Visitors who come to the world-famous ski resort of Whistler, B.C., but don’t want to carve powder on the slopes can always cannonball from mountain to mountain through towering trees of ancient rainforests.
“It’s amazing. You’re 200 feet up in the tree canopy, which is a spectacular setting,” said Warrick Hubbard of Ziptrek Ecotours, which has been running zipline tours for seven years.
“But it’s also ominous when you’re sort of looking out and saying ‘OK, I’m about to zip across this line and I can barely see the deck on the other side.’
“There’s a bit of trepidation, but mostly just excitement.”
Ziplining, snowshoeing, heli-glacier tours, tubing and snowcatting are just some of the non-ski activities in this snow mecca, which draws roughly two million visitors a year.
More tourists are expected now that the site, a two-hour drive north of Vancouver in the Coast Mountains, will host some of the events for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
At Ziptrek, guides harness riders to steel lines. The “zippers” then soar over the high-altitude landscape from platform to platform, back and forth between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, the twin sentinels of rock above this picturesque village.
The harness allows zippers maximum flexibility to fly like a starfish (limbs splayed out), a cannonball or even an upside-down Buddha. “A first-time zipper — they’re grasping on with both hands, but by their fourth and fifth lines they’re waving their hands and spinning around,” said Hubbard.
There are different lines for different groups — families and first-timers tend to go on the Bear Run while seasoned zippers take the plunge on the Eagle, which features an eye-popping line as long as three football fields.
The oldest zipper was 92 while the youngest can be six, said Hubbard. The maximum weight is 275 pounds, the tours run year-round, and anyone who can walk up stairs with no problem can physically handle the climb into the trees. Along the way, guides deliver an eco-curriculum, explaining the history of the coast Douglas firs in the temperate rainforest, showing off Mother Nature at her best.
“It’s a chance to get into a pristine location, have a fun activity, gain some understanding and learn about what’s going on in the world and right in our backyard,” said Hubbard.
About a million tourists visit Whistler in the winter and 1.2 million in the summer, said Breton Murphy of Tourism Whistler. Skiing and snowboarding are still king. Three out of every four winter visitors ski at some point, while 40 per cent snowboard and some do both.
But spas, he said, are becoming more popular —along with myriad other activities like bungee jumping, fishing, backcountry tours, sleigh rides, paintball, tree-trekking, ice climbing, ice skating and cross-country skiing.
Those who want to look rather than leap can go on an eagle-watching tour or head over to the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre and learn about dugout canoes, cedar and wool weavings, art and artifacts from two of Canada’s First Nations.
The newest attraction may be the signature one – the Peak 2 Peak gondola ride, which opened two months ago. It takes visitors on a slow-speed, 11-minute ride more than 400 metres over the gorge that divides the mountains, with Fitzsimmons Creek appearing below like a squiggly black line on a sheet of snowy white paper.