It rains a lot in Whistler, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing (without it Whistler probably wouldn’t be here at all. See #1 on the list)
Did you know that Whistler’s surrounding landscape is rain forest? Our eco-region is the Pacific temperate rainforest and it’s one of the most endangered types of rainforests on the planet.
We live in a remarkable ecosystem and here are just a few reasons we should all be very, very thankful for the rain:
1. It’s the reason Whistler Blackcomb exists
Photo taken on Whistler Mountain. Credit Mike Crane
Whistler is the Goldilocks of ski resorts. We’re close enough the Pacific Ocean to receive a higher than average rainfall, and just high enough above sea-level that in the winter the rain falls as snow. It is this delicate balance that has helped to make Whistler Blackcomb one of the top ski resorts in the world.
Every year, our region of Pacific temperate rain forest gets between 250 and 450 centimetres (98 inches and 177 inches) of rainfall.
2. We have ancient trees as old at 1100 years
Photo take at the Ancient Cedars Loop on Cougar Mountain, 20 mins north of Whistler Village
Most of Whistler’s sub-alpine forest is around 200 – 400 years old, but on Sunday October 7th 2012 ecologist Bob Brett officially recorded Whistler’s oldest tree as being between 1100 – 1200 years old. This yellow-cedar is so wide that Bob’s increment borer (used to collect core samples) wasn’t long enough to reach the middle of the tree, but the sample he collected contained 1,017 rings.
The trees here can grow all year-round because most of the annual rain falls in the winter (instead of the summer, like it does in the tropical rain forest), giving the trees a much longer growing period.
To be classified at ‘old growth’, provincial regulations state that the forest must be 250 years old or more.
3. We can call 25% of the world’s temperate rainforest our home
There are only 7 regions of temperate rain forest in the world, and Whistler just happens to be nestled in the only one in North America. This Pacific region of temperate rain forest also happens to be the largest single pocket – accounting for almost 25% of the world’s total temperate rain forest – and it is broken up in to three main patches:
A small patch along the Appalachian Mountains in the United States
The inland rain forest found in southeastern British Columbia and adjacent United States
A narrow band along the coast of the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to northern California
Sidebar: The Amazon rain forest is the largest tropical rain forest in the world at 5,500,000 km², but our temperate rain forest is far smaller and intensive commercial logging has destroyed more than 90% of the native rain forests in our region.
4. Alpine meadows that are ablaze with flowers in the summer
Photo taken in the Whistler Blackcomb alpine. Credit Mike Crane
In sunlit openings, the forest floor is cloaked with shrubs and flowers such as False Azalea, White-flowered Rhododendron, Copperbush and blueberries. These plants (all part of the heath family) do very well here because many other plants cannot tolerate the cool, damp, and acidic environment of the snow forest floor in a temperate rain forest.
The temperate rain forests of British Columbia can be divided up in to four zones. Whistler is in the coastal western hemlock and mountain hemlock zones.
5. Super. Natural. Wildlife.
Our coastal temperate rain forest environment produces an extraordinary amount of biomass, compared to tropical rain forests. This increased volume of biomass is what allows our rain forest to support so many large animals like black bears, cougars and grizzlies.
In the temperate rain forest of British Columbia, spruce, cedar, hemlock and fir line the banks of steep-walled fjords; grizzly bears fish for salmon in crystal-clear, green rivers; playful black bears roam through alpine meadows in search of berries; and oak, juniper and arbutus grow on the sandy banks of our islands as eagles and sea ducks fish for spawning herring.
Sidebar: Although most of the biomass of any forest is found in the trees themselves, coastal rain forests have an incredibly diverse shrub layer that allows the growth of skunk cabbage, sedges and berries – some of our black bear’s favourite food.
6. Presence of lichen indicates good air quality
Lichen is a well-known indicator of air quality and, generally, it cannot survive in polluted urban areas. However, here in Whistler lichen can still be found in some of the forests around the village – although, in much lower density than it is found higher up the mountain away from human activity.
There are two types of hair lichen that commonly drape the trees of our temperate rain forest – the pale green coloured witch’s hair lichen (shown above) and the dark brown horsehair lichen. Lichen does not feed from the tree, nor is it attached. It simply floats from tree to tree during mountain storms and can sometimes be older than the tree itself.
7. Warm and dry summers
Photo taken at Lost Lake in Whistler Villages
From late spring to early fall, high pressure to the west keeps the coastal temperate rain forest region dry and warm. Luckily for people who enjoy long days of hiking, biking and relaxing outside in the summer, the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest receive most of their rain from November to March.
So next time it’s raining in Whistler, whisper a little thank you for everything the rain brings with it!