The Powder Plan

Who knows who this is or what part of WB its on, but its one of many Internet images to emerge after the storm.

by Leslie Anthony

There’s nothing like a big dump at Whistler Blackcomb. You can feel the vibe even before you go outside in the morning—and that doesn’t mean reverberations from the avalanche bombs. This is especially the case when it hasn’t snowed in a while, or even very much in the season. And when the storms—like the recent one that dropped 80+ cms of blower up top—are nasty and windy, the closure of the upper mountain for a couple days accelerates the anticipation. When the ropes drop on the upper lifts after such an event, the stampede to the goods is on and you better be on that train or you’re going to get run over by it. After 14 years of learning what to do and how to do it, I know that timing and creativity are everything on such days. I call these two criteria Phase One and Phase Two of a powder day at WB, and like most locals I have my favourite go-to run for every lift opening and beyond, but like to make sure it’ll be worth it before I commit to the fight.

Timing: Hearing no bombs and knowing the winds would preclude the upper mountain from opening, I skipped day one of the storm which was a Saturday and full-on gong show of jonesing Vancouverites swarming the lower mountain. It was a good call: the Creekside line-up was the longest it has ever been (photos on social media are good for avoiding this kind of stuff) Sunday, when the crowds were less but lifts would still likely be limited, I stayed home until I indeed heard the sweet sound of bombs. Leaving my house at 10:30 a.m. and hitting the top of Red Chair by 11:30, I was fortunate enough to not only hit the opening of Harmony chair with no one around, but to get to my favourite shred line ahead of the crowd to find a steep, unmarred expanse below my tips. Twenty double-overhead turns later, many of which I was unable to see in, I was back on Harmony Road on my way to another lap. When I reached the lift corral it was obvious word was out as colourful GoreTex-clad humans were streaming in from all corners like ants to a picnic. The next lap was still untracked and great, but there was absolutely nothing left after that and a monstrous line-up to boot, so it was time for Phase Two.

If you know your WB geography this run-out might give you a hint where one of my favourite lines is. From November 2006.

Creative: Harmony was done and Peak Chair wasn’t going to open so it was back to Red. Pushing out a favoured traverse and then going past where everyone else dropped in, climbing a bit, dropping down a short chute to Highway 86 and walking for 45 minutes through a magical forest brought me to an untracked drop that went 1,500 metres to the valley floor and a cold beer at Dusty’s.

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If I were to tell you which particular runs these were I’d have to kill you. But the point is this: a bit of luck and stealth route-finding can bring deep satisfaction (ha ha) and a sense that waiting—in the long term and short—can be a good thing. Mission accomplished.