Location is key for scenic Puget Sound forts

May 26, 2009


A paddle tour of Port Ludlow’s harbour gets you close to the W.N. Ragland, until recently owned by Neil Young.

Long before Johnny Cash popularized the song “Ring of Fire”, U.S. naval tacticians constructed a triangle of fire at the mouth of Washington state’s Admiralty Inlet, within sight of Victoria and the southern Lower Mainland. Over a century ago, three forts—Casey, Flagler, and Worden—were built there overlooking Puget Sound’s northern entrance, where the straits of Georgia, Juan de Fuca, and Haro converge. Woe betide an enemy vessel that strayed into the crossfire of artillery mounted at the forts.

Fact is, none ever did. About three decades after the forts were built, technological innovations, chiefly the advent of aviation, neutered their effectiveness. No longer was Seattle imperilled, at least by threat from sea. Still, it was two decades before the U.S. military abandoned the forts. When they did, in the 1950s, Washington state officials stepped in and, in a move akin to turning swords into plowshares, rendered the properties into parkland.

In a state where public waterfront is at a premium, that was a mighty coup indeed. Not only did the citizenry of the Evergreen State benefit, so did denizens north of the Peace Arch border crossing. All three forts lie within easy getaway distance from Vancouver. Before the onset of summer vacation, when the parks teem with campers, now is a good time to plan a visit.

At first blush, you may wonder what would compel you to brave a border crossing just to visit an old fort. Once you’ve seen the forts for yourself and experienced the natural beauty of the settings the three share, you’ll understand the triangle’s strategic importance. Although none sport battlements to rival the ramparts of Quebec City, the panoramic landscape in which they nestle—capped by mounts Baker and Rainier—offers more than ample reason for exploration. Although Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island lies within comfortable striking distance for day-trippers from Vancouver, Fort Flagler, on Marrowstone Island, and Fort Worden on the nearby Olympic Peninsula offer overnight options. These range from campgrounds at the two state parks to resorts and heritage bed-and-breakfasts in Port Townsend and nearby Port Ludlow, affordably priced even if the Canadian dollar has retracted from last year’s dizzying rally against its greenback counterpart.

A common characteristic of the shoreline shared by the landscapes surrounding forts Casey and Flagler, as well as many of the islands in northern Puget Sound, are smooth-faced cliffs similar to those at Point Grey. All three state parks feature kilometres of fine-gravelled beaches paired with endless views. On the Whidbey Island side, kids will delight in clambering around the old gun mounts and restored lighthouse at Fort Casey. The bluffs rising high above the beach are a fascinating backdrop to this wind-swept area. The Olympic Peninsula lies directly across the water to the west. On a clear day, the jagged, snowcapped peaks of Hurricane Ridge stand out sharply. As seen from the opposite side of Admiralty Inlet at forts Worden and Flagler, a long line of peaks extend from the north shore and Mount Baker’s smooth south face to Mount Rainier’s distinctively shaped volcanic snowcone near Seattle.

The best place to take this all in is from a bike seat or a boat. Although Whidbey Island features an extensive network of pedal paths around Fort Casey, rip tides incited by the convergence of currents deter boaters on Whidbey Island’s shoreline. The paddle option is only recommended on the Olympic Peninsula side of the inlet, particularly the clear, shallow waters surrounding Fort Flagler’s Marrowstone Point, named by Captain George Vancouver for the soft clay cliffs that define the shoreline. Whether you paddle from one of the park’s launch ramps or walk the perimeter of the point, the ever-changing views are a constant source of wonder.

Consider renting a kayak either at Port Townsend’s tourist-thronged waterfront or at the far quieter Port Ludlow nearby. Launch at Port Ludlow’s marina and enjoy an hour or two paddling around Ludlow Bay. This region has long been known as the wooden-boat capital of the Pacific Northwest. There’s plenty to ogle from a water-level vantage point. In Port Ludlow, the sight of a majestic schooner—the W.N. Ragland—dwarfs all else. Once owned by Neil Young, who named it for his grandfather, its twin masts, with riggings strung like spider webs, tower 32 metres above a broad, sloping deck ( also see companion article posted in our “News” section). Because the sheltered bay lies on the lee side of the Olympic Mountains, barely a breeze ruffles the Ragland’s reflection on the bay’s surface. Only passing river otters dare disturb the scene. Launched in 1913 as the Lilli—her “born” name—she originally saw service as a rock hauler in the Baltic Sea. Since the late 1970s, she’s been a rock hauler of a different sort, one that inspired Young to write, “As long as we can sail away, there’ll be wind in the canyon, moon on the rise, as long as we can sail away.”

Access: Fort Casey lies 190 kilometres south of Vancouver via I-5 and Highway 20. Take Exit 230 in Mount Vernon–Burlington. Washington State Ferries links to Port Townsend–Fort Worden from Keystone on Whidbey Island, a 30-minute crossing. Reservations are strongly advised. Regional tourism information is available from Washington State Tourism. Fort Flagler lies 30 kilometres south of Port Townsend near Port Ludlow. For information on the W.N. Ragland, visit www.wnragland.com. Visit www.portludlowresort.com for kayak- and bike-rental rates.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Haida Gwaii’s waters run deep

March 19, 2009


Gwaii Haanas National Park offers sea kayakers riches above and below the tidemark; it’s claimed that Burnaby Narrows has the highest density of living matter on Earth.

A kayak trip through the stunning Haida Gwaii islands stays with you long after the last paddle

Ottawa-based songwriter Ian Tamblyn put it best in his composition “Woodsmoke and Oranges”: “There’s something about this country that’s a part of me and you.” All it takes is one visit to a place like Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site to viscerally confirm that. Just start paddling and see for yourself. You’ll get shivers from the thought that this domain belongs to everyone.

Vast natural riches are spread above and below the tidemarks of 200 islands strewn throughout the southern third of Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). To float at low tide through Burnaby Narrows—properly called Dolomite Narrows—is to drift through a marine dream world. Colourful colonies of whitecap limpets, red turban snails, blue topsnails, and giant plumose anemones spread below the surface and climb the sides of the winding, shallow, kilometre-long channel that separates Moresby and Burnaby islands. Palm-sized red rock crabs scuttle through patches of seaweed that sprout like leaf lettuce. Nurtured by a constant flow of oxygen and nutrients, green, red, and brown algae lend even more hues to the intertidal palette.

