Scenes From A Whistler junket

My boss sent me to Canada, and all I got was this lousy hangover.

When we finally reached the top of the gondola at Whistler Mountain, two men wearing fake mustaches and lederhosen greeted us with what I took for Bavarian accordion music. My glass of warm mulled wine (served during the lift's brief pause at a midway station some 15 minutes earlier) needed a refill. Because the subject of my assignment—the Men's World Cup downhill races—had been canceled due to inclement weather, I decided to make the most of my weekend.

So there I was, along with several dozen VIPs (including Whistler's top supplier of fleece jackets), at a mountaintop cocktail party celebrating Whistler's new Roundhouse lodge. The Roundhouse is a gargantuan lunch spot whose proportions echo the staggering acreage of skiable terrain outside its doors, as well as the saccharin charm of the Whistler Village aesthetic. The Village, located roughly 5,000 vertical feet below the Roundhouse, is so artificial that its Starbucks, Gap, and Eddie Bauer outlets seem refreshingly organic.

Down below, it's spring break in December. I assume it's like this every Friday night: A waitress at the Longhorn Saloon, wearing crisscrossed belts of shot glasses on her chest like rounds of ammunition, poured tequila while one of her colleagues fended off a bald man who had just pinched her butt. A more civilized scene of Scotch drinkers and cigar smokers was found at the Savage Beagle Bar just down the Village's pedestrian causeway. My companion and I moseyed over to Max Fish, another bar, to dance with a slightly more "alternative" set. (The bouncer wore sunglasses!)

Apr鳭ski atmosphere aside, the slopes here are unmatchable. Between Whistler Mountain and its neighbor, Blackcomb, there's 7,000 acres of ski area, three enclosed gondolas, 13 high-speed lifts, more than 200 marked trails, 12 bowls, and three glaciers. There's heli-skiing nearby and services to hire a snowmobile guide who can whisk you to the top of untracked backcountry terrain. The only problem is the weather. Not the snow—the snow's almost always plentiful. The area is prone to fog.

Whistler's new high-speed quad to the mountain's peak replaces a rickety, slow-moving triple chair; skiers and snowboarders are zoomed to Whistler's great mogul-pocked bowl and some of the best runs in the world (see the Cirque, Steffan's Chute, and Frog Hollow). Unfortunately on this weekend, thanks to low clouds, the lift was nowhere in sight. (We enjoyed more moderate terrain serviced by the Harmony chairlift on the northern, clearer side of Whistler.) The downhill and super-G races, meant to kick off this season's World Cup circuit, were canceled because it was almost impossible to see past your ski tips once out of the starting gate. This is the third year in a row that Whistler has had to cancel the event, putting in serious jeopardy the area's recently announced bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

 
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