Glacier Skiing in Whistler

Cruisin' My Religion



Joern Rohde

When the temperature is rising in the valley, one of the best ways to cool down is to go up the mountain.

Even in the height of summer, there’s still snow to be found in Whistler — just head to the Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain to ski on more than 60 acres of terrain.

Skiing under a bluebird summer sky is an ethereal adventure that simply must be experienced to be understood. “Summer snowboarding and skiing are the churches of their sport, and Whistler is the Vatican,” muses Ken Achenbach, owner of the Camp of Champions summer camps. “It’s where kids from all over the world can get together and feed off each other, and influence and meet fellow disciples of their chosen religion.”

PUBLIC GLACIER SKIING

From early June to mid-July, upload for the public begins at 11:00 am from the Wizard Express Chair, inviting advanced and expert-level skiers and snowboarders to ascend to the glacier via three chairlifts, a bus ride, and finally a T-bar.

There are some notable differences between skiing in the winter and in the summer. “The snow quality is much different,” says Adam Francis, glacier operations supervisor with Whistler Blackcomb. “Generally, the summer snow is moister and consists of corn snow.”

You’ll also have to gear up strategically. Layers are your best friend in the summer, when weather can change in a heartbeat and conditions in the valley can be very different from those up top. “It can snow or rain up there at any time of the year, and small snowstorms in July is not uncommon,” Francis says. “You really need to be prepared for all weather conditions.” He recommends sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses or goggles for protection against the sun, and light- coloured clothing to keep you cool when temperatures rise.

You can expect to see a little more snow on the glacier this summer, as Whistler Blackcomb runs a glacier snowmaking test with five new snow gun locations at the Horstman Hut elevation. “The idea  is to increase the glacier mass, so we can continue to use it for skiing and riding  in all seasons,” Francis says of the current experiment.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE SUMMER CAMPS

The glacier is the perfect spot to get your snow fix in the middle of summer, but there are also opportunities to get ready for the season ahead through a series of skill-building summer camps.

The first summer camp for skiers on Horstman Glacier launched 25 years ago; the moguls-only clinic coincided with the introduction of moguls in the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. The mogul camp still exists today, though the evolution of skiing has led to a variety of other camp options.

Freestyle camps now allow campers to sharpen their skills in the park and in  the pipe. “We design and build our own fun park,” says John Smart, founder and director of Momentum Camps Inc. “We build and fly in rails, wallrides, and other features to create North America’s No. 1 summer park.” The soft snow is forgiving for both new and experienced park skiers, and features such as the two giant air bags are the key to quick progression. Each summer camp has its own private lane through the park, with an additional lane open to the public. Momentum Camp sessions are offered for both adults and youth. Mornings start with skiing and afternoons are spent taking part in Whistler’s best summer activities.

At the Camp of Champions Summer Ski and Snowboard Camp, aspiring freeskiers spend the entire day on the glacier, coached by some of the biggest names in the industry. “The best part of hosting all the campers that come through our program is seeing them get started on living the life they dream of,” says Achenbach. Over the course of eight days, young skiers and snowboarders will see their skills progress exponentially in the world-class terrain park built on the glacier. Lifelong friendships are developed, and former campers and coaches have gone on to develop ski and snowboard brands, write for industry publications, and star in action-sport films.

Ski racers also get the opportunity to  hone their skills at one of several summer race camps. The Dave Murray Ski Race Camp is a children’s program focused on both slalom and giant slalom gate training techniques, allowing junior racers of all levels to perfect their technique on the mountain. Women’s-only and all-ages camps are also offered for skiers who just love to go fast.

While the variety of camps offered has evolved throughout the past quarter century, other aspects have remained the same. “The energy and spirit of the campers has never changed,” says Smart, “nor has our formula of using the best skiers in the world as coaches and mentors.” Several coaches are former Momentum summer campers themselves, who have gone on to win medals in the Olympics, World Cup, and X Games.

There’s something magical about squeezing in a round of golf or a bike ride in the morning, then heading up to ski in the afternoon, and Whistler Blackcomb is one of only two areas in North America to offer summer skiing. Whether you want to practice your turns, work on your technical skills, or just experience the infamous terrain firsthand, summer skiing is a unique way to enjoy some of the best of Whistler.

For more details, visit whistlerblackcomb.com.

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