The Whistler Blackcomb Peak 2 Peak gondola has become the new Grouse Mountain lumberjack show. Remember the summer of 2011 when I had friends and family visiting so often I watched that show four times in six weeks? This year I’ve been lucky enough to have my parents and in-laws visiting within a week of each other, so naturally we’ve done some of the same activities twice. Throw in an engagement-moon weekend in late July and Whistler and the Peak 2 Peak (the longest and highest lift in the world, connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains) has become the getaway of choice. Even though we did the same trip up the same gondola three times in two months, our mountain experience changed significantly with the weather.
When you check the weather forecast on the Whistler Blackcomb website you get three temperatures. One for the village, one for mid-mountain and one for alpine (a.k.a. the very top of the top). When it’s 25 degrees on the ground in the middle of a long, hot summer it’s easy to forget 6 degrees at the top of the mountain is very, very cold. The one thing each of my visits had in common was a wish that I’d taken a warmer coat with me, only to decide the next time that ‘it can’t have been that cold, can it?’
Our first visit in July was our postponed would-be-engagement weekend which we cancelled because of forest fires. It’s a good job that James decided to propose on the original weekend anyway instead of waiting two weeks for the trip, because the weather pretty much sucked. It wasn’t too bad in the village, and the sun was even peeking out behind the clouds. Unfortunately when we got out of the gondola at mid mountain it was very cold and the clouds looked pretty ominous. It was our first time up the mountain in the summer so we decided to go ahead and take the chairlift up to the summit anyway. The clouds got darker as we got higher, until we couldn’t see anything in front of us or below us. And then the hail started. Let’s just say our tour of the summit was ‘whistle-stop’ to the extreme and we were back on the soggy chairlift within minutes. We were so cold and soggy that we didn’t even get off the Peak 2 Peak at Blackbomb mountain. Thank goodness the chalet served hot chocolate.
Our next trip to Whistler was with the in-laws in August. It was a beautiful weekend with clear blue skies and zero percent chance of rain. The views from mid-mountain were fantastic, and this time we made sure to explore to actually get out at Blackcomb Mountain and explore the other side of the Peak 2 Peak. The chairlift ride up to the summit was much more enjoyable in the sunshine, and we laughed at how low to the mountain we actually were now that we could see the rock below us. The laughing continued when we finally saw the stunning views that we missed on our previous visit when we were literally in the clouds.
Our latest visit was in September with my parents. It was a really warm day in the village so I convinced myself I didn’t need to bring a proper coat with me. Luckily there was on rain on this trip, but it was bloody cold at the summit. My jacket was well and truly zipped up and my hood was definitely staying up. We got some good photos, but were also happy to get back down the mountain again. The view from the Peak 2 Peak was distinctly autumnal and the leaves were definitely more orange than green. On this visit we were lucky enough to see some very Canadian wildlife: bears and marmots, just hanging out on the slopes.
We knew when planning our first trip that we’d be heading up the mountain more than once, so we paid $20 to upgrade to the Peak 2 Peak 360 pass which is valid all summer. We’ve saved $80 in lift passes so far and also took advantage of a Peak 2 Peak 360 ticket package to sample the all-you-can-eat Mountain Top BBQ buffet on our first visit. It was delicious and well worth the extra $15. Contrary to what this post might suggest I don’t actually work for Whistler Blackcomb, but I have had fun at their mountain this summer. Hopefully the weather will cooperate more next summer and we’ll get some proper hiking in. Cheakamus Lake, here I come!
I spend a fair amount of my time in Vancouver thinking about what I miss about the UK, but when I arrived back in the UK last month I was barely off the plane before I started thinking about what I missed about Vancouver. I’ve been living here for nearly two years now, and my second year has made all the difference in terms of settling in and making Canada my home. I obviously decided to move here, and stay here, for a reason, and here are some of the reasons why.