Biologist Duane Sept spent a decade studying this remarkable ecosystem. On the phone from his home on the Sunshine Coast, Sept asserted that preserving this marine habitat in 1987 was a great service. “There’s more protein per square centimetre here than anywhere else. Burnaby Narrows in particular is rated as having the highest density of living matter on Earth.’

Such lush scenes set national parks apart from the normal space-time continuum. Removed from all signs of human habitation, you feel as if you’ve suddenly arrived on another plane. A tingling begins in your toes and climbs to the nape of your neck, signaling an elevated state of mind. Higher ground, indeed.

As Sept observed: “There are a few other such narrows along the West Coast, but nothing to compare with what you’ll find at Burnaby”—which is why you’d be well advised to pack along a copy of Sept’s newly revised full-colour The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest (Harbour, $26.95) to help make sense of the wealth on display.

As you lift your eyes from the glassy aquascape, Yatza Mountain rises to the west, one of a rolling series of peaks in the San Christoval Range that culminates in the 1,164-metre Mount Moresby, whose snowcapped crown stands as a reminder that even in the midst of summer it’s wise to keep a tuque and warm gloves handy. In July and August, the two months when fair weather favours paddlers on the Northwest Coast, temperatures generally hover 10 degrees below what Vancouver experiences.

Prolonged stretches of sunshine can never be taken for granted in the “Misty Isles’. A VHF radio is invaluable for staying abreast of weather forecasts. In fact, listening to updated reports offers riveting after-dinner entertainment and provides a crucial link with the water taxis that whisk groups of kayakers to and from the park and with the Haida Gwaii Watchmen staff stationed at five historic villages within the national park and heritage site.

Haida roots run millennia deep here. So when a watchman offers a suggestion or a word of advice, such as where to find sheltered campsites or sources of fresh water, it’s conveyed with authority. Teams of four watchmen work monthly shifts at each site, from Hlk’yah GaawGa, or Windy Bay, on Lyell Island—where Native-led logging protests in the 1980s resulted in the preservation of a 1,475-square-kilometre tract as national park—to Nang Sdins Llnagaay, or Ninstints, on Anthony Island, off the wind-whipped southwest coast.

By far the park’s most sought-out natural feature, besides Burnaby Narrows, are the hot springs on Gandll K’in Gwaayyayy. This island is a must-see for many reasons, especially near the end of a paddle journey, when you’ve been without the benefit of a warm shower. A state of constant dampness, if not outright wringing wetness, is the reality of sea kayaking near the rain forest. The only places you can bank on having warm feet are in a dry sleeping bag and in these naturally hot pools.

Just observe the protocol of only 12 visitors at a time and you’ll be welcomed ashore by the likes of Eric Olson, whose grandfather built the first watchman cabin here in the early 1980s. “I’ve been a watchman since before there were watchmen,’ he said when visited in his carving shed in July.

As an artist with a growing reputation in the Lower Mainland, Olson spends a month or more each year creating masks in the original cabin where watchmen first bunked. Accommodation these days is far less rustic. Newer, more spacious quarters nearby feature solar-powered appliances and a composting toilet. “What brings me back from logging?’ the 45-year-old Olson wondered aloud as he gazed around Juan Perez Sound, where humpback and grey whales were breaching. “How could I not come back?’

Transporting visitors around the park most often falls to Heron Weir and his partner, Laura Pattison, who run Moresby Explorers, an outfitting and guiding company based in Sandspit, on Moresby Island’s northeast corner. At the wheel of a Zodiac water taxi powered by twin 200-horsepower outboard motors, with eight kayaks lashed on top, Weir told the Straight that his favourite time to visit the national park is May and June. “There are obnoxious numbers of whales around then—hundreds, mostly humpbacks,’ the lifelong island resident said.

National parks are celebrated for wildlife. Twenty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises swim the waters of Gwaii Haanas, along with Steller sea lions and seals. Black bears, sleek river otters, shy Sitka black-tailed deer, and a host of raptors and seabirds work the shorelines and sheltering forest, where spongy, emerald-green mosses thickly carpet the open floor, as smooth as snowdrifts.

Spring is the best time to begin planning the logistics for a self-supported visit or to book a guided tour. Every Canadian should have the opportunity to venture here at least once. It’s our birthright. Just don’t all come at once. Hardly seeing another human soul is an integral part of experiencing Gwaii Haanas. When you do return home, the space-time continuum will never seem quite the same again. Part of you will always be floating here, on the boundary of the world.

ACCESS: Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site can be reached by boat or floatplane only. Parks Canada information, including mandatory visitor orientation times, is available on-line or by calling 1-250-559-8818.

B.C. Ferries sailings to Skidegate Landing and Alliford Bay are posted at www.bcferries.com. Air Canada Jazz flies twice daily between YVR and Sandspit, on Moresby Island. The average cost per person for the two-hour flight ranges between $500 and $800, plus taxes.

For general information on Haida Gwaii, visit www.qcinfo.ca/ or www.queencharlotteislandsguide.com/. Moresby Explorers offers water-taxi service, boat tours, and kayak rentals (1-800-806-7633), as does Queen Charlotte Adventures (1-800-668-4288).

July and August are the best months to explore Haida Gwaii. However, the ocean waters around it are bone-chilling year-round. When paddling, a wet suit is a must, as are basic safety skills, such as self-rescue. Preparation for exploring Gwaii Haanas National Park by sea kayak should include a session in capsize recovery. For information on spring courses, visit www.ecomarine.com.

Text CR Jack Christie

Photo CR Louise Christie

Original Article

Backcountry sports still chugging right along

March 2, 2009


Callaghan Lodge’s Brad Sills

Despite a bad case of the avalanche blues that rocked the new year, reports from the Canadian Avalanche Centre indicate that the local Coast Mountains’ snow pack has begun to stabilize. Recent advisories from the CAC have downgraded the threat of slides from Level 3, “considerable”, to Level 2, “moderate”, and even Level 1, “low”, along both the Sea-to-Sky and Duffy Lake and inland corridors.

This is welcome news for those who venture into the backcountry, whether on snowshoes, skis, or snowboards. In a survey I conducted, lodge operators and alpine guides may not have awarded top marks to snow conditions thus far, but they aren’t giving this winter a failing grade, either. However, as a consequence of the steadily souring economy south of the border, they do point to an avalanche of cancellations.

