Put two great ski mountains side by side, each with more than 5,000 feet of vertical - the most in North America - and you’ve got the first hint of what it’s like to play on the slopes of Whistler/Blackcomb, 75 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Cover them with 200 marked trails on 6,998 acres of skiable terrain and you’ll begin to sense why this dual resort area is one that an increasing number of Americans are as determined as their Canadian ski friends to keep secret. Their efforts are an abysmal failure.

Then give skiers everything from endless miles of easy greens to low intermediate to top expert trails, glacier skiing, wide bowls, steep glades, and some nonstop runs that weave and wind from their summits, each

about 1,500 feet above treeline, to their bases, and you’ll understand why both Snow Country and Ski magazine readers consider this the outstanding ski resort complex in North America.

Here’s an enticing summary of the skiing:

Whistler has an elevation of 7,165 feet and a vertical drop of 5,020 feet. Neighbor Blackcomb has an elevation of 7,494 feet and a vertical of 5,280 feet. The base elevation is 2,145 feet. On both, the skiing above timberline is, basically, for high intermediates and experts only. There are seven alpine bowls, one of which is a glacier, on Whistler; five bowls, two of which are glaciers, on Blackcomb. These offer better skiers unlimited ways to get down from the summit.

Since the resort is almost adjacent to the ocean, there are more cloudy days on the two mountains than is usual at ski resorts.

Blackcomb is served by one eight-person gondola, six quads, three triple chairlifts, and three surface lifts. Whistler has a 10-person gondola, four high-speed quads, three triple chairlifts, one double, and five surface lifts. More are planned.

While the two mountains are separated by the steep Fitzsimmons Valley, the lifts link up at the base of each gondola. For the summer enthusiasts, two ski lifts and half-pipes for shredders are open on Blackcomb’s Horstman Glacier from mid-June to August.

Whistler/Blackcomb has a rich variety of excellent teaching programs for skiers as well as snowboarders.

There are 28 km of cross-country groomed track runs that range from nothing more difficult than a golf course to the expert level.

Child care is available for infants as young as 18 months. There are lessons, private and group, for the 5-to-12-year-olds. At night, the youngsters have their own ball in the Wonderland Amusement Arcade with everything from video games to pool tables.

The “town” of Whistler - really three villages with some 150 shops - is remarkably similar to the quaint ski resorts of Europe, with chalets, condominiums, ski houses, and small B&Bs. Perhaps half have ski-in, ski - out convenience. All are connected by local buses.

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