It seems like I’ve gotten very used to the Canadian accent, not only through people I know but also from TV, radio and just listening to Canadians all day every day. I didn’t realize quite how comfortable I’d gotten until I stopped off at the supermarket on the way home from the airport. The first English voice I heard (other than my brother, his girlfriend and the customs officials) was a high pitched scream which sounded something like ‘Oi, Chantelle, git back ‘ere naaaaah’. I shuddered, then shuddered again, then begged for the soothing, dulcet tones of the West Coast. Unfortunately they didn’t arrive, though this incident showed me how much I’ve come to appreciate the calming and inoffensive accent that is Canadian.
I’ve written about how much I love the mountains before, and it’s a love that will never die. The mountains are a navigational aid (where is North?), a barometer (can you see them?) and an important feature of the Vancouver landscape. Viewable from the city, the beaches and the parks, it was strange going 10 days without seeing them. East Anglia is a particularly flat part of the UK, so there wasn’t so much as a hill to meet my needs. The only consolation is that now I’ve returned to Vancouver there is only a matter of weeks before the snowboard season begins again. The countdown is well and truly on!
It’s amazing how easy it is to make the switch from tourist to resident when you move to a new place. One minute you dedicate every waking moment to reading guidebooks, newspapers and blogs to find out what you might possibly be missing out on, and the next you find yourself knee deep in routine and very much at the centre of your comfort zone. I speak from experience, as in 16 short months I have gone from super tourist with camera and cartoon map at the ready, to settled resident who sees nothing but the pavement on the way to the SkyTrain station every morning. Don’t get me wrong, there are some novelties I’ll never get sick of (Granville Island is in all the guidebooks for a reason), but every now and again it’s good to awaken my inner tourist and try something new. In this particular case, my inner tourist was awakened by someone other than me. A friend from my BUNAC group flight, who had since moved back to the UK, was back out to visit and brought with her a bucket list of things she didn’t get round to doing when she lived here. Right at the top was a trip on a seaplane.
The first time I strapped my shaking and slightly numb feet into a snowboard, I was a 16 year old sixth form student trying something new on a school trip. My friend and I decided to rock the boat and snowboard by ourselves instead of ski with the rest of our group. We wanted to be the cool kids, and we sure felt cool riding (read: tumbling) down the slopes of Austria. The bruises, the pain and the inability to sit down for a month were worth every second of my five days on the snow, which living in the UK was the most I was entitled to. I knew my vision of becoming a professional snowboarder was blurry at best, but I would have done anything to settle for even owning a board of my own. Eight years later, and today was the day I finally walked into The Boardroom on West 4th Avenue, and purchased my very own 2009 Rossingol Amber, less than half price in the clearance section. I will admit to having a girl moment and buying the pretty bindings instead of the functional ones (who could resist a colour called Cherrybomb?), but I can’t wait to try them out this weekend.
This post isn’t really about me fulfilling a dream of buying a snowboard, it’s about me fulfilling a dream. Period. I know everything I write seems to be telling people to live their dreams and do things they always wanted to, but this time I really mean it. That thing you thought you would never be able to do…why can’t you? I didn’t decide to move my life half way across the world just so I could be within 30 minutes of a mountain and therefore justify buying a snowboard. That’s not my message; the big move was something I planned to do anyway. The newly purchased snowboard was an innocent bystander in my Canadian adventure, and I’d forgotten how much I really, really wanted to own one until I watched the incredibly helpful girl in the shop wrestle with my Cherrybomb bindings. I was so focussed on everything else I’ve been working towards that I completely forgot about my original, smaller and (some may say) more realistic goal. Now I’ve remembered, I’m not going to let go of this creeping sense of euphoria until this post is published and I’ve done my bit to convince you all to get out there and TRY. You don’t even have to achieve anything, just try. In the words of Dr. Pepper himself, what’s the worst that could happen? One day you could end up being one of the cool kids too. Maybe I’ll let you join my gang…
Now that the sun has finally hit the West Coast of British Columbia I’ve been making more of an effort to do all the things I read about in the guidebooks. Swimming at Kitsilano Outdoor Pool, jogging round the seawall and drinks at Granville Island have all been great fun to tick off the list, however my latest adventure was a little less relaxing. The Grouse Grind is a 2.9 kilometre hike up the side of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, is open from May to November, and is the alternative to taking the four minute gondola ride up from the mountain base. ‘Up’ being the operative word. The trail consists solely of steps and rocks, and is a relentless climb with an elevation of 2,800 feet. Despite this, Grouse Mountain estimate that over 100,000 people a year complete the hike. The average time to get to the top is up to 90 minutes, though the current course record is 25:01. No pressure then.