Whistler-based heli-guide  Dave Sarkany, a member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, said that many U.S. clients are walking away from their deposits. “This is not small change, either,” he said. “Some of them have put down as much as $20,000 to reserve helicopter skiing at a backcountry lodge.”

In the silver-linings department, belt tightening is credited as benefiting less expensive backcountry operators. Powder Mountain Catskiing Catboarding’s general manager, Gordon Calver, told me he would give this winter a “really good” grade. “We’ve taken a lot of heli-ski business, especially when they see we’re half the price,” the 38-year-old lifelong Whistler resident said. “We’re running at about 70 percent capacity. The majority are tourists. While the U.S. market has slowed down quite a bit, we’re seeing more Scandinavians coming than before.”

Although Whistler-Blackcomb has struggled to exceed a 150-centimetre base all year, Powder Mountain’s terrain surrounding Cypress Peak currently measures 430. “We’re spending more time with clients in the high alpine,” Calver said. “Unlike typical Coast Mountain conditions, this year’s snow is dry and light, with effortless skiing in the wide-open, huge bowls.” As for the sustained avalanche danger, Calver cited the expertise of his company’s guides as the reason that “we’ve never had a problem, never an accident.”

Callaghan Country’s manager, Brad Sills, a long-time leader with Whistler’s search-and-rescue team, dealt with two avalanche-related fatalities on the same day in December. Despite this, he said that this winter’s unusual conditions—both meteorological and economic—couldn’t have come at a better time for his backcountry lodge. “Our guests used to be 70 percent from the U.S. They’re not coming this year, but our business is up, thanks mostly to Vancouverites drawn to the Callaghan Valley because of the new Whistler Olympic Park. People who used to cross-country ski are coming back into the sport because it’s affordable.”

Sills characterized newcomers to Callaghan, which lies immediately south of Whistler, as falling into two categories. “On one hand, you have the over-60 types who grew up at Hollyburn and ski-walk 15 kilometres a day. Then there’s the younger set, many from the mountain-bike community, who want to stay in shape. They’re used to single-track riding and aren’t shy about uphill challenges at all.” He also pointed to a new trend spawned by the groomed 12.5-kilometre trail that links the Nordic centre with his lodge: ski touring on skate skis. “Grooming has introduced a new level of backcountry touring. Elite skate skiers can make it up to the lodge in an hour. It also means faster, safer descents. If you come from an alpine background, this will put the fear back into you.” Sills advised lesser mortals to budget three to four hours for the ascent through the old-growth forest, half that for the ski out.

Is Sills surprised at how the valley has suddenly blossomed into a sports hub? “We started a lodge here in 1981. In our first ever management plan, we envisaged creating the most comprehensive Nordic ski facility in North America.” This makes Sills’s recent hard-earned success even sweeter.

Another sector of the snow-sport market enjoying growth this winter is backcountry-skills training. Programs offered by groups like the Vancouver-based Canada West Mountain School are oversubscribed. When reached by phone at the CWMS’s midtown office, director Brian Jones said that he noticed a marked increase in enrollment even before there was snow on the ground. “It’s been a cumulative effect of seeing several major figures killed in avalanches in the past, coupled with a constant media barrage, plus the new crop of backcountry skiers entering the market each year.”

Jones highlighted the curriculum covered in a typical two-day course: measuring snow packs, then learning to understand and apply the results; crucial equipment needed to adventure safely; and avoiding avalanche terrain by knowing how to recognize it.

Bonus marks are awarded for hiring a guide like Sarkany to safely—and quickly—take you where the best snow lies.

Access: Current South Coast snow conditions are posted at www.avalanche.ca/. Details on Powder Mountain Catskiing Catboarding are posted at powdermountaincatskiing.com/. For Callaghan Country, visit www.callaghancountry.com/. Canada West Mountain School courses are listed at www.themountainschool.com/.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

With ski cross, the best take no prisoners

February 18, 2009

Ski-cross champ Aleisha Cline flips out of mommy mode to become a fierce competitor on the slopes.

Aleisha Cline is a snow leopard learning to change her spots as she mounts her skier-cross comeback. Since withdrawing from competitive sport five years ago, Cline, one of Canada’s most well-rounded athletes, has focused on raising a family in Squamish with her husband, mountain biker Shamus March.

Five months after giving birth in May to her second child, Asia, she was back on the prowl. Smiling large, Cline related “In August, I felt like a bag of bones going downhill at the Continental Cup in Australia. But I won, which was a big surprise to me. I figured I might as well keep going.” Interviewed during training at Cypress, the four-time Winter X Games ski-cross champion admitted that an unforeseen challenge was learning how to flip the switch from “mommy to meanie” mode on race day.

Cline’s current quest? Nothing short of a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics. That’s the only bauble not yet on display in her trophy cabinet of ski and mountain-bike honours. On February 6, she took the next step toward achieving her goal at the Freestyle Grand Prix events that previewed Olympic action on the aerial, mogul, and ski-cross courses at West Vancouver’s Black Mountain in Cypress Provincial Park. She won.

Like short-track speed skating, ski cross features fast, furious, take-no-prisoners action among four competitors simultaneously plunging downhill. National alpine ski team alumnus Chris Kent, event coordinator with the B.C. ski-cross team, stated what it takes to thrive in this fledgling Olympic sport: a “diffused focus” frame of mind. “You need a wide view to see the whole group, like Gretzky on a hockey rink, with eyes in the back of your head. Champions like Aleisha look for a hole in the midst of the flow. Once she gets out in front, nobody can pass her.”

When Kent likened ski cross to a “slow-speed downhill”, he meant that racers are launching off jumps and absorbing gravitational forces in banked corners at speeds of 60 to 70 kilometres per hour, far slower than the then-world record 215 kph that Cline clocked at a speed skiing competition in France in the 1990s.

Her talent for gliding across both snow and air has served her well. But skill is not all that’s needed to triumph these days. “The girls are really dirty now, pushing and grabbing. They’ll skate into you!” she lamented with a regretful nod to a more chivalrous era. Funny what being elevated into the global spectacle will do to a once tightly knit, fringe sport family.

