Sunday, March 01, 2015

Whistler - Ski The Camp

Whistler Blackcomb - Ski The Camp, 16th February 2015.

Having just returned from this year's ski holiday to Whistler Blackcomb, booked via the incredibly helpful and friendly folks at SkiSafari, I thought I'd take some time to write about the excellent time I had with TheCamp.

I was holidaying with my teenage daughter, for her half term and also to acknowledge my 43rd year of this mortal coil.  We were returning to Whistler for the second time as we had such an amazing experience the first time around.  As my daughter was very happy with the Snow School last time, I was left with a conundrum of what to do with myself for the week.  Lets face it, despite what they say, skiing alone is no fun, even on a powder day and frankly not safe either and without local knowledge of the area you're unlikely to get the most out of the precious time on the slopes.

Last year was my first skiing holiday after returning to the sport(?) after a gap of 10 years and I'd had a mix bag of an experience with the MAX4 lessons.  My first two days last year were, for a variety of reasons, dire, but thanks to the incredible customer services at WhistlerBlackcomb, they got me right back on track with a complimentary private lesson.  The improvement was so good that I ended the week with additional private days, but this years budget would not stretch to that!

While browsing the Whistler Blackcomb website, I read about TheCamp, pitched as "the ultimate ski improvement experience".  Reading the blurb on the website, I was a little apprehensive about the race coaching angle to the camp, with respect to the Dave Murray heritage, a racer I am not...but given the options available, I decided to book into TheCamp.  One of the reasons I had issues last year was my optimistic assessment of my own ability and the difference between a UK level 4 and a Canadian level 4.  So this year I assessed my abilities as a cautious Level 3+ skier.

On the Monday morning we were very quickly assessed and corralled into small groups of similar abilities, from intermediate level 3 to expert level 6, I was quietly content in the low level 4 group.  Over the course of the week, while chatting on the lifts and during breaks, it became clear that each of us in the group, two female, four male, shared a similar story, in that we were there with family or friends who are of different abilities and in need of coaching or guiding for the whole week.  While our ages may have spread two or maybe three generations, we were all of a very similar mindset and got along very well.

Our instructor/coach/guide/mentor for the week was Steve, an ex-pat from England, who has been living in and around Whistler for years and as the marketing suggests has a "Yoda like knowledge of the mountain".  Given that Whistler has had its poorest snow in years, with the lower half of the mountain devoid of snow altogether and hard packed conditions higher up, and mountain/snow conditions that change at least by the hour, that Yoda like knowledge proved to be invaluable.

The first day was spent working on honing our basic technique and working up from the gentle groomed green runs and onto blue and then the Black Diamond Lower Dave Murray.  I was amazed how quickly we were progressing.

So much of Whistler Blackomb's terrain is off-piste and my travel insurance will only cover off-piste skiing when accompanied by a guide so it was great to spend much of the second day off piste around the Symphony amphitheatre, experiencing the bowls while the on piste looked like the M6 on a Friday afternoon.  Another bonus of being in part of the snow school is the lift priority, which saved valuable queueing time, including the initial hop up the Village Gondola in the morning.

(That's me in the foreground, credit for this and the previous photo goes to fellow group member Joey from Winnipeg)

On the Wednesday, after the daily morning warm up laps, we headed to a cabin to review video footage of our skiing that was taken the previous day.  This was simple footage quickly taken on a phone during the course of the previous day, but seeing your own (and others) habits was incredibly useful, with simple advice, tips and exercises thrown in to help correct.  Then we headed over to Blackcomb for a quick run through the gates.  Given the mention of the racing background to the TheCamp, this was the only bit of gates we did, partly due to the conditions of the dedicated  practice slope being unsuitable for pushing them in!

We then headed over to the glacier, something that had been on my bucket list for the week but quite frankly without the support of Steve, given the conditions would have been well beyond our abilities.  It included a short walk and was hard work, especially the ski out which was mostly ice, but a day I will remember for many years.

On the fourth day, the group was down to three and was perhaps less hard work, less coaching and more fun on interesting terrain and around the bumps.

There is an option, not mentioned on the website, to bolt on an additional fifth day, which required a minimum of 4 tickets to be purchased at $99 each.  So either $400 for a day of private coaching or splitting the cost equally between those taking part.  A couple who were in the level below also wanted the extra day, so I joined them for the Friday, which resulted in a great end to the week, with more Yoda like mountain knowledge and more coaching and given the current exchange rate it was a bargain for about £70.

I get the impression that TheCamp either has a bit of a mid-life identity crisis (don't we all???) with the heritage they can rightly be proud of with the DaveMurray / Ski Esprit camp, a lack of marketing or is it being kept a bit of a secret?  Whatever your ability, from the cautious 3+ to an expert level 6, there is something for everyone and I'll have no hesitation in going back to do another!

My biggest disappointment of the week was still not getting to Crystal hut for one of their famous waffles, so that's left hanging for next year, when, finances permitting, I'll be back to join TheCamp again, without question...

Thank you to Steve and the rest of TheCamp team, SkiSafari for their faultless organisation and to my fellow group members for, as the locals would say, an awesome week of Spring Conditions and almost entirely Blue Bird days courtesy of The Pineapple Express!

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