There are many unwritten rules that a newcomer to Whistler, or any resort town, needs to learn. Advice like "there are no friends on a powder day," which means if you show up late or can't keep up, well, you're on your own, buster.
Another rule probably makes local business owners chafe a bit, but is almost as important to the impoverished dishwashers and other itinerant workers toiling at minimum wage. And that's "never pay retail if you can avoid it."
Whistler locals and visitors from the Lower Mainland get their best crack at "never paying retail" at the annual Whistler Blackcomb Turkey Sale (starts on Friday night, Oct. 9 with a special "passes only" preview) and the Whistler Mountain Ski and Snowboard SWAP (Sale With Awesome Prices), which is orchestrated by and benefits the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
The Turkey Sale is, of course, a nod to the fact that it falls on Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada; a time when Whistlerites and visitors might indeed be thankful that they're saving hundreds of dollars on ski and snowboard gear and clothing. Especially if they have kids.
Josh Buchanan is the merchandise general manager for Whistler Blackcomb, which means that he's probably not going to be getting a lot of sleep preparing for next weekend's onslaught.
"The Turkey Sale started sometime in the mid-90s and has grown to be one of Canada's largest ski sales. We're expecting around 20,000 people to walk in and experience what really has become a semi-official kick off to the ski season," said Buchanan.
"It's the catalyst for people to take stock of their equipment and assess their needs for the upcoming season. Whether you are a skier or a snowboarder, single or a big family you can shop for all your winter needs under one roof and know you are going to be satisfied with the service, selection and price paid."
The event and accommodation specials are promoted in Vancouver, and lots of people come up and make a weekend out of it.
SWAP volunteer and Whistler Mountain Ski Club administrator Chris Leighton says of the club's sale of gently pre-owned equipment: "It's sort of like the old Warren Miller movies used to be; an event to get people excited about the upcoming season."
Some products go more quickly than others, and hence are the reason why you see people lined up to crash the gate on Friday Oct. 9, when Whistler locals, plus passholders and EDGE cardholders get first crack at the gear before the general public does.
The proliferation in high performance rental skis that are, for the most part, gently used and tuned and ready for action, is one bargain worth watching out for. Buchanan says, "With the availability and quality of our rental equipment, more and more destination guests prefer to rent. Our demo skis move fast, some of our sample items for the 15/16 are also limited in numbers and sell out quickly, too."
WMSC's Leighton explains that the annual ski swap has been happening "since before the village was built; it used to be held in the gym of the old Myrtle Philip school."
There is a bit of caveat emptor to purchasing skis at swaps, though. Take fat skis, for instance. In the past four or five years, rockered, reverse camber designs have dominated the powder and big mountain ski categories, leaving a lot of non-rockered skis collecting dust. Make sure you know the difference (rockered skis will appear quite 'bent' out at the tips and tails when pressed together).
As Leighton says, "we do our best to limit skis to being a couple of years old, because we don't want to be left with a bunch of unsold gear at the end of the sale, and we also have limited space to sell stuff."
It's easy to make a mistake in the rush and fervour of the sales. Leighton herself has made a mistake to two. "I bought a pair of kids boots once and didn't check to make sure that both boots were the same size. I think that a rental shop brought a bunch of the same boots and I mistakenly grabbed two different sizes."
There are usually over a hundred volunteers who pitch in and ensure that things run smoothly, and with the coaches in attendance, you will likely be able to get good advice on what a particular ski is like at the SWAP. You can drop off equipment for sale each day before the tent opens to bargain hunters. Go to www.wmsc.info/ski-swap for all the information.
"The SWAP's especially important for families looking to inexpensively outfit their kids," says Leighton, adding that thankfully most kids don't really care what kind of gear they get.
If you're really hankering for a steal, Leighton notes that for the last hour of the sale — from 11:00 a.m. until noon on Sunday afternoon — all remaining gear gets blown out for 50 per cent off at the WMSC SWAP. Chances are, though, you won't see DPS Wailer 112s or Rossignol Soul 7s hanging around... they'll be gone in the first 15 minutes.
