Local Vibe

Peak Attractions

North America’s top four-season resort just keeps getting better. Two new attractions will open this summer atop the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain: The Peak Suspension Bridge and a new, cantilevered viewing platform at Whistler Peak’s West Ridge. The Peak Suspension Bridge, part of Whistler Blackcomb’s  “Renaissance Plan” for on-mountain improvements, will be 130 metres (425 feet) long, stretching from the Peak Chair offload area to the new West Ridge viewing platform, and will afford guests  a 360-degree view of Black Tusk, Garibaldi Lake and the breathtaking Coast Mountains. Being on the suspension bridge “will be a bit of a landing pad ,” said Jennifer Smith, WB senior communications specialist. “We’ll string the different cables using a basket, sort of like a shopping cart. Once completed, it will hang and will have that feeling of being suspended.” The second part of a two-phase expansion of the renowned Whistler Mountain Bike Park, with a total of 21 kilometres of new trails and the opening of the new Creekside base area, is set to open this summer as well.

Other on-mountain upgrades have been occurring on both Whistler and Blackcomb. Another major project:  $66 million suite lift upgrades, including the addition of a new 10-passenger Blackcomb Gondola and replacement of the three-passenger Catskinner chair with a high-speed quad on Blackcomb. The project will also include the replacement of the Emerald Express quad on Whistler Mountain with a six-passenger, high-speed lift. The three new lifts are expected to be in service for the start of the 2018-’19 ski season, Smith said. The Blackcomb Gondola project is likely to cause only minor changes to facilities and events in the Upper Village/Blackcomb base area, Smith said. Once open, the Blackcomb Gondola (which will replace the Wizard and Solar Coaster lifts) will form the world’s first continuous, three-gondola lift system in the world — the others being the Peak 2 Peak and Whistler Mountain gondolas. For details, visit whistlerblackcomb.com.


Backcountry Boom

The past few years have seen a huge increase in the popularity of hiking and backcountry skiing. In an age when people are more plugged-in than ever before, there is an increasing desire to be disconnected from devices and more connected with nature, said Jayson Faulkner, media liason for a project that aims to help more people make an authentic connection with Whistler’s backcountry. The Spearhead Traverse, a popular hiking and backcountry skiing route in Garibaldi Provincial Park, is undergoing a construction boom of sorts. Last summer, snow clearing and building for the first of three planned backcountry huts — the first at Russet Lake — got underway, and it’s expected to be substantially complete in time for the 2018-’19 ski season.

Once completed, the Kees and Claire Hut — named for a Cornelius (Kees) Brenninkmeyer and Claire Dixon, who perished when their snow shelter collapsed during a backcountry ski outing in 2007 — will have space for 40 backcountry enthusiasts. A project of the non-profit Spearhead Huts Society, it’s being built through donations from a variety of sources including the U.S.-based Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation, which donated $900,000 Cdn.  The Kees and Claire Hut is being built with Passive House techniques, which is more expensive to build but, because of its high insulation ratings, much less expensive to operate.

Planning is underway for the second of the three Spearhead huts: Mount Macbeth. Construction on the hut, which is to be built entirely through a $1.5 million donation from Brian and Andrea Hill of the women’s clothing retailer Aritzia, is expected to begin in summer 2019. Fundraising is ongoing for the third Spearhead hut at Mount Pattison. B.C. Parks has been extremely supportive, committing money to improved camping facilities and more rangers in Garibaldi Park and elsewhere. “They recognize it’s a huge addition to Garibaldi Park and they realize they need to step up from their side of it on trails and infrastructure,” said Faulkner. The society is always looking for volunteers, both skilled and unskilled, to help with construction. For information, visit spearheadhuts.org.


Local Animal - Grizzly Bear

Of all the inhabitants of the Whistler area, grizzly bears are at the top of the food chain — the most feared and enigmatic of what are sometimes referred to as “charismatic mega-fauna.” While sightings of grizzly bears are exceedingly rare, they do occur in backcountry regions. Before European contact, the grizzly bear was found in vast swaths of North America from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. “Hunting and habitat fragmentation caused their ranges to radically shrink, pushing them farther north to intact forests. Grizzlies now occupy only two per cent of their historical range in the continental United States,” according to  the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Project website (C2C).

B.C. is one place where efforts are underway to protect and enhance the populations that remain. The B.C. government outlawed the grizzly bear hunt in December 2017, and in western Canada, grizzlies are listed as a species of “special concern,” according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Since 2013, C2C has been at the forefront of efforts to apply a science-based approach toward protection of grizzly populations in six regions of southwest B.C. Johnny Mikes, C2C’s Whistler-based field coordinator, said up-to-date information from provincial biologists — who track grizzlies through GPS collaring and DNA sampling — is important in helping C2C educate the public about the need for land-use decision-making that minimizes the likelihood of human-grizzly bear conflicts and grizzly bear deaths.

“People generally want to do the right thing, but often they just don’t know what’s there and what to do in response to that,” said Mikes. “So, we need to have all the information before deciding to put trails in, for example, then campgrounds; and if you do, how to manage your food. You want to be planning it so that you’re not putting bears or humans in danger because of those projects. The scientists, the biologists, have been really generous with their time with us. We try to make all our work science-based, so their cooperation is vital to our work.”

According to C2C, the grizzly population in the Squamish-Lillooet area — including the Callaghan and Soo valleys west of Whistler and up to the Ryan River drainage west of Pemberton — is estimated at 59 bears. In the Garibaldi-Pitt area, bounded on the west by Highway 99 and on the east by the Pitt River northeast of Vancouver — the estimated population is just two bears. Bears do occasionally move across the highway, Mikes said, but the more geographically isolated a small population is, the more likely it is to wink out of existence because of natural or human-caused deaths such as vehicle collisions, shootings or illegal poaching. For that reason, it’s sometimes necessary to relocate bears to ensure that they can interact and breed.

The home territories of grizzly and black bears often overlap, and that can lead to conflicts.  “In general, it’s fair to say that grizzly bears are dominant, but you can have a large male black bear that’s a threat to a smaller grizzly bear and her cubs,” Mike said, “There’s a certain density of roads and traffic in a given area that will tend to make grizzlies venture further into the backcountry. In general, they are less tolerant of human presence than black bears, and they tend to be more defensive of their cubs.”

Grizzlies can be identified by their larger, broader heads and the broad hump in the shoulder area. Both grizzly and black bears can be black, cinnamon-coloured or shades in between. If you spot either species, maintain a respectful distance, back away while maintaining eye contact  and consider yourself lucky to have viewed such a wild and majestic creature. For information about C2C, visit coasttocascades.org.

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