FEEL­ING FOR SNOW

David Matthews straps on his avalanche bea­con and heads for the Cana­dian back­coun­try.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy ME­GAN McLELLAN & EMANUEL SMEDBØL

I’m 436 me­tres above the ground, trapped in a metal box. Con­den­sa­tion rolls down the gon­dola win­dows, fog ob­scures the val­ley be­low. I grip my poles, palms sweat­ing. I can feel us dip­ping down, then up, tilt­ing and swing­ing, and then, fi­nally, the moun­tain is upon us. There’s a whir, a lurch, then a clunk and a wob­ble and the doors fly open. I step out, heart rac­ing. This was meant to be the easy part.

Whistler doesn’t do things by halves. Want one moun­tain? Take two. Want pow­der? Have buck­et­loads. It’s a place where bears roam the streets, where tsunami warn­ings come as read­ily as avalanche warn­ings, where lo­cals give up salmon-fish­ing be­cause it’s too easy. Be­tween Van­cou­ver and Whistler, about 125 kilo­me­tres apart, the ranges are cut through with old gold, sil­ver and cop­per mines. Cedars and Dou­glas firs have been felled from these slopes, slid down to the wa­ter and tugged south for al­most two cen­turies. Every­thing here is big and boun­ti­ful, a land of abun­dance and grand scale.

Whistler Black­comb is no dif­fer­ent. Sep­a­rated by a val­ley, the moun­tains are hit by snow that forms when storms roll in off the Pa­cific, hit the Coast Moun­tains and shoot up­wards, gen­er­at­ing nearly 12 me­tres of snow on av­er­age ev­ery sea­son. Each moun­tain had a re­sort; they’re now joined by the Peak 2 Peak Gon­dola, which tra­verses the 4.4-kilo­me­tre high-wire that has just made my stom­ach lurch.

To­day we’re ski­ing Black­comb. We’ve been loaded up with pow­der skis; the plan is to seek out deep snow in prepa­ra­tion for to­mor­row, when we’ll drop right into the mid­dle of it. Though the queues at the base aren’t long, Philippe, our French ski in­struc­tor, fast-tracks us up the Wiz­ard Ex­press chair, halfway up the moun­tain.

Want one moun­tain? Take two. Want pow­der? Have buck­et­loads. It’s a place where bears roam the streets, where tsunami warn­ings come as read­ily as avalanche warn­ings.

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