Such bargains do come at a price whether you are at the Turkey Sale or the SWAP — if you've never attended before, prepare for a madhouse. There will be long lines to get in, frenzied attempts to get the best possible bargains, and then long lines to check out. Just remember to breathe, people, and keep in mind, especially you sellers who complain about the 20-per-cent commission at the SWAP that the it benefits a great cause — the young racers and coaches of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. The SWAP is a 100 per-cent volunteer run, and all of the money raised goes right back into the club; much of it to pay for the many coaches that help the 150 families who have kids in the various programs.
If you are looking for mostly new equipment, all the accessories you need, and you want to ensure that you're choosing from some of the best selection in town, the Turkey Sale offers the chance to see all of the upcoming season's gear in a complete range of sizes and shapes.
"Big Mountain skis designed for our back yard will continue to be popular; skis like the Salomon Q115, Rossignol Soul 7, Atomic Bent Chetler , the Blizzard Cochise and Head Cyclic 115,"says Buchanan.
These are burly, wide-waisted sticks with plenty of rocker (bowed slightly at the tip and tail for maximum flotation and turn-ability) that are perfect for those 20 centimetre "sick days" we all dream about. Buchanan also notes the entrance of a new category of freeride boot like the Atomic Waymaker Tour 110, which are capable of both in-bounds cruising and out-of-bounds touring. Of course, there will be an ample number of retail staff on hand to assist with boot fitting, sizing up kids' gear, and telling you that no, that splatter paint print jacket is "not a good idea," even if it's 80 per cent off.
The sale and SWAP are also the perfect time to stock up on the kind of accessories that you don't want to be paying "full retail" for once the season begins, and that includes things like goggles, gloves, and other items that are easy to forget during the mania of a big powder day. Browse the tent for deeply discounted clothing and accessories from Whistler Blackcomb's chain of retail outlets as well.
"A good pair of goggles is a must for getting the most out of your day at Whistler Blackcomb," says Buchanan.
Given the fickle nature of fashion and the fact that clothing does wear out over the years, perhaps the best bargains at the Turkey Sale are for people wanting to buy a new jacket or one-piece suit (kidding! Just seeing if you were paying attention).
"People are going to continue to see colour in the stores, but the colours are a lot richer and warmer compared to some of the brighter colours we've seen in the last few years," said Buchanan.
"Expect to see rich blues and purples, for example. We will have an amazing selection of ski apparel from top selling brands (Kjus, Bogner, Descente, Frauenschuh and Spyder), but also an increased selection of second layering pieces that can go from mountain to après."
Buchanan also notes the presence of environmentally conscientious companies entering the market. "Houdini is a Swedish outdoor company that offers a complete range of functional clothing, from underwear to shell garments," he explains. "Their vision is to help people experience more, perform better and have more fun, without leaving any impact on the environment."
Turkey Sale action takes place at the base of Blackcomb Mountain Oct.9 from noon until 9 p.m. for the locals/pass holders/EDGE card holders. Hours on Saturday are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m, Sunday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Monday 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.
SWAP hours are: Oct. 9: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (check in equipment at 3 p.m.), Oct.10: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (check in equipment between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.), Oct. 11: 9 a.m. to noon — blowout sale noon to 1 p.m. Unused gear must be picked up after that time or it will be donated to the Re-Use It Centre.
Pretty well every other retailer in Whistler has amazing Turkey Sales as well to blow out some of their 2015 stock, so make sure you check them out.
Also bring some cash! There will be credit card and debit machines on hand for merchandise purchases, but it's cash only for turkeys. Frozen turkeys will be on sale starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10 for $15. All proceeds from the Thanksgiving birds sold will go towards the Whistler Food Bank.
Happy shopping and swapping!
Whistler Blackcomb's Turkey Sale, Oct. 9-12 Shopping Tips
1. Make a shopping list Marching into the Turkey Sale without a plan can lead to anarchy shopping and possibly buyer's remorse. Decide what you need ahead of time and keep your eyes on the prize!
2. Research the gear Do your research before you walk into the mecca of winter gear. You can also dial in the right size for each brand, which will save you a ton of time and stress.
