Ski Resort Series: Blackcomb

Even though Whistler-Blackcomb is one big resort, I decided to write about them separately since it is two different mountains and I’ve spent so much time skiing both. I posted about Whistler first, so check out that post for more general info about the resort, like lift passes and parking.

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Creekside is not an option for parking if you’re skiing Blackcomb, but there is an upper parking lot for Blackcomb if you want to jump right on the Blackcomb Gondola – though I understand it fills up pretty quickly. We always park in lots 4/5 (no matter which mountain we’re skiing) and take the shuttle over to Whistler village, so we always take the Excalibur Gondola up to start. The benefit of the Blackcomb Gondola is it takes you right to Rendez-Vous, which is the main hub on Blackcomb. Excalibur only goes halfway up and then you have to switch to the Excelerator Chair.

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For a long time, Whistler was my favourite mountain. I loved going up the Peak Chair and eating at Creekside. I liked the long runs that swing you around the mountain and how many different lifts there are. But over time I’ve grown to really love Blackcomb. I don’t think I can say I like it more than Whistler, but they’re definitely tied and I try and alternate back and forth every time I visit.

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The most popular runs on Blackcomb are at the 7th Heaven chair and it’s easy to understand why. On a clear day you can see all the Black Tusk and the surrounding mountains. 7th Heaven is completely clear of trees at the top, so it has amazing views before branching off into a dozen different runs. There’s a small cafĂ© at the top and while it’s almost impossible to get a seat inside, Brandon and I have spent more than one occasion enjoying our home-packed lunches outside at the picnic tables or on the slopes. Otherwise, we usually hit up Glacier Creek for lunch. It’s large and the crowds usually clear out a bit by 1:30pm. I find it much busier at Rendez-vous and usually try and avoid eating there.

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Once we get to 7th Heaven we’ll usually spend half of the day skiing there. There are tons of runs and you can pop in and out of the glades when you reach the top of the ski-line. There’s almost always small ramps scattered throughout the top, so Grant and I usually like to play around and test our abilities (we get at most a few inches of air, but we love it!).

If the conditions are bad though, 7th Heaven can be a bit of a nightmare. With no trees to shield you from the wind and blowing snow, visibility can be really bad at the top and they’ll often close the entire chair if the conditions are dicey. But on a clear day its really the best place to hang out!

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After 7th Heaven, Glacier Chair is really popular, but it’s never been one of my personal favourites. A lot of the runs at Glacier are more advanced and though my skiing has improved in the past years, I still like to play it a little more cautious. However, I recently discovered something new in the Glacier Chair area that is totally worth checking out!

At the top of the Glacier Chair, there’s a small t-bar called the Showcase T-bar, which takes you just a little bit further up the mountain. I’ve always ignored it because I hate t-bars, but I recently learned that if you’re willing to do a short walk, there’s a run at the very top of showcase that goes down the back of Blackcomb Glacier to an ice cave! It’s shown on the printed resort map, but I guess it doesn’t see that much traffic because after the t-bar, you have to take your skis off and walk upslope about 5 minutes to get to the top of a bowl going down by Blackcomb Glacier. It only takes about 5 minutes, so it’s totally worth it in my opinion, but it is steep, so I was pretty out of breath from carrying my skis.

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Once you get to the top of the bowl there are gorgeous views looking out over the mountains. Advanced skiers will climb further up the bowl, but I think most people just ski down from there. It’s steep at the top, but nothing unmanageable. The caveat with this run though is that it does go through avalanche terrain. The resort has a warning posted at the top of the lift that you are entering avalanche terrain, so make sure to check the bulletin before going. Fortunately the risk was low when we visited.

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It’s a gorgeous run, we played it safe and followed the ski markers down the center of the bowl. When you get to the bottom of the first part of the bowl, if you look to the right, you’ll see the Blackcomb Ice Cave along the side of the run. We skied down to it and spent some time exploring and taking photos. This was my first ice cave, so it was a really neat experience, but I’m not knowledgeable about ice cave safety, so we ventured inside the opening, but not beyond as we had no idea what the risk was.

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It’s a bit of a climb uphill again after the ice cave, but no where near as steep, I was able to ski it, but Brandon walked his board out. The run continues down around the back of the mountain and connects in again at the Crystal Chair. We had perfect weather when we visited the ice cave, so it made for a really fun day. I couldn’t believe I had skied the mountain for 7 years before discovering its existence!

Crystal Ridge can be a fun place to ski and I’ll often do a run or two in that area, but Jersey Cream is probably my favourite chair after 7th Heaven. It’s a shorter chair with limited runs, but I really like the views. Otherwise, there’s a ton of fun blue runs to do around the middle of the mountain and that’s where I’ll usually finish out my day. Depending on the conditions, we will ski down to the bottom, but sometimes we’ll download the last section on the gondola. Just be careful when you ski down that you take the right run based on where you parked. One leads to Whistler Village while the other leads to Blackcomb base.

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And that about sums up my thoughts on Blackcomb and Whistler. It’s definitely not cheap to ski there, but I keep coming back every year because there’s such a wide diversity of runs, the snow is usually better than the local mountains, and it’s much closer driving distance than going all the way to the interior. I still ski Cypress a lot too, but I always have the best time at Whistler-Blackcomb! However, be aware that with covid, reservations are now required prior to arriving and all the restaurants are operating as booking only. So unless you bring your own lunch to eat outside, plan ahead! Otherwise, have fun!

