A blizzard of rumours concerning the impact that the 2010 Winter Games will have on access to recreation in the Sea-to-Sky corridor is flying as thick as snowflakes. Here are two examples: during the Olympics, Highway 99 will be closed to regular traffic north of Horseshoe Bay. Furthermore, Whistler Blackcomb will be shut down. Not.
To sort out exactly what snow-sport enthusiasts can expect in the lead-up to February’s action, the Georgia Straight contacted a number of key players to find out if road access will actually be restricted. For starters, drivers heading north of Squamish on Highway 99 this winter will need a special travel permit only between February 11 and 28. A checkpoint will be in place on the Sea-to-Sky Highway by the turn-off to Alice Lake Provincial Park. This is where police annually check to make sure vehicles headed north are equipped with winter tires or chains during storm season. Complete details are posted at www.travelsmart2010.ca/.
Those planning to enjoy snow sliding in Garibaldi Provincial Park’s Diamond Head region, as well as overnight accommodation at the park’s popular Elfin Lakes hut, will not be affected, as the approach road lies south of the checkpoint. Visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/ for a description of winter activities in the park.
In fact, none of Squamish will be off-limits: the Stawamus Chief Mountain trails, the multipurpose Sea-to-Sky Trail, the town’s 100-plus mountain-bike trails, and Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park will all be open as usual. For details, visit www.tourismsquamish.com/.
Those who head for points north of Squamish in search of backcountry adventure are a hardy lot, accustomed to rising early to be at trailheads by sunrise. Provided you clear the Squamish checkpoint before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m., you won’t need a permit, as Highway 99 will be open as usual. Bear this in mind if you’re headed to Garibaldi Park’s entrance to Garibaldi Lake and Black Tusk to snowshoe or ski tour. For those bent on more remote locations, such as Cerise Creek off Highway 99’s Duffey Lake Road section north of Pemberton, the same planning should be taken into account. An alternative—albeit lengthier though no less scenic—approach from Vancouver to the increasingly popular Cayoosh Range backcountry huts along the Duffey Lake Road would be via Lillooet.
One backcountry lodge that’s dealing remarkably well with the pressure of having an Olympic venue as a neighbour is Callaghan Country Lodge, near Whistler. The Callaghan Valley is home to the superlative Whistler Olympic Park, site of numerous Nordic events. Although the park’s ski-jumping and biathlon facilities, as well as much of its 55-kilometre network of cross-country trails, are off-limits for the entire season, Callaghan Country and the Olympic park have created a partnership. A 30-kilometre portion of the park’s trail system, combined with Callaghan Country’s 42 kilometres of routes, will be open to the public with the exception of the month of February, when access into the valley will be restricted to Olympic ticket holders and guests of the lodge.
When contacted by phone, Callaghan Country’s Jeannette Nadon confirmed this. “Just as hotels in Whistler are doing, we’ll mail out highway permits to our clients in advance, including a confirmation letter to allow them road access to our parking area adjacent the Olympic Park,” she said. “Guests with tickets to Whistler-area Olympic events can choose to ski or snowmobile down along our 12-kilometre trail to the park or take advantage of the 2010 courtesy shuttles to venues such as the Whistler Sliding Centre and Whistler Mountain.” For details, visit www.callaghancountry.com/ or www.whistlerolympicpark.com/.
The good news from Whistler is that aside from the alpine ski venues, most of the terrain on both Whistler and Blackcomb will open as usual for the season on November 26. The one drawback this winter is the reduction of parking spaces in the resort’s day lots, including the complete closure of parking at Whistler Mountain’s Creekside base.
“Tourism Whistler and Vanoc have applied to the municipality for temporary parking areas to be arranged by Whistler Blackcomb,” company spokesperson Tabetha Boot told the Straight by phone. In addition to temporary outdoor parking, as many as a thousand underground parking spaces could be made available this winter in places like the library and under the municipal building. Because negotiations have not been finalized, Boot suggested that the best way to stay current with parking is to visit whistlerblackcomb.com/.
Undoubtedly, the most relaxing way to journey to Whistler this winter will be by bus. When reached by phone, Pacific Coach Lines’ sales and marketing director Darian Tooley said that her company has an upgraded schedule posted from now until the end of March. “Because we anticipate a lot more traffic from our downtown Vancouver station to Whistler, we’re offering almost hourly service. As of now, passengers can begin reserving space. If anything, we expect come February, when closures are in effect, travel time will be even shorter, because traffic on the Sea-to-Sky Highway will be stripped down.” For information and reservations, visit www.pacificcoach.com/ or call 604-662-7575.
Finally, a number of Whistler-area B.C. Forest Service roads will also be closed at various times this winter, including the approach from Whistler to Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park from January to March. For a complete list of closures, visit www.for.gov.bc.ca/dsq/.