3. Size up early If you're in the market for new ski or snowboard boots, get your foot measured by a professional before you head to the Turkey Sale. This avoids poorly fitted boots and those unattractive blue toenails. Know before you go!
4. The early bird gets the worm The best deals are often snapped up quick, so lining up before the doors open can be worth the wait if you're looking for a specific in-demand product. Hint: skis and boards are hot ticket items!
5. If at first you don't succeed... Try, try again! New gear is put out every day, so if you didn't find what you were looking for on day one get a good nights' sleep and show up early the next day for round two.
6. Bring a friend If you're lining up early, you're likely going to need some coffee. A "friend" acts as the perfect coffee gopher. Friends are also honest, which is great when you are trying on those pants that just aren't "you."
7. Bring cash... there are actually turkeys for sale! There will be credit card and debit machines on hand for merchandise purchases, but it's cash-only for turkeys. Frozen turkeys will be on sale starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10 for $15. All proceeds from the Thanksgiving birds sold will go towards the Whistler Food Bank. Cheap. Meat. Enough said.
8. Exclusive Turkey Sale deals We know your phone is within reach... make sure to get the Whistler Blackcomb App (it's free!) so that you get updates on winter offers that are exclusive to the Turkey Sale. The App will be your friend all winter with snow and weather information, lift updates and daily deals and offers.
9. Sell your pre-owned gear at SWAP Need to clear out your old gear to make room for the new? Drop your used quality equipment for both kids and adults off at the "Sale With Awesome Prices," located at the base of Blackcomb. While you're there, browse the tent for deeply discounted clothing and accessories from Whistler Blackcomb's chain of retail outlets.
10. Free parking If you didn't know already, parking lots 4 and 5 are free, and located just a five-minute walk from the Turkey Sale in the Blackcomb Daylodge. Loaded down with too much gear to make the walk? Whistler Blackcomb will be operating a free shuttle throughout the weekend from Lots 4 and 5 to and from the Daylodge.
- Courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb
The Add Ons
It goes without saying that you need a lot more to enjoy the sliding sports these days than just the planks that go down hill. Here are some of the hot items for this season. Of course accessorizing is all about personal taste, so be sure to shop around and try everything out before you settle on your purchase. What fits one person may not be the right fit for you.
Goggles: Oakley Flight Deck Goggles $230
Synonymous with combining innovation and style, Oakley's Flight Deck goggles offer unrivalled peripheral vision with a wide range of helmet compatibility. The frames are made from flexible "O-Matter" material which conforms to your face comfortably, even in extreme cold, and are large enough to even fit over top of prescription glasses. An oversized 50mm wide adjustable strap is lined with silicone so that the goggles won't creep up and flip over the back of your helmet. Lenses can be easily swapped out to adapt for night skiing, bright sun, or white-out storm conditions, and have moisture-resistant anti-fog coating.
Helmet: XS Freeride helmet $99
OK, so you have a helmet for mountain biking, a helmet for skateboarding. A helmet for kayaking, a helmet for skiing and snowboarding. Isn't that sort of a waste of closet space? Vancouver helmet designer Christine Breakell thinks so, and has designed her XS Freeride helmet to cover the whole gamut of outdoor adventures. There's only one catch — they're only designed and sold in women's sizes. Available in eight colours and two sizes, the "winter version" uses fashionable faux-leather and fur ear covers and rocks a plush, stylish look. Pop off the ear pieces for summer sports and install the breathable, washable fitting pads to keep things snug yet breathable when the weather turns warm.
The XS Freeride is good enough to be worn by talented pro freeskier Lynsey Dyer, who could likely pretty much wear whatever she wants, so it's a big win for this small Canadian company.
Gloves: Arc'teryx Lithic $280
Arc'teryx devotees are so fanatical that they even get excited about gloves, even when they enter the market at a rather stratospheric $280 a pair. The Lithic glove swaps out the calf-skin leather that Arc'teryx used when it premiered its Alpha SV several years ago with a longer lasting, more durable synthetic palm. As you would expect from Arc'teryx, there's a ton of sophisticated engineering happening here, including three different thicknesses of Primaloft insulation, so that the glove is warm where you need it without compromising dexterity. Speaking of dexterity, the Lithic's triple-lobe finger design is so good that you can even zip up micro zipper pulls with ease.
