the fact that this was a totally different riding experience. Once I’d gotten used to the feel of the snowmobile and how much weight I needed to throw into the turns to get it moving smoothly, it was just as much fun as I’d hoped. J hung on behind me as we drove along snowy trails beneath scudding clouds; the conditions definitely made for a rough ride, but a very entertaining one. I didn’t want to give the sled back at the end.

After the tour we headed for Whistler, where we were staying overnight at the Coast Blackcomb Suites. The buzz in the village was for another epic powder day on Sunday, with 20cm of snow predicted overnight. We soaked in the hot tubs and then opted for a quiet night with an in-room movie, saving our energy for the slopes.

Unfortunately the overnight snow failed to materialize, and instead Sunday dawned on a howling blizzard. I did appreciate my first ever ski-in ski-out hotel experience; it was great to be able to walk out of the door, jump into my skis, and cruise down corduroy slush to the Wizard Chair. It rained gently on me as far as the base of Solar Coaster, and then the clouds closed in and the rain turned to snow and the winds started to build.

I started out with a couple of runs on Ross’s Gold before they closed it down for slalom training. Everyone seemed to be sticking to Springboard, and Ross’s was pretty well empty and untouched. With very limited visibility I was wary of letting my speed build too much, and the slopes below were dust on a crust of icy hardpack. I ended up heading for Seventh when the lift opened, which turned out to be a very good move. The ridge was a chaos of wind and blowing snow, but once you dropped down and cleared the first part of the runs (which had no visibility at all) the cloud opened up, the winds reduced, and the snow was in good shape.

By noon gusts on the ridge had reached 80km/h, and it took all my strength to pole forward into them. Skiers who stopped poling (and most of the snowboarders) were pushed slowly but inexorably backwards. At the end of a deserted run, I wasn’t surprised to find that the lift had closed. I headed back to Solar Coaster but even there the visibility had deteriorated, the winds were gathering pace, and skiers and boarders sessioning the Camp of Champions airbag were being buffeted about as they flipped.

After a final couple of runs I skied back down to the hotel, collected J, and we headed to the Scandinave Spa with another set of Groupons. Four hours of steam rooms, saunas, hot pools, nordic plunges and solarium relaxation later, we drove back to Vancouver in another pounding rainstorm. Ah well; better luck with the weather next time.


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