With winter just around the corner and the first snow of the season already falling in Whistler, it’s time to start thinking of hitting the slopes. Ahead of this year’s ski season, we had a chance to chat with Canadian Olympic Champion Ashleigh McIvor (Gold Medallist in Ski Cross at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics) and get her take on the must-do’s when skiing Whistler Blackcomb.
What time should you hit the slopes?
Typically, if it’s snowing in the evening, I set my alarm for 7 a.m. (earlier on busy weekends) and check the “snow phone” to learn how much snow has fallen. If it’s more than 10 cm, I jump out of bed and get my gear on to make sure I’m across the street at the base of the lift before 8 a.m. If it hasn’t snowed much, I’ll take my time.
Where to ski on a powder day?
If it’s sunny you can go anywhere! If it’s stormy, I prefer to stick to the tree runs for my powder fix. Trees really help with depth perception in a complete white-out, and the snow can even be deeper in there as it is sheltered from the wind and sun.
I will always love the whole Peak to Creek area because you can ski 5,000 vertical feet of incredibly varied terrain with no interruption.
Ending up at Dusty’s is always fun too. 😉
Where would you take a beginner?
It always totally depends on their athletic prowess, especially from what you can see in similar sports like snowboarding, of course, but also things like ice skating, rollerblading, waterskiing, etc.
I once took a retired hockey player skiing for his first time ever, and after one run under the Green Chair, ended up taking him all the way out to Symphony, and even ended the day with Lower Dave Murray downhill – a black run! Symphony has an unparalleled combination of terrain, scenery and that adventurous feel for beginners.
For little kids who have never been on skis, I usually just start at the very bottom of the mountain and walk them up just past the SLOW signs for a few mini-runs in between my legs before getting on a chair lift.
Which runs should you hit early in the season?
Get up there as high as you can! The thing that people don’t realize about Whistler Blackcomb is that even early-season, when a lot of the lower mountain isn’t open, there is still more ski-able acreage than most other mountains on this continent.
And instead of driving up to the snow line, you get to hop on an enclosed gondola or a chairlift with a bubble to keep you dry. Always best to stick to the groomed-runs early in the season though!
How do you make the most of your last run of the day?
Well most injuries happen on the last run of the day, or that last run before lunch, when you are tired or hungry, so we always make sure to avoid saying “one more run” – sort of like a ski town superstition. I do love to make the last run of the day a top-to-bottom lap, where we catch the last ride up the Peak Chair on Whistler or 7th Heaven or a glacier t-bar on Blackcomb, and then cruise all the way down to the valley to end up at one of our favorite apres-ski bars.
What does a day on the mountain look like for you?
I love going for a quick breakfast at Dusty’s Backside (in behind the main Dusty’s Bar), hopping on the Creekside Gondola and then going straight to the deep powder in the trees, solo if it’s any sort of inconvenience meeting up with people. If it’s not a powder day, I’ll take my time and make sure to catch up with some friends right off the bat. Depending on the conditions, I may ski all day and catch that last ride up into the alpine, or call it early to hit après ski.
How did Whistler Blackcomb help you win the Gold?
Growing up as a Whistler kid I learned every skill I needed to win the Olympic Gold just by having fun. Skicross really is just an organized version of what we Whistler kids have been doing for fun our whole lives.
I used to love racing my buddies from the top of the mountain to the bottom, through gullies, off cliffs, over jumps, into the trees and deep snow. With so much vertical and such a wide variety of terrain, there is no better place in the world to develop that kind of endurance, and adaptability — both keys to success as a skicross athlete.
Whistler is a really incredible community, and the people running Whistler Blackcomb have always taken very good care of us Whistler kids. Their ongoing support has enabled me to get to the top of my game.
Image: David Hecker
I think the coolest view of all is off the back of Blackcomb Peak, looking across at Whistler and the Tusk at sunset, but if you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, the view from the top of the Peak over at Black Tusk and the Tantalus Range is a close second.
What’s one thing everyone must do when in Whistler?
Ski! Well that’s the obvious one, but you’d be amazed how many people come up to shop, enjoy the après ski scene or just to disconnect from city life. The spa scene is really becoming popular, and I have to say the one thing everyone must do (beyond skiing), is go for a float at West Coast Float in the main village. It’s right beside my favorite ski shop, Fanatyk Co., and it is seriously one of the most life-altering discoveries that I’ve made. You are suspended in the most buoyant water, with 600lbs of epsom salt in it, and it’s the closest thing to being back in the womb. It’s technically called sensory deprivation therapy, or floatation therapy, and it’s very powerful in terms of physical recovery and rejuvenation, as well as letting your brain have a complete rest.
When to hit chalets for lunch?
Definitely not at noon on a busy day!
Best après ski?
I’m a Dusty’s girl because I live in Creekside. I love the vibe and the patio is nice and sunny in the springtime. I do also love the GLC though, with it’s massive fireplace and huge windows… great bartenders too. Be sure to try the Gold Standard. The nice thing about the GLC is that it turns into our favourite night club most evenings.
I’ve always loved the Bearfoot Bistro for fine dining, and the Trat is a favorite too. I did recently stumble upon Creekside’s newest restaurant — The Red Door and that is one I will definitely be frequenting more going forward!
Ashleigh’s Gold Medal-winning race:
Feature Image: Mike Ridewood / COC