In Kent’s experience, cussedness has been a hallmark of men’s ski cross since the sport’s inception in 1994. “When I entered my first ski-cross race at Whistler, I got in the gate next to [American ace] Daron Rahlves. He stuck his pole in front of my ski and I was on my face before I knew it. Such a rip-off!”

Despite that still-smouldering memory, Kent said he’d definitely compete if he were a decade younger. “People who do well in this sport have strong alpine-race backgrounds and stand tall, like Stan Heyer,” in reference to the national ski-cross team member who spanked Rahlves in the final heat to win last month’s Winter X Games ski-cross crown in Colorado.

That rivalry is sure to play out again on Black Mountain. That’s where ski-cross and boardercross course designer-builder Jeff Ihaksi recently gave me a guided tour. The Whistler-Blackcomb millwright draws on his snowboard-racing background “to get a feeling for what the athletes want and how the course should flow by maximizing aspects of the topography. You build using the mountain.”

Ihaksi shaped his first boardercross course a decade ago at Whistler’s World Ski and Snowboard Festival. By 2006, his talents were in high demand in Turin, where he sculpted the inaugural boardercross Olympic course. This season, the 35-year-old is designing all the World Cup cross courses, though he takes pains to credit his team of groomers. In a tradition originated by a Canadian ice maker at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Ihaksi predicted there will be more than a few loonies buried among the run’s rollers, tabletops, berms, and Wu-Tangs.

At a viewpoint that took in both the Lions and Howe Sound, Ihaksi pointed out where the starting gates will be positioned. Cypress’s Upper Forks Trail plummets in steep, tight turns—“B.C.–style”—then unwraps from the forest into a wide-open, X Games course that favours gliders. “Skiers making air in a corner is one of my favourite sights. No matter what feature I throw at them, they’ll master it.”

Think that Cline didn’t know that? -

Follow Aleisha Cline’s blog at www.aleishacline.com/.

Here’s her account of events leading up to her victory:

“Official training started on Tuesday and on the second run the first big double finished off my shins and I was done for the day.
I suffered through the next day of training with a few quarter runs, watching how the course ran.

On Quali day, I opted out of any training runs at all and had my first run under the clock…
I finished 10th! That had been my best finish in a world cup thus far. Honestly, I was quite happy with the result and decided that if worse came to worse it would end up a top 15 at the end of the day, but I’d do my best to make it to the second round!

Well, I went through the 1st and 2nd round finishing both rounds in second place behind the french skiers, Ophelie David, World Champ was in the second round. I mentioned to her before the race that we hadn’t race together in at least 4 years, I think it was in Torino at the World Champs, I was both excited and nervous to start the round with her in it!

To make a long story longer, my starts had been fast all day and in the 3rd round I got out just ahead of Ophelie and safely made it to the bottom ahead of her. She wasn’t very happy and made it know to me at the finish….She should have passed me if she didn’t like skiing behind me!

The final round brought Ophelie, Ashlegh, Karin Huttary [Note: see News post on Karin elsewhere on jc.com] again I was first out of the gate and kept my focus on being first off the double and into the turn. As the race progressed through the second turn and off the 3rd jump, I heard some screaming and hoped it wasn’t something I did, watching the video that evening, it wasn’t.

Near the bottom Ophelie miss judged the step down step up combo and flew upside down and landed quite hard banging her head. She seemed OK at the finish but was shook up and not very happy.

…and the final outcome was that I finished my 40th day of skiing (in 5 years), my daughter’s 9 month birthday and the first ever Canadian held World Cup Skicross event on top of the podium!”

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Winter doldrums shed on Sunshine Coast

February 11, 2009

By Jack Christie Photo Louise Christie

Access: If the thought of leaving your winter burrow to seek recreation a few hours from home has appeal, head up the Sechelt and Malaspina peninsulas, the twin protrusions bounded by Howe and Desolation sounds. By turns rocky coves, sandy beaches, and boardwalk promenades, the 140-kilometre stretch of shoreline from Langdale in the south to Lund at the north is always the most welcoming place to start immersing yourself in the Sunshine Coast’s altered-reality ambiance.

To contact Sunshine Coast Tourism, visit www.sunshinecoastcanada.com/. For Country Cottage Bed and Breakfast, visit countrycottagebb.ca/. Alpha Adventures rents skis and snowshoes as well as offering guided tours, lessons, and shuttle-bus connections to Dakota Ridge. For information, contact www.outdooradventurestore.ca/. Updates on conditions in Dakota Ridge Winter Recreation Area are posted on the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s Web site.

Think winter. Think fun. Think Sunshine Coast. That’s what Sherry Royal, manager of the newly formed Sunshine Coast Tourism organization, hopes Lower Mainlanders will do this month. On the phone from Gibsons, Royal said that after years of attempts, SCT is the water-locked region’s first destination-marketing association.

Most often the Strait of Georgia laps the waterfront beside Highway 101 like a contented puppy. Royal finds this is especially true at Davis Bay, south of Sechelt, where views across the inland sea’s flat expanse roll uninterrupted westward toward Vancouver Island. “This is where I like to walk the beach, sit on one of the benches dedicated to locals, and treat myself to fish and chips from the Beach Boy,” she said.

Where the village of Roberts Creek spreads along the forested shore north of Gibsons, Loragene Gaulin’s thoughts stray to higher elevations—Dakota Ridge, to be precise. As founder of the region’s first bed-and-breakfast, Country Cottage, co-owner Gaulin said “There’s more to the Sunshine Coast than a big, romantic tea party.” She ought to know. Over the past 22 years, she and her husband, Philip, have not only harboured guests in their two cozy, dog-friendly cottages, they’ve made a habit in winter of leading snowshoe and cross-country ski excursions along the Caren Range ridge that snares copious quantities of powder snow as winter storms pass inland. “Over the past year, the access to our winter playground has really improved, though you still need a four-wheel-drive with chains if you go on your own,” she said. “We take our guests with us or they can go with our neighbours at Alpha Adventures.”

