Arriving at the 7th Heaven ski area – in cloud.
The two words ‘Limited Visibility’ sadly sum up my recent experience of eight days skiing in Whistler. The weather was not kind to us. Low cloud or hill fog shrouded the mountains, and it repeatedly rained in Whistler, but snowed higher up. Finally on the seventh and eighth day the sun put in an appearance. Intermittently. And on the following day, on our drive to Vancouver airport, we got superb views of the coastline. Nice, but a tad cruel.
Another image at the top of the 7th Heaven chairlift. Coated in Hoar Frost with a curtain of icicles
I was riding back up the mountain one day with a lovely local couple and they were explaining that the Pacific coast of BC is home to the largest area of temperate rain forest in the world. And where there is rain forest… there is going to be rain – (the clue is in the name). They explained that January and February were the wettest months of winter, and that the weather was usually a lot more settled in March and April. Perhaps I should have researched the weather prospects before booking our holiday. You live and learn as the saying goes. But what my archive tells me is that when we visited Whistler in 2009, it was for exactly the same time of winter as this year’s visit, and on that occasion we were very lucky with the weather. But that’s skiing for you. You have to be prepared for any weather and learn to cope.
Skiing in fog/cloud is not easy. Most of you will have driven a car in fog, conveniently the road surface is usually black or dark grey or perhaps brown. Imagine what it would be like to drive on a white road in fog. That’s what skiing is like in cloud/fog. The light is flat, the ground merges with the sky, there is no contrast and no awareness of a slope. You feel rather than see the change in the slope. You moderate your speed, feeling your way, trying to stay balanced and relaxed over the centre of your skis. But inevitably you are tense and you ski tentatively, searching for the next marker flag to confirm you are still on-piste.
Skiing in a white-out is not fun, and after a few runs of doing the same thing you are tempted to conclude that that is quite enough for one day, thank you. And you begin to see why quite a lot of people can’t quite understand why anyone would want to go out in the depths of winter, dressed in multiple layers, with a helmet on their heads; then encase their feet in rigid plastic boots, fix them to two planks of wood, and slide down a hill on them; and hope they survive the descent without rupturing a knee ligament on the way!
I’ve got to an age where, in bad weather, I think they might have a point. I am a fair weather skier. The joy of skiing is to be able to ski in good light (preferably sunny), with good views; to feel confident and ski, carving good lines, and feeling the wind in your face. There’s nothing quite like that. But I didn’t get much of that except on the last two days. Except that after the first day or two I ventured further up the mountain occasionally finding myself in clear air, looking down on a girdle of cloud above which I had travelled, but looking further up and finding I was merely just in a shallow zone of clear air before the next layer of cloud/fog above me that probably extended way above the mountain tops. You might start off a run in cloud and find clear air lower down , or you might start in clear air and enter cloud. You could never actually ski a full run and expect the same degree of visibility throughout.
So, today, the gallery of images is all about poor visibility. The last one is of hoar frost up at the top of 7th Heaven. Images of better weather will follow in a few days. Click on any image to see a higher quality enlargement.
Riding up into the clouds
Hoar frost on a hut