Whistler & Area Ski Touring Guide
Price: $16.95 | Available: Escape Route & other fine Village shops
The fine efforts of photographer Vince Shuley, the Backcountry Skiing Canada team, and an editorial board of a few Whistler Blackcomb patrollers & SAR volunteers have put together the Whistler & Area Ski Touring Guide, a small booklet featuring mainly slackcountry routes around Whistler and Blackcomb, with a few forays up the Duffey (Cerise Creek) and south to Elfin Lakes in Squamish.
Overall, the Guide is a useful tool, mainly for those new to the region who are expert-level skiers seeking gnarly slackcountry routes in complex terrain, though it is no replacement for Baldwin’s maps to the area or his comprehensive guide to ski touring in the Coast Range, both of which are essential reading.
The guide is smartly laid out, with each page featuring two route descriptions. Off Blackcomb, newbies will undoubtedly appreciate the mostly-clear directions to the famed slackcountry, including DOA, Disease Ridge, Chamonix Chutes, Husume, and Corona Bowl. A day’s travel includes Decker’s Finger Chutes, with Mt. Pattison being the farthest objective. The guide is certainly rowdy enough, including lines that so far have stayed out of print in other maps and guides. In this respect, it appears aimed at a visiting expert-level backcountry skier who isn’t interested in buying a good map to the area.
On the Whistler side, all the variations of the Musical Bumps are included, with Fissile being the longest haul. Given the Guide’s objective of keeping the fresh kids out of the badness, it’s surprising that Cakehole wasn’t included, or clear directions down Khyber’s, for that matter, especially given the number of punters who get lost / hung up in Khyber cliffs and the dangerous drainages that pour south down into Cheakamus.
The Guide shines less well (and has less utility) when describing Cerise Creek and Elfin Lakes, mainly because these areas are covered with better detail, directions, and maps by John Baldwin’s bible to the Sea to Sky, Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis (3rd Ed.).
Which brings us to the cons. The Whistler Guide is somewhat lacking in the map department, featuring just a 2/3rd page for the entire Spearhead Range (why not make this a proper two page spread?). The Duffey and Elfin Lakes get similar treatment. The maps have no marked elevation on their contour lines and no marked scale. Route lines are so indistinct at this “scale” that their utility is questionable; and I’m also not sure what a “skin track descent” means (this is applied to Singing Pass trail, for example).
It should be noted that the pre-fab layout is courtesy of Backcountry Skiing Canada’s West Kootenay Touring Guide, and one has to wonder why Backcountry Skiing Canada didn’t redesign the format for the Coast Range’s complex terrain (I don’t see this as the fault of the locals who worked on it, but rather of the main party behind it, who thought they could cookie-cutter one area to another).
The same goes for the pics. Route photos are the size of large postage stamps, and lack lines of ascent/descent, even in crucial, ski-mountaineering terrain. The photos are often unclear as to what they are actually depicting, and consequently often do not provide much in the sense of scale. For example, the photo for Aussie Couloir on Mt. Joffre shows both Aussie Couloir and the much more rowdy Kiwi Couloir, but which is which isn’t marked, nor is there a photo of the ascent route. Given the guide’s aspirations as a where-to and how-to for (expert) newbies to the region, more time spent on scaled and contoured maps and larger, marked photos, with more precise and detailed (as well as grammatically correct) directions would’ve not only better served the interests of safety and clarity, but actually allowed the guide to provide a meaningful alternative to the otherwise reliable and detailed efforts provided by the Baldwin maps and guide.
As it stands, the Guide is best thought as an accompaniment to the mandatory Baldwin maps, and it has plenty to offer for those wanting a shortlist of some of the more popular (and gnarly) slackcountry and backcountry routes in the region. As for backcountry use, the guide is not weather-proofed (unlike the Baldwin maps), so the old photocopy-and-laminate rule applies. Hopefully it keeps the kids out of trouble rather than leading them straight to it.