In 2000, Jamie and Sarah Mani created Alpha Adventures to cater to the growing year-round demands of both paddlers and skiers. When reached at home, Jamie said the beauty of the Sunshine Coast environment is that you can try one activity in the morning and another in the afternoon. “Outfitted head to toe in neoprene, at this time of year we paddle in sheltered areas like Porpoise Bay or Smugglers Cove,” the part-time Chatelech secondary school physical-education instructor said. One of Mani’s fondest memories is of a wintry New Year’s Day in 2003. “I’d been snowshoe guiding the day before, then changed my kit completely from mountain to ocean gear to lead a group along the coast. It was a magical way to begin the year.”

For the past seven years, the Manis have been offering cross-country ski and snowshoe tours on Dakota Ridge, a 30- to 45-minute drive from their Roberts Creek base. “In those early days, we were part of the fledgling Dakota Ridge Winter Recreation Society,” Jamie said. “There were lots of work parties to clear the trails in this mini-area northwest of Mount Elphinstone between Gibsons and Sechelt.” Last year, the society’s efforts were rewarded with an Olympic funding grant. At that point, the Sunshine Coast Regional District stepped in and granted Dakota Ridge park status. Among other benefits, a grooming machine was purchased to manicure the trails for both classic cross-country and skate skiing. So far, the ridge offers 12 kilometres of trails, complemented by an extensive network of snowshoe routes beneath the sheltering forest canopy. “Much like Mount Seymour, you can stick to the marked and mapped trails or head out on your own to find scenic vistas overlooking the strait,” Jamie, a certified Nordic ski instructor, explained. “Unlike Hollyburn, where I learned to ski, the snow quality here is drier and the terrain less hilly.”

Lately, the Sunshine Coast is enjoying an embarrassment of recreational riches. Jamie pointed out that in the past year, two community centres have opened: a new swimming pool in Sechelt and an ice rink in Gibsons. “I’ve been telling people that Dakota Ridge is a third rec centre all in itself,” he enthused. “This is where to head to shed the grey doldrums of winter. Leave that all behind and get buoyed by the beautiful brightness of the snow.” That’s a bit of thinking that Sherry Royal would surely approve.

Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Whistler Olympic Park offers a Nordic preview

January 15, 2009

Access: Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park lies 10 kilometres (6 miles) above Highway 99 on a paved access road 6.5 kilometres (4 miles)  south of Whistler and 115 kilometres (69 miles) north of Vancouver. For full details on the park, including Web-cam images, visit www.whistlerolympicpark.com/ or check out the Callghan Valley chapter in my all-season, all-activities guide, The Whistler Book. Information on neighbouring Callaghan Country is at www.callaghancountry.com/. Cross Country Connection (www.crosscountryconnection.ca/ ) offers equipment rentals, guided tours, and lessons at both Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park and Lost Lake Park in Whistler. Details on West Coast Nordic Club activities at WOPP are posted at www.members.shaw.ca/coastnordic/.

On a pre-Christmas day when ferocious Arctic outflow winds whipped clouds of snow from Powder Mountain’s summit, barely a breath of air blew through Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park, nestled in the evergreen Callaghan Valley below. A peace that surpassed all understanding prevailed along the cross-country ski trails and snowshoeing routes that spiral out from the park’s newly completed day lodge. Parents on skis pulled infants in sleds while older siblings outfitted in brightly coloured fleece practised their snowplow techniques. As they sped past, the kids looked as if candy apples were plastered on their ruddy cheeks.

Despite the calm scenery, Colin Bell, the park’s events and range coordinator, was busy getting ready for an onslaught of International Ski Federation–sanctioned contests in 2009. Four World Cup ski jumping, biathlon, and cross-country ski events are slated there before the end of January. First up, though, was a Continental Cup Nordic-combined race held mid-December, which involved both cross-country skiing and jumping.

In Bell’s opinion, the unique layout of the new park will benefit Nordic-combined contestants the most. “This is the first Winter Olympics where all four Nordic disciplines will be held in one place,” he said. “At past games there would always be at least one stand-alone venue, typically ski jumping. Nordic-combined competitors always had to travel from one site to another, which put added strain on coaches and wax technicians. Whistler is unique.”

Biathlon is the sport closest to Bell’s heart. The 29-year-old grew up in Prince Edward Island before moving to Alberta in his teens to pursue his passion for cross-country skiing and shooting. “As a kid, I found biathlons were more mentally stimulating than simple mind-numbing, three-hour ski races,” he said. Bell demonstrated how biathletes ski with a modified 22-calibre rifle harnessed on their backs. At intervals during a ski race, competitors must pause and take aim through a nonmagnified sight at targets in a specially designed range adjacent to the trails.

This winter, under Bell’s guidance, the park has partnered with the West Coast Nordic Club based in North Vancouver. The aim is to boost participation by introducing Nordic sports, including biathlon, to youngsters-albeit toting air rifles instead of real ones.

Long known as an icebox, the Callaghan Valley-a feature destination in my guide, The Whistler Book- was chosen as the 2010 Winter Games’ Nordic site for its deep, fluffy snow and-thanks to a buffering forest-light winds, an absolute necessity for ski jumping. With 28 different medal events scheduled there, the park will be the busiest Olympic venue by far. And with a mitt-full of pre-Olympic World Cup contests coming up, Bell said that 2009 will be the best chance to see athletes in action at close range. “The admission price is right: absolutely free.”

The feeling among many of those enjoying the warmth of the new day lodge was that Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park may well prove to be the most significant legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Not only does the site provide a much-needed companion cross-country ski destination to Whistler’s Lost Lake Park, come summer the trails will do double duty for mountain bikers as well. Local skier Julia Smart said that while she thought the Lost Lake trails were “adequate”, she enjoyed the wider variety on offer in the Callaghan. “Skate skiers, in particular, will enjoy the feeling of not being cramped between the lakeshore and the forest,” she said.

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that the park was built with elite-level athletes in mind. When it comes to recreation, the park’s 50 kilometres (30 miles) of cross-country skiing-groomed for both track and classic skate styles-plus 25 kilometres (15 miles) of snowshoe trails offer a variety of challenges suited to all ability levels. Exploring them on skis, snowshoes, or simply on foot in warm snow boots offers a tranquil winter outing. Got a dog? The Pooched Trail is designed especially for those who enjoy sharing time in the outdoors with their pets.

For those in search of a more challenging experience, a park day pass also gives access to trails in neighbouring, privately operated Callaghan Country’s wilderness adventure area. “Their trails are very different,” said Bell, “more extreme, while ours are more recreational and within easy reach of bathrooms. The options here range from Callaghan Country’s backcountry lodge to our Olympic venue. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world.”

