THE POWER OF CONNECTING PEOPLE AND NATURE
Hiking Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains
The Alpine Loop trail system begins with the Alpine Walk trailhead located mere steps from the Blackcomb Mountain end of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. The easy-walking, narrow dirt path leaves the sights and sounds of Whistler Blackcomb’s operations behind. Minutes later, hikers are immediately hit with a view of forever-reaching peaks, snow and sky. Day-to-day thoughts scatter like the seeds of a blown dandelion puff. Panoramic views slip behind hemlock trees, which cozy up trailside. The quilted patterns of boulders and wild green grasses emerge. The brilliant red of an Indian paintbrush wildflower pops. Then evergreens pull back their curtains again, and hikers see Whistler Mountain in a new morning light. None of this experience is random. Everything was carefully designed when Arthur De Jong, along with the late Don MacLaurin, planned and built the hiking trail system on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in the early 1990s. De Jong’s goal was to move people on an inward journey as much as an outward one. You could say De Jong is out to change the world. Having spent more than 35 years working on these two mountains, he’s discovered the power of putting people and nature together. “People will only be inspired or motivated to protect nature if they understand and connect with it,” says De Jong, mountain planning and environmental resource manager for Whistler Blackcomb. “[Our trail system] is a place to inspire people to become better stewards.” And there is plenty to be inspired by. The more than 50 kilometres of hiking trails range from leisurely family walks of less than an hour to day-long excursions for the revved and rugged. All trails are liftaccessed, dropping adventurers directly into the alpine without a 5,000-verticalfoot uphill slog to start their hikes. “I love the contrast between Blackcomb and Whistler,” De Jong says of the trails. “When you go into trails that take you into the provincial park, on the Blackcomb side, you are going into the Spearhead Range, which is very rugged and steep. On the Whistler side, the High Note System, now called Fitzsimmons Range, is a rolling ridge range and rumbling landscape.” Most parents refuse to favour one child over another but De Jong can’t help himself. When not working or volunteering for one of many community social and environmental groups, he often
disappears into the Alpine Loop trails on Blackcomb. The Seventh Heaven-area trail system is designed in loops, each circle building on the next, becoming more challenging as the trails move outward. The loop set-up also presents a new discovery around each bend; a hiker never needs to retrace her steps. And the south-facing trails yield the first-of-theseason and richest wildflower blooms such as the magnetic purple lupins. (The north-facing Whistler Mountain trails typically see wildflowers bloom later in the season.) Interpretive signage accompanies trails, so guests can learn about the local plants, landscapes and wildlife. Education, recreation and inspiration share the same path in De Jong’s effort to connect people and nature. He hopes guests are inspired and in turn pack that inspiration home with them to reduce their environmental footprint in their own backyard. “The powerful imagery and pureness of nature, it makes us very present,” De Jong says. “I truly believe that connection inspires people to do more in terms of being better stewards in their daily lives.”
In 2016, De Jong received Canada’s Clean50 award, honouring his dedication to sustainable and clean capitalism. He hikes the talk of those beliefs. Early-season hiking begins in June between the snow walls on Whistler Mountain, depending on weather. The peak of the wildflower blooms is usually in August.