Socks: Dissent Labs Ski GFX Compression Hybrid $47
With the tremendous number of sponsored freeriders inhabiting the Whistler ski and snowboard universe, you would think that it would be hard to find much to agree on from a gear or clothing POV. It's interesting, then, that virtually every big name athlete (OK, so Mike Douglas and Sean Pettit aren't here) wear Dissent Lab socks — especially the all-day backcountry guys like Hoji, Ian MacIntosh, Heimer, Stan Rey, KC Deane and up and comer James McSkimming. Since you can't see inside their boots, trust us when we say that you want Dissent's Ski GFX Compression Hybrid, which offers both the super-snug fit of a compression sock favoured by some racers and freeriders, with a layer of padded comfort that recreational skiers and riders love. Taking care of your feet might just be the best way to extend the enjoyment of your ski day, and Dissent Labs compression socks are one of the perfect solutions to tired, aching feet muscles.
Technology: Go Pro Session $390
Perhaps you've been delaying joining the GoPro generation because, well, you think the cameras really do look dorky on your helmet. The GoPro Session breaks with the past and presents a much lighter unit that is waterproof to 10 metres (including its own waterproof housing) in a sleek, unobtrusive cube format that's half the size of its existing Hero models. Aimed at the "point and shoot" amateur who might be intimidated by the multiple shooting modes and options of more advanced models, the Session's QuickCapture mode is essentially a foolproof "always on" button that starts recording seconds after the push of a button.
Pants: Patagonia PowSlayer Bibs $699
Sometimes, a product name just says it all, and you can bet if Patagonia is calling their pants "pow slayers" that you'll stay warm and dry from Fresh Tracks all the way through to last run. Pow slayers know that when the snow gets deep, nothing beats a high waist bib for repelling snow. And while the knock against bibs is that they're often heavy and bulky, the Gore-Tex Pro fabric is made from a new super-light, super-breathable nylon ripstop iteration that offers the highest level of durably waterproof/breathable and windproof protection. These pants are nicely articulated in both knees and hips for maximum mobility when post-holing up steep chutes and the internal gaiter seals out snow around the boot top. Dig the cool Peppergrass Green colour, too. For a matching twin-set, the PowSlayer Jacket ($799) is also available.
Mid-Layer: Lululemon Passage to Prana Pullover $148
The world's favourite yogawear maker might not be top of mind when it comes to cold mountain sports, but the Passage to Prana pullover ($148) is worth considering. The ribbed, lofty neckline is a bit of a throwback to loose turtlenecks favoured by glamorous ski celebrities in the 1970s and it's made from Merino wool, the insulating layer of choice of not just the hardcore backcountry crowd but fashionistas, too. A drop hem at the back prevents chilly drafts from intruding, and voila, hidden within the turtleneck are secret buttons that transform the t-neck into a racy cowl to keep your head warm. And it looks oh so much better than a fleece pullover when matched with dressy tights for a night in the village. Right now the only catch is that you'll have to wait until November to see it.
Jacket: Westcomb APOC Hooded Shell $500
This terrifically designed jacket is made from Polartec's premium quality NeoShell — a membrane bonded fabric specifically engineered to keep precipitation out and allow perspiration to escape. The first thing you notice is that the Apoc is incredibly light and easy to store in a stuff sac. But don't let the flyweight fabric fool you — Neoshell is more than up to the task of repelling wet snow, wind, and rain. Secondly, unlike Gore-Tex and its imitators that are known as "hard shell" jackets, NeoShell offer a bit of fabric stretch that makes it "quiet" in windy conditions, making it ideal for more aerobic sports like Nordic skiing and even winter bike riding. The superbly shaped hoood cinches up tightly but is spacious enough to fit over a helmet. The only catch is that the Apoc isn't actually available in Whistler. No matter, it's well worth the trip to town (North Shore Ski and Board, or Alpine Start Outfitters) to check out. The Apoc is also available on-line.
