Christmas time at Whistler — lots to be happy about 

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"Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us — what happens with the rest?"

- Amadeu de Prado

We were hanging out in the alpine, waiting for the sun to set. Clear skies, relatively warm temperature, great snow: it was one of those rare coast mountain afternoons where the weather gods had conspired together to provide the prefect winter setting. Black Tusk was resplendent in the day's last light. And the Tantalus Range, well, its mountains were mighty tantalizing on this day. Oh yeah, and the date: 12-12-12. A moment to remember, for sure.

In the old days, we would have been alone. I mean, the Peak lift had closed hours ago. The patrol's last sweep was long passed. But this is the 21st century. Whistler's reputation is such now that secret spots and sunset idylls are no longer reserved for the old guard.

To our right, a well-heeled posse of Swedish boys was donning climbing skins and screwing in their Go Pros for a filmed assault on some obscure destination. Decked out in the primary colours of this year's fashion palette — with all the right labels and, of course, all the required "freeskiing" accessories — they looked nothing so much as a band of skiing Smarties on their way to a kid's party.

But they were happy. Really happy.

To our left, a gaggle of Quebecois snowboarders was whooping it up off a little kicker they'd built over a mini-cliff drop. One after another, each rider took his turn risking life and limb for an opportunity to display his prowess for the camera. For of course, it was all being filmed — probably getting posted on Facebook or YouTube as we watched! There weren't a lot of primary colours among this group, however. Mud seemed to be the dominant shade. Oh yeah, and nothing matched. It was like they'd picked their clothes at random out of some sports-store reject bin.

But they were having fun. Lots of fun.

"Think of how many generations of riders have leaped off that little knoll at sunset," I remarked to one of my companions. He smiled. Snickered. "Yeah," he said. "And think how many have smacked themselves on the landing..." And a flood of memories came dancing through my head. Nearly forty years' worth — all the way back to when ol' Jim McConkey first led me in this direction during my rookie year at Whistler.

Back then everything was a discovery. The powder. The mountains. The whacky band of crazies that lived in the valley. It was like I'd finally discovered a place that was wilder than me. That could absorb my energy. That could inspire me to push harder, aim higher. It was like I'd found the ideal lover. Harsh and demanding at times, sure (only when I needed it though), but so sexy and seductive that I was mostly helpless before her charms. And that feeling, you know, has never left me.

There is so much to be thankful about living in Whistler — particularly if sliding on snow is still high on your agenda. And this being the Christmas season, I thought I'd list a few of them... just for the fun of it. See if you concur.

The Snow: It's nothing we can control. Either the temperature drops and the autumn monsoons eventually turn to white, or things get really, really damp.... And most of us have been here when the latter occurs. Ouch. Fortunately for Whistler, the last few winters have all been launched with monstrous snowfalls and lightning-fast accumulations. Indeed, in recent years, this place has earned a global reputation for epic early-season riding.

But there's a hidden advantage to all this snow. Just recently I got a call from a friend in the city. "It's just awful," she moaned of the gloomy, rainy days that currently dominate her urban existence. "I go to work in the dark, and I get home in the dark. It's wet, it's gloomy, it's terribly mournful. It's like I'm living in a tunnel..."

And once more, I realized how blessed we are to be living in the mountains. Having been outside on the slopes playing on my skis for most of the last month — and golly-gee-whiz what a month it's been! — I can say I feel just as healthy and fulfilled in December as I do in midsummer.

In my opinion, it's an asset the snowsliding industry (and Whistler Tourism) don't promote enough. Getting outside in the winter isn't just about skiing or snowboarding. It's about getting a little mountain air in your lungs. A lick of sun on your face. A bit of exercise in your legs. You see, urban lifestyles — being what they are — offer the city denizen little in the form of outdoor activities from November 'till April. And that leads directly to depression and anxiety. Just think about it. This could lead to a whole new promotion: "Forget Prozac, my friends. Try Whistler Mountain instead.... The planet's natural anti-depressant."

The Mountains: It's not just the vast lift-served playground offered to us by Whistler-Blackcomb anymore. It's a lot more than that. With the revolution in the production of self-propelled touring gear — which includes everything from inflatable balloons stowed in your pack (that promise to keep you afloat in an avalanche) to new split board technology that facilitate backcountry snowboarding — has come a whole new approach in adventure sliding. From the wilds of Garibaldi Park, to the innumerable routes off the Duffey Lake road, Sea to Sky country has become the "It" destination for offpiste snowsliding adventures.

In fact, I can see the day when WB is simply the place where neophytes are introduced to the snowsliding basics — before venturing out into the out-and-beyond for "the real deal." Don't laugh. Stranger things have happened...

The People: I had lunch the other day with WB mountain manager Doug Mac. One of the most understated people I know — calm, reasoned, impossible to fluster — the long-time Whistlerite makes his work look easy. But make no mistake: he's probably got the toughest job in the valley. For whatever goes wrong on the hill, he's the man ultimately responsible for making it go right again.

And yet... And yet. We talked for a whole hour he and I. We talked about the mountains and the ocean and our unbridled passion for both. We talked about our children and how much they were influenced by the environments to which they were introduced as youngsters. We compared notes on getting older and commiserated with each other on injury management. It was the kind of conversation that happens every day at Whistler. The only difference being that when it was over, he went back to his high-stress job and I went home to write about it.

Then it hit me. Doug Mac is one of those Whistler people that make this place such a unique — and welcoming — community. Know what I mean? He's the kind of guy who brings a smile to people's faces the moment they see him. Who reduces the stress level in a situation the moment he enters the scene. And he's far from alone in this. Whether it's Rob Boyd or Mike Douglas, Ace Mackay-Smith or Guitar Doug — Roger McCarthy, Mike Varrin, Nigel Woods, Binty Massey or Nancy Wilhelm Morden — Whistlerites simply address the world in a fundamentally different way from the mainstream.

Bold, funny, passionate, creative, independent — and highly appreciative of their mountain surroundings — Whistler folk have much to offer the world. It's one of the main reasons I keep coming back to this place. There's nowhere on the planet that feels so much like home.

And the Happy Party? I tried to attend. I really did. I even made it to Dusty's front door. But I just couldn't take the final step.

Like Ebenezer S. in Dickens' Christmas classic, I watched through the window as four decades of Whistlerites spent the evening exchanging happy stories with each other. Alas for me, there were just too many ghosts in the room. And I was haunted by all of them.

Still, my outdoor vigil offered up a few light moments. Like watching two intoxicated Aussie teenagers leave Dusty's after being refused entry at the door. "It's just a bunch of old people having a party," slurred one to the other. "Gaah," garbled her more besotted partner. "I wonder where they hide them during the day..."

Merry Christmas everyone. Blessings on you all.


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