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Thoughts from the Alps: A French journalist visits Whistler

I’m always intrigued by the first-time impressions of a newcomer to Whistler. And never more so than when they happen to come from a French journalist. Why? Simple — boasting the most dominant big-mountain tourism economy in the world, France makes our own inroads into that business seem quite modest by comparison.

Am I exaggerating to make a point? I don’t think so…

Consider: in the great Tarentaise Valley — a piece of French mountain country roughly stretching the same distance as from Pemberton to Squamish — there are 10 different resorts the size of Whistler-Blackcomb. Ten. And that’s in just one Savoyard valley! Add in the Chamonix resorts that ring Mont Blanc or the ones in Portes du Soleil or even the monster-sized ones south of Grenoble (not to mention the smaller operations in the southern Alps and the Pyrenees ad the Massif Central) and you have an industry that serves millions of skiers and riders — per day!

Now we speak quite highly of our vertical drop at Whistler. And by North American standards, it is indeed impressive. But in the French Alps, a vertical drop of less than 2,000 metres is ordinary by comparison. Heck, you can ski over 8,000 vertical feet right off Chamonix’s Aiguilles du Midi tram. Same thing goes in La Grave…

Sure, some of you might argue that snow conditions rarely render the lower elevations skiable anymore in Europe. Still, when the snow is good from peak to valley, there are few places in the world that can compare.

So what the heck would a young French ski writer be doing at Whistler? Why would someone so blessed at home travel halfway around the world to experience what we have here? When I asked Mathieu Ros these questions, the 32 year old just laughed. The editor of the newly-refurbished Ski Francais Magazine, Ros is a die-hard big-mountain rider. But he’s also crazy about what the French call VTT. And according to him, there’s no better lift-accessed mountain bike riding in the world than Whistler.

“I’ve never been to Whistler in the winter,” says Ros almost self-consciously. “That’s because in Europe — and the French Alps in particular — Whistler is most associated in people’s minds with summer mountain biking. My expectations were very high before coming here. Like every other French VTT rider I had visions of great coastal forests and manicured trails — of riding on endless wooden bridges and dropping big vertical…”

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