An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: Back to the mountains and the ‘cuddly’, hungry bears!

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Finally, the long, oh so very long flight back to Vancouver called us back to our special little place in the mountains. A mere 10 hour flight and a couple of hours ride up to Whistler and we were back home – married this time! Still a little weird but getting used to it! Despite being away from this stunning spot on Canada’s west coast for over a month, the scenery didn’t appear to have changed a lot. By this I mean that there was still a ridiculous amount of snow around. When we left, spring was supposedly here, but it didn’t appear very spring like now, especially having just returned from exceptionally unseasonally good, hot weather in the UK.

The comments have been coming in about my tan, just because there simply hasn’t been too much sun here – unusual for April / May here. Having said that, there is many a great tan line to be seen here of course, but they do come in a form of the heavenly goggle tan – created at over 1100 meters! The ‘goggle tan’ is of course much coveted in these parts and there have been certain communities (typically the Asians, but by no means solely restricted to these guys!), who have sun bed sessions with their goggles on!!!

Now this all said, the sun is back out, both the valley and on-hill temperatures are warming up and for the time being at least, it feels much like spring (maybe even a little bit like summer, but …Wahoo, steady on there!!). The village transition from winter though is well underway. Most ski shops have very few skis left in their racks and many have already got a fleet of rental bikes proudly sitting out front from their windows, perfectly locked up and lining their bike racks (which I can tell you are a real pain in the royal backside to put away each and every night!!). One by one the visitors are venturing out around the now mostly clear valley trails on their rented steeds. Many a local are already out and about in some of the drier trails, slowly retuning and honing their slightly rusty trail skills. Just in time for the downhill bike park which opens this coming weekend. Nothing short of an amazing feat really to consider that the trail workers have managed to clear sufficient snow to even get a few trails open.

The huge, sorry, EPIC amounts of snow bestowed upon Whistler this winter season will leave a real legacy on a number of summer activities and wildlife. For example, last year’s snowfall was also spectacular and meant that unfortunately many of us couldn’t get up to the high alpine for walking or running the abundance of trails, etc until well into August. Not leaving us much time to enjoy summer up there! So far, the current snow base, as I write this, is sitting at over 3 meters deep. That’s a third deeper than last year!!! Difficult to foresee much hiking this year unless we receive some very long, very hot sunny days from top to bottom of the mountains some time soon.

This will be a crying shame if this is the case as it is nothing short of spectacular up their. The views and vistas are difficult to really do justice to in a few short words. It’s truly a different world up there that often is only shared with a few other hikers and the odd wildlife party out for a stroll or perhaps just staying out of the way of us pesky humans usually found way below them down in the valley.

So, this long lasting snow, presently smothering much of the mountains, does have another impact. My much favoured and much written about furry ursine friends are having a tough time coming out of hibernation. The snow is covering most, if not all, of the natural food crop on their natural habitat up high. Having said that, there are a good few bears that have now been spotted around the valley and village at a much lower level. I guess a pretty sure sign that bear season is upon us is perhaps the fact that some of the natural bear tours have started running for visitors and locals alike. Bit of a con if not!

Supposedly there will be a few less bears about this season than last as there were a number killed, some avoidable, some not. We’ll get a better idea over the coming weeks and months as the temperatures warm and the snow line recedes. Much will depend on the quality and quantity of natural bear food, such as berries, etc. This can all be affected by the long, cold winters and shorter and shorter sunny weeks and months. Think of it much like having the right weather and climate to cultivate a great vineyard if you will!

So the ‘active’ event season is kicking off gain real soon. The winter ski season officially wraps up and the end of this month in what has already become an extended year due to the snow levels. However, for all the adrenaline junkies, the infamous downhill bike park opens this weekend as mentioned earlier. Most trails will actually remain closed, so this will be a tentative open as this snow gradually begins to crawl away and expose the fantastic trails built by the crafted hands in previous years. To cap the end of ski season and the emergence of the biking season, we have the now annual ‘Crud to Mud’ race in the next week or so. This will see many ‘enthusiastic’ individuals ski or ride from the top of Whistler mountain down to the ‘mid-station’ point, where they will unload from their snow equipment and jump onto their mountain bikes. They will then literally throw themselves down the very wet, slippy, presently and quite likely still very snowy in parts, variety of open trails until they eventually find their way, hopefully unhurt, to the base of Whistler mountain – Not sure if that description sold it really, but it is truly quite the popular event with a mix of the best skiers and bike riders combining their abilities in the name of fun and the prestige of the ‘challenge’.

In a couple of weeks time, we’ll be looking at the start of the running season as Whistler hosts it’s inaugural half marathon in what is being billed as one of the most scenic half marathons around. To come in the weeks after this are a glut of trail runs over varying distances typically from 25k to as much as 50 miles and yours truly will be running in everything he can and can’t wait to get at them all.

Bring on the warm months….wherever they are..!