New gear for the slackcountry, and the backcountry
Whistler Blackcomb had thousands of acres of "slackcountry" well before the term was coined (I'm laying claim to it, by the way, but a lot of people seem to prefer "sidecountry").
Slackcountry is wild, un-managed terrain outside of a ski area boundary that you can use the lifts to get to, and frankly, it's the one aspect of the snow industry that has shown continuous increases in sales over the past decade, when other categories (hello, racing skis!) have been in steady decline.
That's because most people love to ski and board powder, and most resorts with high-speed lifts have had their powder pretty much shredded by 11:00 a.m. (well, 9:30 a.m., if it's on a weekend). Which is why you see all of those boot tracks going out of bounds (sometimes, waaay out of bounds) at Whistler Blackcomb.
James Retty, owner of the Escape Route, offers plenty of great advice on the newest trends in backcountry gear, but begins with these observations on the Whistler scene.
"The biggest change in recent years has been from a reactive mindset — what happens once an avalanche incident takes place; to being pro-active before you go," says Retty.
"We call this 'social awareness,' where there is more group decision making about things like who the weakest skier in a group might be, and talking about our personal comfort level in terrain, rather than just following blindly behind whoever is in front."
For 2016, Retty expects to sell more avalanche safety backpacks and is especially keen on the new Black Diamond Jet Force technology. Unlike other companies (ABS, Mammut, BCA), which used compressed gas canisters to inflate the air bag, Black Diamond uses a small electric fan, which offers several advantages.
"Canister airbags are one-use," says Retty. "You pull the cord, the bag inflates, and that's it. The avalanche bag for the (Black Diamond) can be rolled up and re-used again."
Another potentially life-saving feature is that the fan's engine runs for several minutes while the air bag deflates. When slides happen, the noise and commotion of the event is often replaced by an eerie silence. Having the sound of the motor break the stillness of the air might help locate someone more quickly. Having the bag deflate also creates much needed air space around the buried victim's head to facilitate breathing.
Retty praises both Black Diamond and Mammut for offering full protection for the head and neck as well as the side.
"When you're tumbling in an avalanche, fatalities often occur due to trauma from hitting trees or ice chunks as much as through suffocation," he says. "These two bags offer protection around the head, neck, and upper torso."
Avalanche transceivers continue to improve, with multiple antennae and digital readouts that both shorten search times and make beacons easy for novices to handle, especially in multiple-burial scenarios where there's often a lot of confusion about where signals are coming from.
Says Retty: "Parties often waste precious time digging up and shutting off a transceiver, which is time that could be used for searching for someone else."
Beacons like the Mammut Barryvox Pulse have LCD indicators that show how many beacons are missing, rather than focusing on the closest burial.
When it comes to ski boots for touring and lifts, the line has truly begun to blur, with traditional ski companies like K2, Atomic, and Salomon even introducing tour-friendly boots with "tech" fittings to accommodate bindings like the G3 Ion, Dynafit Radical, and the much-anticipated Marker Kingpin 13, perhaps the most robust "tech" binding ever made.
The suggested list on the Marker is over $600. Still, it's the kind of binding that has "game changer" written all over it.
Retty gives full credit to Whistler resident and Arc'teryx sponsored athlete Eric Hjorleifson for his input in designing Dynafit's new Khion line of boots that will greatly enhance Dynafit's reputation as "power boots" suitable for ripping fast, big mountain turns in a variety of conditions.
For snow sliders and snowshoers venturing deeper into the backcountry for an overnight trip, Retty is enthusiastic about the evolution of down sleeping bags and even down-filled sleeping pads.
"The addition of waterproof down has greatly enhanced sleeping comfort in cold, damp weather, while the down-filled sleeping pads prevent body warmth from escaping into the snow," he says.
"Several of the major sleeping-bag companies including Mountain Hardwear and Big Agnes have developed this technology. Exped's DownMat has proven to be truly revolutionary when it comes to providing insulation on cold, snowy surfaces, but it does come with a hefty $265 price tag."
Retty helpfully points out that the advantage to buying a premium sleeping pad is that you don't need to shell out as much for a four-season bag, and in fact you might even be able to get away with your three season bag, especially if you modify it with a liner.