While the mountain peaks that surround the new Nordic centre will command your attention on the uphill approach, views of Whistler Mountain’s west face and, further south, the iconic Black Tusk-a volcanic remnant that thrusts skyward in Garibaldi Provincial Park-reward visitors on the descent. Short of the panoramic views of Vancouver from the lookout along Cypress Bowl Road on the North Shore, this is the most scenic drive on offer near the Olympic venues. And surely the most peaceful.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article: http://www.straight.com/article-177022/whistler-olympic-park-offers-nordic-preview?

Neon lets skiers stand out

November 13, 2008

Skiing has a bright future. And not just because the world’s most popular winter sport has regained its long-standing edge over its upstart rival, snowboarding. A word of caution, though: break out the Vuarnet sunglasses. Why? Because neon is officially back in fashion. Those who cringe at photos taken of themselves in brighter-than-bright 1980s shades can take heart.

How many of us actually hung on to any of that electrically charged gear? In fairness, back in the day, skiers and snowboarders didn’t know any better. Neon, like shredding on a board, was the newest rage. You’d think that time would have taught an important lesson: if it glows, out it goes. Except this year that should read: glow big or go home.

What sparked the neon renaissance? Charles Bedard, designer with Whistler-based SMS Clothing, attributes the trend to the popularity of videos in which marquee skiers and snowboarders soar skyward to such exalted heights that they become increasingly hard to see. Brightly bedecked aerialists are more likely to stand out when framed against the magic-hour sunsets favoured by action-sport videographers. For example, check Matchstick Productions‘ latest effort, Claim, to see for yourself. SMS’s T. J. Schiller, garbed in blinding blue and yellow, steals the show in more ways than one.

SMS Clothing is the offshoot of two-time Olympian and Canadian Ski Hall of Famer John Smart’s freestyle-ski-camp business. Since 1992, the Lions Bay native has run a summer program on Blackcomb’s Horstmann Glacier, largely focused on young mogul and freeride skiers. Drawn by Smart’s dream to see freestyle, or freeride, skiing evolve to higher ground, coaches like Vernon-based Schiller and Olympic gold medallist Jean-Luc Brassard were attracted to Momentum Ski Camp. They’ve helped spawn the careers of future podium toppers such as Alberta’s Jennifer Heil, who won top honours in moguls competition at the 2006 Turin Winter Games. Just as importantly, Momentum camps were the crucible for what has become known as the new-school style. Pioneered by coach Mike Douglas aboard a pair of revolutionary twin-tip skis, over the past decade new-school has swept skiing out from snowboarding’s shadow and back into the realm of global cool.

Every revolution calls for a new wardrobe, whether it’s freeriding or skiing’s newest rising star, alpine touring. Smart and Bedard recognized the need to draw attention to freestyle’s new technical skills with eye-catching outfits. “You want to impress and be loud,” explained Bedard when reached by phone on his way to Vancouver. From his Whistler office, Smart agreed. “We’re far more cool fashion than, say, Arc’teryx,” he said in reference to the North Shore–based adventure-gear company, for which product performance trumps all other considerations. Whereas Bedard treats fabric as his canvas, Arc’teryx’s director of new technologies development, Mike Blenkarn, is far more caught up in biomechanics-like minimizing the impact of water vapour on outerwear in extreme winter conditions.

When reached at Arc’teryx’s North Vancouver headquarters, Blenkarn told jackchristie.com “If we solve vapour-permeability fundamentals to get our jackets to dry out more quickly at the back end of a snow cave, we can then transfer those improvements into apparel that works better for everyone, right up to guests at heli-ski lodges. This makes the guides at CMH [Canadian Mountain Holidays] happy, the guides at Rogers Pass and North Shore Rescue happy, and the 56 guys who do avalanche control on the Duffey Lake Road happy too.” The 49-year-old then pointed out that a decade of such research has made his company the dominant player in the jacket category today.

Not that Bedard doesn’t know a thing or two about product testing. The 28-year-old is just as crazy about getting out into the backcountry as Blenkarn. The difference is, like many of his youthful Sea to Sky cohorts, he not only carves on skis, he also does R & D atop a snowmobile. “Because you’re in the elements all day without the benefit of ducking into a lodge like a lot of our customers,” he said, “the backcountry influences design by testing our garments.” Both designers’ textile of choice is three-ply Gore-Tex. “We’re advancing towards perfection in fabric to operate like skin: waterproof and breathable,” Bedard said.

Over at Arc’teryx, Blenkarn, a self-admitted “fun hog”, said that when it comes to field-testing, he far prefers to stretch climbing skins over the bottom of his skis and self-propel his way up a 2,000-metre slope in the Cayoosh Range between Pemberton and Lillooet. If he has concern about the rise in popularity of alpine touring, it’s that parking is now at a premium along the Duffey Lake Road, where he estimates there are as many as 15 backcountry communal cabins. “My playground is getting congested,” he joked, “and now I need to wait my turn on the swing.”

In the early 1990s, on one such backcountry “sweat fest” in the Diamond Head region of Garibaldi Provincial Park, Blenkarn came up with an idea that eventually led to one of Arc’teryx’s patented breakthroughs: urethane-coated waterproof zippers. “I did a lot of work to put chemicals on zippers to keep moisture from getting in between layers and destroying the fabric. I want my buddies to be happy. Longer life span of clothing is what drives me.”

Whether that ambition extends to neon-hued garb is a moot point, at least for Arc’teryx, whose products, unlike SMS Clothing’s, feature less exuberant colour choices. Certainly, neon’s upside is that it makes finding your companions in whiteout conditions much easier. When it comes to survival, as in the global marketplace, bright and shiny concepts help both companies stand out in the crowd.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie

No more tow lines at Grouse ski run

November 13, 2008

Oh, for the days when newbie skiers had to endure the cruel initiation ritual of riding the rope tow

Riding a rope, or ski tow, was once one of the cardinal rites of passage when learning to downhill-ski on the North Shore. By the time snowboarding came along in the 1980s, chair lifts had long since replaced most of them. Still, examples of this brutish technology persisted.

