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PIque n' your interest

Adrift in a sea of mountains

Whistler has Banff envy

As I stroll down Banff Avenue beneath a wall of skyscraper peaks, their lyrical names tumble around in my head. Cascade, Sulphur, Rundle.

I left Pemberton the day before and as I rounded lazy curves through the Coast Range, my mind drifted off into a sea of mountains. Cayoosh, Joffre, Matier.

A pungent aroma of sage and the sweet scent of pine mix in the air as I descend down to the arid plateau that extends past Lillooet into the Interior, along the rivers towards Cache Creek, Walhachin, Savona.

The dry, brown landscape gives way as I approach the Monashee Mountains east of Salmon Arm. Back into deep green forests of cedar and hemlock that surround Sicamous, Craigallachie, Malakwa.

Up, up, up from Revelstoke into the Selkirks and through Rogers Pass, an alley of avalanche chutes and snowsheds. Names like Asulkan, Illecillewaet, Ursus pass by my open window.

Down, down, down the other side of the pass, past the Purcells and into the Rocky Mountain Trench, finally some sleep in Golden below Dogtooth, Moonraker, Copperstain.

I drive into the Rockies the next morning, through mountains that were the bottom of the sea millions of years ago. Yoho, Wapta, Takakkaw.

Lake Louise, all prim and proper, is pushed up against the bottom of a glacier in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Victoria, Lefroy, Temple.

I arrive in Banff, at last, and try to get my bearings. My body is still moving to a wave-like rhythm, tired from all the travel.

The peaks that surround Banff are ? literally ? a sharp contrast to the glaciated massifs visible from Whistler.

The air smells different here in the Rocky Mountains and I get the feeling ? something that?s almost tangible ? that I am somewhere powerful.

It?s different than the feeling I get skirting around the base of Mount Currie each morning on my way into Whistler.

Banff was established as a tourist town in 1886, almost 100 years before Whistler was made into a resort municipality.

The fledgling townsite was developed as a way to lure tourists onto the new Canadian Pacific Railway. Then the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise were built and staffed with Swiss mountain guides. The rest is history.

But this history, this mountain culture is on display everywhere and more than four-million visitors make their way to Banff each year to spend time shipwrecked in the mountains.

High above town are the steep slopes of Mount Norquay, which first opened for skiing in 1926. Five different museums display the area?s natural and human history, and more than 50 different heritage buildings line the town?s streets.

Below the shadow of Tunnel Mountain, the Banff Centre sits on a hill overlooking the Bow River. The centre hosts and supports a number of artists and writers throughout the year and is arguably ground-zero for Canadian and global mountain culture.

Each November, the centre is home to the world-renowned Banff Mountain film and book festivals that attracts mountain junkies from around the globe.

Down the Trans-Canada Highway in Canmore, the Alpine Club of Canada?s clubhouse is a good place to sit by the fireplace, sip a beer, shoot the breeze and browse through a large library of mountain literature.

The Banff area is also home to the 1988 Winter Olympics and World Cup ski and mountain bike races.

Whistler, however, has a long way to go in the mountain culture department. There?s no collective memory here. No more Rainbow Lodge or Toad Hall. No Skier?s Chapel or Dusty?s.

No arts centre or film festival. No World Cup races or Olympics. It?s all been washed away beneath a tide of greed and development.

But there is one constant here ? the mountains. Spearhead, Overlord, Black Tusk.

Just look up at the alpine as the sun sets in the western sky, turning the peaks to orange, then peach, then pink, and then you might understand why there is hope.

Despite Whistler?s recent history, there is ? as the saying goes ? no time like the present. Because without embracing its heritage and promoting its culture, Whistler will be forever lost, adrift in Western Canada?s endless sea of mountains. Coast, Columbia, Rocky.

? Greig Bethel