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Callaghan Valley: The First Ski
By:  Tom McCarthy   (2008/01/22)


I have been writing for several years about the Callaghan Valley on this website. [1, 2, 3, 4] My first article questioned why the site was chosen, with some doubts about its viability from a long-term perspective. The site opened mid-December, and I had a chance to ski it this weekend.

I should note that the name of the actual facility is the ‘Whistler Olympic Park’ – I’m not sure if that’ll stick, or if the Callaghan Valley moniker will be how it is known.

The location:

The valley is the next one over from the valley that Whistler Village sits in. It splits off from Hwy 99 about 10k before Whistler – and the road to drive into the race trails is about 10k long, making it almost exactly the same distance from Vancouver as Whistler is. As you drive up the road from Hwy 99, the snowbanks grow visibly on either side – in just 10k, the snowbanks go from moderate to insane, with somewhere around 8 feet of snow on either side of the car. The road is twisty, and the first sight you see around a corner is the two ski-jumps tucked neatly into the forest on a slope that looks as if it has the perfect angle for it. Relative to lots of jumps I’ve seen, these fit the slope profile and surroundings almost perfectly; even the plateau at the bottom is a natural stopping point. The jumps are right beside the Nordic venue. The buildings at the venue are very incomplete, but they will be nice, compact, and comfortable.

The valley itself is stunning. On a sunny day, you can see the surrounding mountains, capped by thick glaciers and loads and loads of snow. From certain viewpoints, the Black Tusk peers at you from the east, on the other side of Hwy 99. Further up the valley, if you were to venture up there, is Callaghan Country, a well-known lodge and backcountry ski/snowmobile centre. It is a winter paradise.

The race trails:

The stadium is nice – not the biggest stadium I’ve ever seen, but compact enough and set in a great spot. The stadium leads out into a hill and splits immediately into the skate and classic courses – a 5k each (with other shorter courses clearly marked). The skate courses are the blue signs, the classic the red. I think we skied the whole skate course on Sunday, but I’m not entirely sure.

The race trails are the best race trails I’ve ever skiied. They are beautiful, stunning, and flow better than any race trails. They are wide – as wide as a World Cup needs – and are designed to absolute perfection. The corners are graded extremely well, allowing max speed to be carried around them. The hills are long enough, but not ridiculous, and are interspersed with fun downs, fast corners, and good flats to pick up speed on. They are very compact – 10k of courses squished into what I believe is 1 square kilometre of space – but you never feel right beside another trail, because the tree removal has been done so expertly. It feels as if you are skiing away from the stadium, and then you naturally pop out into an area just metres away from where you started.

I don’t know what else to say about the trails. They are great, and are more than worthy of any race and any format. I am confident they’ll be a huge hit once Nationals rolls around – everyone is going to love them. That is, if it’s not dumping snow.

The Recreational Trails:

The rec trails are also amazing. If this site is going to be commercially viable, then they have done their absolute best to make it so. These trails are decidedly easier than the race trails – as they should be – but are groomed to perfection, are very well graded, and are rolling. We didn’t ski all the rec trails, far from it, but what we did ski led to some fabulous views of the valley, and into some pretty neat terrain. There is supposed to be one awesome long loop up into the valley, but we didn’t have time to ski that.

The rec trails have also been designed to link all the trail systems together, including the parking lots, the biathlon trails and area, and the cross-country trails. They provide a perfect place for a great cross-country warm-up – you can access them without ever crossing a race trail.

We skied some of the biathlon trails as well – the stadium is very close the x-c stadium (about 300m), but seems far away because of the trail design. Those trails were at least on par with the cross-country. They are a little more rolling, and have different geography.

Overall Impressions:

I cannot find enough words that describe how awesome the Callaghan Valley is as a place to ski. If it is going to succeed as a destination resort, they have done the work with the trails to make it so. The snow quality is amazing, the grooming spectacular, the trails are beyond compare. John Aalberg, the course designer, has really put together a masterpiece. I am excited to see the World Cups and Olympics come together there, and excited to see the future of this incredible facility. I hope that a long-term, viable business plan can ensure the centre’s growth and stability. It would be a crime not to take advantage of this Nordic treasure.

Callaghan Valley is ready for racing!

Interesting Reading. . .
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