Having been lucky enough to grow up in Whistler I’ve always considered myself a bit of a wilderness expert, but I’ve got nothing on Michael Allen. For the past 20 years Michael has been studying and photographing Whistler’s resident black bear population, particularly the females and cubs who live on the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Last week I was invited to tag along for one of Michael’s Bear Viewing Tours on Blackcomb.

Whistler locals see a lot of bears, in fact The Whistler Insider even has a Best places to spot a bear blog post, but this trip with Michael was pretty mind-blowing. We saw over a dozen bears in three hours, including yearlings and cubs. You never get desensitized to the cuteness of a bear cub.

And no one in BC has ever studied black bears to the extent Michael Allen has. He can recognize individual bears by their markings and recite each bear’s family history and unique personality: we saw three generations of mother bears on our tour. Michael takes thousands of photographs of the bears every year and shares his genuine passion and knowledge with each load of guests he tours up onto the grassy ski slopes.

A Whistler Bear Viewing Tour is an incredible way to not only see wild black bears up close and personal but also to learn more about the species and dispel some of the myths people have about them. A trip up the hill with Michael Allen is one of the wildest and most uniquely satisfying experiences Whistler has to offer, even for a “wilderness expert” like me.


Feet Banks moved to Whistler at age 12 so his parents could live the dream and ski as much as possible. He ended up living it too. After leaving home Feet did a few good stints in warmer climates and 4 years of writing school before returning to the mountains to make ski movies, hammer out a journalism career and avoid the 9-5 lifestyle as long as possible. He’s been a hay farmer, a hole digger, a magazine editor and has a jump named after him on Blackcomb Mountain, Feet’s Air. It’s tiny.