Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Me and a pika and Arthur De Jong A sunset walk in the alpine

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Which is exactly what we're doing today. As he leads me past our sun-tickled marmot onto a well-trod single-track trail, we fall into our normal banter. We've known each other for a long time, Arthur and I, and we've agreed to disagree on a number of issues. But on one fundamental principle, we both stand squarely in the same spot. It's the mountains, stupid!

"The grandeur of Whistler's alpine is our greatest asset," he says. "More than anything, it's what distinguishes us from most other North American resorts."

He understands my concern about the unchecked growth of infrastructure on our local mountains. And as stand-alone machinery, he agrees that capital projects like the eat-to-eat gondola are tough to justify. "For that investment to succeed, people need a 'destination,'" he insists. "And that's our goal: to develop destinations in the alpine that celebrate the high-mountain experience."

Meaning? Arthur and his crew have been busy building new trail circuits - imagine concentric rings - that radiate out from the gondola. "The inner rings," he says, "feature easily-accessed trails - just like the one we just took - you know, with a people-friendly design style and some thoughtful signage." These, obviously, are targeted at first-time guests and the less-mobile set.

"We want the casual visitor from Cincinnati to have a transformative experience up here," he explains. "We want him to go home thoroughly enchanted."

As the distance increases from the lifts, the trails become more demanding. "Ultimately," he says. "I would love to see multi-day tours in the far outer rings with a hut-to-hut hiking network from peak-to-peak." He laughs. "But I'm not alone. Seems like a lot of people are working on that right now..."

A couple of hours have already flown by. We're now off the trail system and negotiating a sea of tippy boulders on the flank of Trorey Mountain. Tricky stuff. "This," says Arthur, "is the beginning of the third ring. As you can see, we're into serious terrain now. Not for everyone..." As he climbs, he keeps looking behind to make sure I'm following. The concern in his eyes makes me wince. Do I look that helpless?

Still, I'm not going to get fooled into upping my pace and risking a fall. Slowly. Slowly. And I can't help but giggle at what my long-suffering physio would think right now. This little walk is definitely not on her list of approved activities.

We reach our destination just as the sun begins its descent behind the Tantalus. A band of blood-red slowly seeps across the horizon. The drop to the valley floor from here is sobering. Big vertical. Tiger country, Arthur calls it. From where we're standing it's clear there's no easy way down. "That's where I'm going tomorrow," says Arthur pointing vaguely downhill. "I'm working on a new route to Russet Lake." And in the same breath, "We should go back soon."