Whistler Slackcountry Guide

Whistler & Area Ski Touring Guide

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.


6 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Is there an eBook?

    • Not that I’m aware of… you have a sweet trip blog, btw.

      • Thanks. Got another trip to write up and will have a few back country stories this year I hope. It was researching one of the trips last year that I found this blog.

  2. Sweet.! Keep us in touch with your trips, happy to reblog your efforts here, i.e. blog about your blog (heh)…

    • By all means. I was looking around for more BC Trip blogs and blogs like yours…

  3. Thanks for your review Tobias.
    Wanted to respond to a few key points:
    1. Cakehole and Khybers (while outside boundary) were not included as these areas directly drop off the Peak Chair and require no hiking. Consequently these area are full of tracks and people ski them with no self-rescue equipment. Note that the title of the booklet is “Ski Touring Guide.” As you mentioned, Cakehole is also known suck people towards Cheakamus Lake (which means more headaches for Whistler Ski Patrol), another reason to not direct people into that area.
    2. As stated on each map: “Note that the topo maps shouldn’t be used for GPS navigation or microfeatures – they are intended as a guide only.” The maps are meant to be utilized in conjunction with the photos and route descriptions, which state elevation gain and time needed to access the route. Given the routes in this guide stay within day trip range of civilzation, we feel having a photo reference as well as a basic topo map would be more beneficial. The user can then confirm that they are looking at the right route, rather than making an educated guess based on a map only. Baldwin’s maps are referenced in each applicable route, if you require a more detailed map to navigate it tells you exactly which one to buy. When folks start heading further out, we encourage them to buy Baldwin’s literature.
    3. The guide was made to be portable, so no copy and laminating is needed. It’s small enough to keep in your pack, so unless you are touring in the rain or storing it next to your skins it should hold up to use in the field. Water proofing bound pages would put the price of this guide beyond reasonable reach of intended consumers, and we wanted to use a post consumer fiber (chlorine-free) for the good of the planet.
    4. No ebook available yet as we don’t want people relying on smart phone batteries to view the guide. Development could be happen down the line.

    Thanks again for your feedback.

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