As well as being one of those things you just have to do whilst in Vancouver, the Grouse Grind is a fantastic workout. With over 2,830 steps, they don’t call it ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’ for nothing. This is why I decided to tackle the Grind for the first time this week whilst on a visit to the mountain with my brother and his girlfriend. I set them up with their lift tickets, handed them my backpack with a change of clothes, pointed them in the direction of the gondola, and off I went to the entrance. I’d been building up to this day for a while and was surprisingly nervous. The fact that the Grind had been closed for some hours that morning due to a medical emergency didn’t help. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach as if I was about to walk in front of a million people and make an important speech. In French. Naked. Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and set off.
July 11th marked my six month anniversary in Vancouver, and also tipped me over the half way point of my first year living abroad in Canada. How time flies when you’re having fun, and fun I have most definitely had. Work, friends and travel have taken over my life to the extent that I can hardly remember what living in Southampton, England, was like, and definitely can’t imagine being back there.
The first thing to report at this major milestone is that my visa has now been approved for 2012, and my Letter of Introduction (the document I had to immigration on the way into the country) is sitting in my inbox waiting to be activated on January 11th2012, the day my current visa expires. I was pretty certain at the three month mark that I wanted to stay here for longer than my original year, and now I’m at the half way line there’s no going back. To England that is. I’m still not sure yet whether Vancouver could be a permanent home, but home it is for the time being.
On the flip side, a number of our original group from the BUNAC flight have now left Vancouver, with more and more ‘biting the dust’ the further into the year we get. Some have gone on to further travel, some to University, and others back home. Some have shortened their trip, and some have extended it. Many were only ever here in the short term whereas others, like me, have applied for their 2012 visas and are looking to stay past Christmas. Either way, January 5th 2011 seems like a lifetime ago.
There are lots of things I love about living in Vancouver, and I think it’s time for me to start telling you about them. These things will be listed in no particular order, and I’m going to start with the mountains. Mountains are a source of Canadian pride across the country, and in Vancouver we have the North Shore mountain range right on our doorstep. I’m writing this whilst looking out of my living room window at the bright lights of the three ski/snowboard resorts of Cypress, Grouse and Seymour. Respectively a 28km, 12km, and 18km drive from Downtown Vancouver, snow has never been more accessible to me.
For anyone living in the UK a skiing/snowboarding trip either consists of a 2 hour session at an indoor snow dome or a week long holiday to Europe. In Vancouver I can jump on a bus outside my house and be at the base of Grouse Mountain in under an hour. Seymour and Cypress are a little further away, but all doable in 2 hours or less. Slightly further afield the world famous resort of Whistler-Blackcomb is a mere 2.5 hours on the Greyhound. And mountain pursuits don’t just stop at skiing and snowboarding. Activities include snowshoeing, hiking, ice skating, tubing and even sleigh rides. This year saw the winter season extended at all resorts, with Grouse Mountain staying open until Canada Day (July 1st)! Grouse is also open during the summer months when visitors can enjoy mountain ziplines, paragliding, eco-tours and various wildlife habitats and demonstrations.
In Vancouver the mountains have another secret talent, as they act as a barometer. Every morning I sit and eat my cereal whilst looking out the window to see how clear the mountains are. If I can make out the lines of the ski runs I know it’s going to be a sunny day, whereas if I can’t even see the peaks then I pick up my umbrella on the way out the door. Unfortunately for me, it’s usually the latter. On the days where I can see them, they have a secondary use as a compass. Wherever I am in Vancouver I just look for the mountains and I know I’m facing north. Ish. This is particularly useful in the grid that is Downtown.
Last but not least, I can also use the mountains as a clock. Right now the they’re pitch black, and I can’t even see the lights at Grouse Mountain anymore. This means that it’s late enough for them to be turned off, and therefore late enough for me to be in bed. And with that I shall go.