31 December, 2009

Spearhead Traverse - The Old, New, And Future

The Spearhead Traverse is one of the best training grounds in the West Coast.  The first traverse in May 1964, was tackled by a group of students in the Varsity Outdoor Club, and was one of the first extended high alpine ski traverses in the Coast Range.  It's first traverse was done in 9 days, and with no lifts, pure and simple.  Today the traverse is done in hours or days, depending on how much skiing the party wants, and how fast people want to move.

Pure traverses these days are rarely done, as Blackcomb's lifts are usually taken to gain access to the alpine, rather than going valley to valley and peak to peak.  A quick shortcut is usually taken on single day traverses and speed traverses, Singing Pass an escape route from the bottom of Cowboy Ridge, which eliminates multiple uphills to Whistler Peak.  Both multi-day parties and faster day parties do usually skip the last few uphills forgoing the pure and classic finish.
(photo left:  Dave Booth Climbing The Tremor Glacier)
The first traverse in a single day was by done by Brian Finnie, Brian Sheffield, and Graham Underhill in 1984. At the time, this was a visionary speed traverse, which now gets repeated on a regular basis.  Stano Faban skied a cool speed variation starting in the Village and finishing in the Village, also going all the way to the top of Whistler before skiing down, in just 8 hours and 10 minutes!  New variations include Greg Hill's 13 hour 32 minute epic not only doing the traverse from the valley up, but enchaining 11 peaks along the way, and gaining 20, 600 ft of elevation.  Currently, it looks as if Greg has the speed record for the traverse as well, skiing from the Boundary sign on Blackcomb to Whistler Village in 4 hours 1 minute.  The only contender for this record would be Keith Reid, but there is no official time available.

With all these what is there left?  There is always more we can do.  More variations, faster times, and creative enchainments can easily be thought up.  The traverse done from the lifts links together 13 glaciers, almost all above 2100m, and holds about 2000m of elevation gain.  Peaks and steep descents are waiting for new link ups.  In a time where we thought everything has been done, creativity and a new perspectives hide in shadow, where new possibilities of the Spearhead are waiting to be found.  (photo right:  Ty Petrusic on The Overlord Glacier)

To time your speed on the Spearhead, start your time at the Blackcomb Boundary sign, and stop it in Whistler Village, so there is consistency to these results.


  1. I know one guy who works at MEC who drove from Vancouver, skied up Blackcomb from the valley, exited over the bumps and then drove back home, all in 19 hours. He told me he was a little tired on the drive back. :-)

  2. What was his time skiing? Hopefully if there are lots of comments we can get a standard time for all the different variations.

  3. I am quite honored to be mentioned in this article Alex, thanks!

    I still have the log file of the day in my watch, have to download it before I mistakenly erase it.

    And yes, there is a lot more of these to be done. I am a big fan of such efforts and I know Alex you are too. Lets keep finding new objectives for the years to come.

  4. Hello,

    Did the Spearhead from the valley bottom, through blackomb galcier road and col. Sat June 4 rd, 2011. Started from valley bottom at 3:42, finished top of Whistler pic at 11:46 am (8 hours ich). The descent was messy because of roads switchback and lack of snow at the bottom...It was my 1st time on the route so heistated a few times, great condition (could not be better with corn snow, and solo. Fun tour. I am not sure where the "official start and arrival is, beleive is the blackomb base...

    Would be great to make a friendly race; I beleive it is juts not possible beacause of liability issues...

    Bruno Bagneres.

  5. Hey Bruno, nice work! That's a great time. This spring has been perfect for spring ski touring! Official start for the pure is Whistler Village as is the finish, but a Blackcomb Base start would work as well.

    We have talked in depth with all the Whistler race organizers, but really need big funding to make the race go legally. There has been a renegade race going, the 'Blackcomb to Blacks' but hasn't seen people wanting to push themselves hard for awhile.

    Glad to hear you got around and enjoyed it, such a spectacular trip!

  6. With 4 others, I completed the Spearhead in 4 skiing days (with a diversion back to Whistler for stitches), in 1983, one year before the Finnie, Sheffield, and Underhill traverse. We called it the "Separation Pay Traverse" (funded by MEC).

    We weren't trying to set any records, weighted down as we were with giant backpacks, but we moved along well enough to enjoy the skiing (dropping packs and reascending some slopes for unburdened fun) as well as the scenery.