The falling of stars 

Is light pollution blotting out Whistler's spectacular night sky?

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM
   
 

Page 10 of 11

He says, "I can't shoot in certain directions, for example, because there's a major impact of glow from Vancouver and the Fraser Valley — and it's strong and it's there all night and you can't avoid it. Sometimes it makes for interesting photos, but it's hard to avoid ambient light unless you can get really far away from all lights in general, like really far away from civilization."

With long exposures and sensitive lenses, even small amounts of light pollution can impact his landscapes.

That said, however, he still likes to shoot from local parks like Rainbow and Lakeside after dark, especially when there's aurora borealis, "the northern lights" like there was for a few days this summer during a period of intense solar flare activity. For other shots, he likes to hike into the backcountry like Russet Lake or over the top of Rainbow to the Hanging Lake area. "But you really don't have to go that far," to see stars, says McColm, "All you need to do is go to Alta Lake or Lost Lake. Take a blanket and lie down. It's always worth it."

McColm thinks the night sky is a lost opportunity for Whistler, an attraction the resort should do more to promote. He's met people from around the world on his late night hikes, people who have never really seen the stars before, and he says the effect is profound:

"I was in Banff National Park one time because there was a chance that aurora borealis would be going off, and I arrived at the lookout before the sun went down and took a few shots. It was obvious I was going to spend the night at the lookout. A random couple from Holland came by to see what I was doing, and they ended up staying with me to see it too. They went to sleep, and at 2 a.m. (the northern lights came) and I woke them up and it was stunning. They got to see it for the first time ever. I don't know if we could ever do something like that here, but they were completely blown away. When they talk about Canada, that's what they're going to remember."

Like Nemy, McColm sees any light that's not completely necessary as a waste of resources. "Christmas lighting there's a need for, there's a focus on tourists and it's part of the experience," he says. "But looking at the bus depot — standing on the mountain and looking down at the village, that facility always just jumps out at me.

"In the summer you can see the ball diamonds from up there, and I assume the lights are on because they're being used. But there are buildings that are not serving any function at that time of day other than having lights on, and I think those lights should be shut off or put on dimmers. It would save money, and I think we'd all appreciate the view a bit more."

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