This winter marks the centennial of the invention of the rope tow. Those who’ve put their snow mitts around a whirling rope and had their arms wrenched from their sockets know it’s a terrible irony that this most challenging manner of motorized ascent remained on bunny slopes such as the Paradise Bowl on Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour’s Goldie Lake runs. Initiation rituals don’t come much crueler.

There’s also priceless entertainment in watching a newbie’s first attempts to latch onto a thick coil of twine as it spools past. Much like learning to smoothly operate the clutch of a standard-transmission car, mastering the technique of slowly easing yourself into motion as you gingerly clung to the rope took more than a few tries. Just as if you’d popped the clutch, if you grasped on too quickly you’d find yourself violently lurching forward, often stalling in the process.

On skis, this meant being flung sideways onto the slope. Woe betide those who persisted in clinging to the rope as they were hauled ingloriously uphill before finally giving up the fight, relinquishing the rope, then quickly hauling themselves out of the path of the person behind.

Over the summer, Grouse Mountain replaced its last remaining rope tow with the new Greenway quad chair lift. On the phone with the Georgia Straight, William Mbaho, Grouse’s communications manager, confirmed that the old tow has been mothballed, at least temporarily. “We would like to use it in some capacity,” he said. “Reinstalling it in the terrain park is one option. That decision will be made in early 2009.”

How fitting. Terrain parks are where young skiers and snowboarders spend hours executing off-axis manoeuvers. Rather than freeride the groomed runs, they much prefer to huck themselves off boxes, kink rails, rollers, and step-ups in a corner of the mountain fenced off for their enjoyment. Given the myriad challenges, clinging to a rope tow would offer yet another opportunity for creative self-expression.

That leaves the Goldie tow on Mount Seymour as the last remaining one in the Lower Mainland. Jikke Stegeman, sales and marketing manager at Mount Seymour, told the Straight that this rare double rope tow was installed in the 1950s as state-of-the-art technology. Originally powered by a diesel engine, it was more recently converted to electricity.

“I grew up in Blackstrap, Saskatchewan,” she recalled, “where riding a rope tow was a new experience on slippery, noodle-y skis while trying to hang on for dear life.” With Playland closed for the season, the Goldie tow offers the most thrilling ride in town.

If you’ve got room, consider installing a DIY rope tow in your back yard. The made-in-Canada technology is available from Toronto-based Motorsport Engineering. Given that North America’s first rope tow fired up in 1933 in the Laurentians near Montreal, you’ll help keep a long-standing winter tradition alive—and your physiotherapist gainfully employed.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie

Make a splash in Vancouver’s prime paddling locations

September 29, 2008

Tranquillity follows Britta and Willie Gerdes as they ease down the Nicomekl River, one of the Lower Mainland’s great paddling spots.

Tranquility follows Britta and Willie Gerdes as they ease down the Nicomekl River, one of the Lower Mainland’s great paddling spots.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

What do Jericho Beach, the Nicomekl River, False Creek, and Deep Cove have in common? When you’re looking to get out on the water around Vancouver, these just happen to be the top places to head for a paddle.

Wait a minute… Who could overlook Boundary Bay, Ladner Slough, or Grant Narrows? And what about Buntzen and Alouette lakes? There’s no doubt that when it comes to choosing the best place to dip your oar or paddle, Vancouver offers an embarrassment of watery riches, and of both the salty and sweet kinds. But at this point on the calendar, several launch spots stand out from the rest. Here are the Georgia Straight’s best of the best picks.

Nowhere around the city—maybe the entire country—offers more paddling opportunities than the Jericho Sailing Centre (1300 Discovery Street, www.jsca.bc.ca/). Despite its name, Jericho’s sandy beach and boat ramp provide quick access to Burrard Inlet for all types of watercraft, wind-powered or otherwise.

Whether you own or rent a kayak or harbour loftier ambitions to paddle an outrigger canoe or a surf ski, this is the place to head for either a short outing to Kits or a longer workout to a picnic spot on one of the beaches at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. An annual membership in Vancouver’s most unusual community centre is affordable—$39 for those under 18; $72 for singles; and $103 for a family of four. Whether you’re a member or not, there is no launch fee.

Similar carte blanche extends to paddlers at South Surrey’s Elgin Heritage Park (www.greatervancouverparks.com/ElginHeritagePark01.html). A dock and boat ramp on the Nicomekl River front the 1894 Stewart farmhouse. One of the rewards of journeying there in fall is crisp fruit from heirloom apple trees. Gather some that’s fallen to savour while floating on the Nicomekl’s gentle current.

Only a few kilometres from its confluence with the ocean at Mud Bay, the intertidal stream is sheltered on the north side by banks of silt washed down from the Nicomekl’s headwaters in Langley. Above the south shore, a dense forest robes the steep slopes with leafy grandeur, already emblazoned with early signs of autumn’s colourful cavalcade. Bring your binos. Herons stalk the shoreline; kingfishers and owls perch on cottonwood limbs.

Unlike the potentially troubled waters off Jericho, the Nicomekl’s abiding tranquility is transfixing as one paddle stroke after another dips into the river’s mirrored surface. Rail traffic on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s wooden trestle bridge livens up the mellow ambiance. Hundreds of creosoted columns straddle the river mouth as Mud Bay and the North Shore Mountains glisten in the distance. Freight cars rumble by high above.

Even more entertaining is the stylish Amtrak Cascades passenger train, which rolls past midmorning and, at this time of year, near sundown, when there’s always a light show on offer. Elgin Heritage Park lies two kilometres west of the White Rock–Crescent Beach turnoff (Exit 10) from Highway 99 on Crescent Road.

Frustrated by living next to the ocean and not being able to float on it? Want to make your inner-city paddle dream come true? If you’re tired of just gazing at False Creek from the sea wall, there are a growing number of creekside sites to hand-launch a kayak, canoe, or even a rowboat. Since the mid-1980s, the dock on Granville Island’s Alder Bay has been the best place to accomplish this.

A far less utilized spot lies at the end of Spyglass Place on the southwest side of the Cambie Bridge. Concord Pacific founder Li Ka-Shing built a dock there in 1989 for both his boating enjoyment and public use. That was the first evidence of changes on the sheltered inlet over the following two decades.

