The view from the top 

Whistler Mountain gears up for summer sightseers, and their questions

As I set out from the top of the gondola on my way to the peak of Whistler the first rays of the morning sun sent wisps of mist rising from the road still damp from the night's rain. The air was crystal clear and every detail of the distant peaks and glaciers was etched against a dark blue sky. That was last summer and as Mountain Host-of-the-day it was my job to greet the few visitors who made it all the way to the top – answer their questions and give them information about the mountains and the village.

A lady from Kansas was among the first to arrive at the top that day. She was breathless, not so much from the climb, as from the view. "It's beautiful," she kept repeating "It's just beautiful! I've always dreamed of coming to the Canadian Rockies but it's even more beautiful than I imagined."

I didn't have the heart to tell her until much later that she wasn't in the Rockies. To this lady it didn't matter whether the Peak of Whistler was in Timbuktu or the land of Oz. To her, at that moment she was standing on top of the world, utterly spellbound by the majesty of her surroundings. "You're so lucky to live in such a beautiful place," she told me, and I had to agree.

It sometimes takes a visitor to remind us just how special our mountains are. In the winter, when getting to the top is just the beginning of another run down, when catching that last patch of untracked powder is more important than stopping to look across the valley, the view gets little more than an appreciative glance from most of us. But things are different in the summer. When the skiing is over and the pace of life on the mountain slows down it's the view that lures people to the top. And it's the memory of that view that visitors take back to Kansas and a thousand other places around the world.

In the old days, back when winter endowed us with enough snow to last well into summer, early-season sightseers could hitch a ride to the peak in a snow cat. In recent years experiments with Hummers and horses got a few folks to the top but for most getting there meant a long hike up the service road from the top of the gondola. This year things are different. Hang on to your hats folks! For the first time ever the Peak Chair is whisking summer sightseers up to the top. And for those brave enough to launch back off the summit, it will take them down again.

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