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Snowshoeing Dog Mountain

After Hollyburn Mountain, I think Dog Mountain at Mount Seymour might be one of the most popular places for snowshoeing. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this trail. I’ve snowshoed it several times and somehow I’ve still never managed to actually get the view of the city from the end of the trail.

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Like Cypress and Grouse, you can rent snowshoes directly from Seymour Mountain. If you want to snowshoe the actual groomed snowshoe trails, you’ll also need a trail pass, but since Dog Mountain continues out of the resort and into the provincial park, you don’t need to get a pass for this trail.

The parking lot at the top is dedicated for skiers, but there’s a ton of parking along the left side of the road just before you get to the parking lot which is dedicated for snowshoers. Park here and then start making your way up to the back of the lot. Like all the local mountains, it gets crazy busy up at the top, so either come early or consider taking the Seymour shuttle up from the bottom of the road.

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You’ll see a delineated snowshoe trail heading up the left side of the ski run. If you continue up the trail you can head up toward Mount Seymour, which is a much harder trail, but turn left off the trail and into the woods to go to Dog Mountain. The trail continues for a kilometer or two until you reach a branch. It can be kind of confusing in the winter, so pay close attention to the signs, go straight if you want to go to the Dog Mountain viewpoint, or right if you want to do the shorter Dinkey Peak loop (you can also do this on the way back from Dog Mountain, it’s only an additional kilometre, but does involve more of a climb).

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I’ve now attempted the Dog Mountain trail 3 times in the winter. The first time I went it was a gorgeous sunny day with fresh powder on the ground. I loved walking out through the woods with the snow sitting on the trees, but because it was fresh powder, it was a little hard to find the trail and me and my friend Kateland ended up totally missing the Dog Mountain branch and circled up and back the Dinkey Peak loop. At the time I was a little sad we missed the branch, but the view from the top of Dinkey Peak of the surrounding backcountry is just so beautiful that it was hard to feel too disappointed about it.

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The second time I visited I made it all the way out to the viewpoint, but it was a drizzly day and we got pretty wet without the pay-off of any view. So we trudged our way back to the lodge for a hot chocolate instead. The final time, it was pouring rain the whole way we didn’t even bother trying to go out to the viewpoint. Instead we took the Dinkey Peak loop, somehow missing the actual branch off to the peak, and went immediately back to the car to try and dry off.

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So I haven’t had the best luck. Seymour is the lowest elevation of the 3 local mountains, so there’s no guarantee that if it’s raining in the city it’ll be snowing on the mountain. So I’d recommend waiting for a clear day to go up there. That said, one time I went up there on a night snowshoe tour with Metro Vancouver and a bunch of people on the tour bailed because it was raining in Vancouver and we ended up having the most romantic snowy night snowshoeing up there! So you really never know!

Snowshoeing Grouse Mountain

I’ve only been up Grouse Mountain in the winter once, but it’s a great place for snowshoeing! You can rent snowshoes at the top and there’s lots of great trails to explore, plus the myriad of other activities available at the top of the mountain. The downside is that you have to pay to go up in the gondola, so unlike most hikes, it comes at a cost.

I don’t like paying to enjoy the outdoors, so I’ve only been up the one time when Carolyn had the annual pass and therefore was able to get my gondola ticket half off. Neither of us wanted to pay to come back again, so we decided to try and snowshoe as many of the available trails as possible in one visit!

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It ended up being quite the adventure! It was several years ago and I believe it was Carolyn’s first time snowshoeing in BC, so she borrowed Seth’s snowshoes, which were a hand-me-down from my parents. Unfortunately, they’re not very quality snowshoes and one of them broke halfway up the trail. The trail was pretty well compacted, so she continued on just in her boots, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this now without microspikes. It was several years ago and we were a lot less savvy back then.

The snowshoeing trails at Grouse are pretty straightforward and our goal was to snowshoe up to the top of Dam Mountain, which had great views looking down over the backcountry. While the trail itself was compacted from so many users, there was still a lot of fresh snow on the ground and we got some great photos of the trees all covered in snow.

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We had a short lunch at the top of Dam Mountain and then decided to continue on along the Discovery Route, which I believe in the summer is known as Thunderbird Ridge. Things got a little sketchier here – there was less traffic and a lot of fresh powder, so I went first to try and blaze a trail for Carolyn, who was coming behind me without snowshoes. She was a good sport about it, but she was definitely postholing a lot, despite my best efforts to compact it down for her.

I think she’d agree though that it was worth it! There’s amazing views looking back out over the backcountry from Thunderbird Ridge and we had a lot of fun playing around in the powder. Grouse is definitely on the busy side, so the Discovery loop is definitely a great idea if you’re looking to escape the crowds.

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We bypassed Dam Mountain on the way back and headed back down to the lodge. I have to give props to the Grouse Mountain staff – they were doing some work on the trail when Carolyn’s snowshoe broke and told us to leave them there and if they went back to the lodge before we got back, they would bring them back down for us to customer service. They had done so, which was super kind, so we were spared having to carry them out. On top of that, when we brought them into the snowshoe shop, they happily fixed them for me for free! They were cheap snowshoes and it was just the matter of a broken rivet, so they replaced it with a sturdier bolt. This had happened on the other snowshoe the previous year and I’d had to pay to get it fixed at a repair place, so I was really impressed with the service at Grouse!

So overall, despite some setbacks, we had a great day exploring around the mountain and had some snacks in the lodge before loading the gondola back down. It’s definitely a bummer to have to pay for the gondola up, but worth it for the access to some really great trails!

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