The most recent redevelopment in the neighbourhood has been the rapid rise of the Southeast False Creek and Olympic Village. Paddle east of the dock, under the Cambie Bridge, to check it out. Along the way, test the span’s acoustic qualities with a high note or two and then size up the waterfront’s new design, including a landscaped “island” fenced off to landlubbers on the sea wall. The opening date for the unnamed area hasn’t been announced; don’t let that stop you from visiting it by sea right now.

No kayak? Sign up for the False Creek Community Centre’s fall paddling courses, which include use of the centre’s fleet, at $27 for a single drop-in (two hours), $53.50 monthly, or $214 per season (vancouver.ca/parks/cc/falsecreek/website/index.cfm). You must take an introductory sea-kayaking course before you can pay these rates and take out kayaks on your own. At the west end of the island, EcoMarine Ocean Kayak Centre (ecomarine.com/) also rents kayaks.

Deep Cove is by far the best place around Vancouver to explore the ocean and leave the city behind in either your own or a rented craft (Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak Centre; deepcovekayak.com/). On weekends, colourful ranks of stiletto kayaks and cigar-tube canoes line the pebbled beach beside the North Vancouver village’s pier. Weekdays, you’ll have the waterfront to yourself.

What boosts a Deep Cove paddling experience above the rest is packing along a yummy treat to enjoy when you go ashore in Say Nuth Khaw Yum Heritage Park/Indian Arm Provincial Park (bcparks.ca/) or Cates/Whey-ah-Wichen Park, both comfortable distances from the centre. Deep Cove lies 10 kilometres northeast of the Ironworkers Memorial (Second Narrows) Crossing.

New outdoor guidebooks keep wanderers on track

August 26, 2008

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

A massive public campaign led to the creation of Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park in 1995.

Well-written guidebooks are worth their weight in time—as in, time well spent consulting one in advance of an adventure. That’s particularly true here in B.C., where, from one year to the next, roads are washed out by monsoon rains and new trails appear under the aegis of local stewardship groups.

At the same time, new parks mushroom in urban regions and, on a larger scale, within the vast wilderness that lies beyond sidewalk’s end. Whether you’re looking for an afternoon bike ride or a weeklong backcountry traverse, two recently published outdoor guides make ideal companions for summer exploration.

Gordon White originally published Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook in 1991. In 1995, a 107,191-hectare provincial park was created, during the waning months of Mike Harcourt’s NDP government. The Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, west of Lytton, came about after two decades of hard-fought lobbying by a coalition of conservation groups and First Nations. Interviewed at his North Vancouver home, White spoke with the Georgia Straight about the significance of that achievement.

“In terms of First Nations’ rights and wilderness protection on a grassroots level, the Stein is one of the great success stories in Canadian history,” White affirmed. “The park’s creation came from a kaleidoscope of groups working together.”

Indeed, one of the major themes that echo through the freshly updated edition is that the Stein Valley would not have received official protection without massive public support. White devotes an entire chapter in his exhaustively researched Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook (Selcouth Publishing, $24.95, http://www.sandhillbooks.com/cgi-bin/sandhillbooks/00084.html) to the larger topic of the politics of wilderness protection in this decade, as focused through that lens. Suffice it to say that what was achieved in the Stein has come to serve as a template for future successes.

“In part, I used the first edition as a soapbox to make the case for preserving the entire Stein watershed,” he said. “The new edition addresses the threat of underfunding. Between the Glen Clark and Gordon Campbell governments, funding to B.C. provincial parks has been reduced by 40 percent over the past decade.”

During the same time, White observed that public apathy replaced activism. “There’s more cynicism about the political process now than in the 1980s and ’90s. People have to get reconnected.” How is that going to happen? “By getting out and experiencing wilderness paradises like the Stein, and more especially in northern B.C. in places like the Chilcotin, the Taku, the Skeena, and the Stikine headwaters. There are some big wilderness issues up there.”

White noted that, to B.C. Parks’ credit, since the establishment of the Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, river crossings have been improved in the protected area, bear-proof food lockers have been installed from the lower valley to the alpine, and much of the trail network damaged or obliterated by forest fires in the upper canyon in 1996 has recently been brushed out.

Despite washouts in 2003 on the Lizzie Lake Forest Service Road, which once allowed trekkers to drive to the park’s western approach near Mount Currie, a new 12-kilometre trail now leads around the worst-affected areas. “Sure it adds an extra day to a visit, but I’m trying to let people know how very pleasant the new trail is,” White said with obvious delight.

The same enthusiasm for exploring new routes infuses Whistler Mountain Bike Guide, by Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder (Quickdraw Publications, $23.25, http://www.quickdrawpublications.com/index.htm). Finestone spoke with the Georgia Straight from the cab of his truck while inspecting trails in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, which he manages.

“Despite the fact that there are several detailed maps to bike trails around the valley, we saw a void in the self-guided–book market,” he explained. Finestone and Hodder previously identified a similar need among skiers and snowboarders: their two-volume trail guide to Whistler and Blackcomb grew out of experiences gained when the two worked as patrollers on the twin mountains during winter.

The latest project came when Finestone took up mountain biking after a hiatus of several years. “I had so many bikes stolen that I stopped riding for a while,” he said. “When I decided to get back into the saddle, I found it hard to find the trails I was hearing about. There’s been a meteoric rise in trail construction, but for many of them it’s sort of like lore. You have to find the right guy at the right bike shop, then follow his cryptic directions.”

In that respect alone, Whistler Mountain Bike Guide’s detailed descriptions, including photos and an easily understood profile of the rise and fall of each trail, represent a welcome change. “From die-hard to family trails, we covered 131 of the best bike routes on offer in Whistler, plus dirt jumps, and trials and skateboard parks. We even suggest linkups of various trails for those looking for ultra-savage, epic rides,” Finestone said.

The Whistler Valley has an interlacing network of municipal, commercial, and rogue bike trails that run the gamut from paved greenways to rocks-and-roots single track, but Finestone and Hodder’s guide achieves the feat of turning the mysterious into the familiar at a glance. Icons indicate things like sections of slippery rock and man-made stunts, which proves enormously helpful when you’re planning a ride, as does the inclusion of GPS data.

With Whistler Mountain Bike Guide at hand, there’s no excuse for getting lost in the woods or hung out to dry on Comfortably Numb, Finestone’s favourite new trail. Now if he can just keep light-fingered thieves away from his bike, all that research will have been worthwhile.

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