Life after Whistler... yes, it does exist 

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Whistler's Official Ornamental Swamp-growing Plant, skunk cabbage, is popping up everywhere. Green leaves, yellow spathe, semi-distinctive odour, frequently mistaken for Whistler's Official Herb, B.C. Bud, which is also popping up everywhere, not that it ever doesn't pop up... everywhere.

Goggle tans, possibly from goggle-tanning salons given the desultory sunshine blessing our happy mountain home, are crawling into après joints, down off Blackcomb, Whistler's Official Mountain, Spring Division, since we are no longer a ski resort but a mountain resort and we have to close the best ski mountain early to get the best bike park ready for the continuing season of carnage.

Road bikes are spinning up and down the highway and single-trackers are tracking up what's left of the snow on many of the lower trails around town. Flip-flops, voted Whistler's Official Ugliest Footwear, Summer Division — Uggs, if you really can't remember Winter Division — are flapping their annoying call all over town.

And spring, astronomical definition, though one-third gone, remains a friend insecure enough to visit only occasionally.

Which begs the annual question: What kind of season was it? Ski season, not spring... pay attention.

In an unprecedented move, we have a tie this year. It was Dickensian; the best of seasons and the worst of seasons. It was, in fact, two seasons.

From the first tease of snow until snow decided to stop teasing around and get down to business sometime in the second week of freakin' February, it was the Season of Cold. Had it not been the Season of Cold, it would have been the Season of Earthtones. Cold weather was the only thing that saved our collective arse and the reputation of Whistler as being a resort town of either the ski or mountain variety.

While cold led to ski days we might have normally taken a pass on, which is to say those of the -25°C variety, it was only the cold that let us call those many days ski days to begin with. OK, the cold and the superhuman efforts — and expense — of snowmakers and groomers who turned water into ice and spread it around in thin, narrow strips so we'd have something to ski on other than rocks, grass and small trees.

It's hard to remember — in the way so many traumatic things are — that we took our lives and bases into our hands if we strayed off the trails that had snowmaking and ventured boldly onto the trails just adjacent. Of course, those who did, created instant rock skis, while the rest of us required several weeks to accomplish the same demolition.

Ironically, this led to much sorrow among those retailers who sell skis. Many, having sacrificed goats, rabbits and other small animals with easily read entrails, foresaw an early winter with bountiful snow and larded their inventory with the finest, newest skis and boards on the market. But with everyone sliding on what either started out as or quickly became rock gear, it was hard to find anyone who wanted to buy new skis that would become old skis quicker than you could say, "Where the hell's the snow?" I feel your pain and am doing my best to help salve the sting at your end-of-season sales.

But hope was never far below the horizon. We were certain the snow would come later in December. When it didn't we bolstered our spirits with the thought it would at least be cold and winterlike for the Christmas visitors. It was... kind of.

In January, we laughed. Snow's coming. It did... kind of. January 11, 50cm. Yipee! What do you mean that's all for another month? Yer kidding? Yer not?

Our one January snowfall was enough, to get the Lost Lake cross-country trails open... barely. In an act of forward-thinking customer relations, the RMOW got ahead of the ball and told passholders they'd be offering a 20-per-cent discount on next season's pass. Nice touch; thanks.

On the big hills, they upped the price.

But the snow came, finally, and the Season of Cold ended. I wouldn't insult a real ski season by scoring it. Let's just call it forgettable.

Ski season by comparison was great. Short, but great. It didn't take long to cover most of the rocks in the alpine and there were enough memorable powder days to let us repress the memory of days spent freezing our keesters, sliding on ice and channelling our inner Ontarian, deeply into our subconscious, where, other than the infrequent nightmare, it will hopefully stay forever.

And no matter how weird our winter was, we can all be glad we weren't in Ontario, or anywhere else in the east for that matter. Whistler, especially from February on, was Shangri-La for visitors coming from eastern Canada or the U.S. You could feel their envy and the palpable fear lurking in the knowledge they'd have to return to that miserable weather sooner than they wanted to, which was never.

So, all things considered, let's rate this shortened season a 7, with a bullet. The bullet is (a) in hopes of a better, longer season next year and, (b) indicative of the inevitable. The inevitable is, unfortunately, rising prices.

Other than the lack of snow, the most frequently heard bitch around the mountain and in the après ski spots this year was pricing. Day tickets, pass prices, burgers and, well, everything. Everything was more this year than it was last year than it was the year before, sucked into a vortex that seems to flow in only one direction — up. Funny how our political leaders can be congratulated for holding the line on property taxes and managing the municipal budget by the same folks who inevitably increase the price of everything every year. Something doesn't compute.

But we're all junkies; they're the only dealer in town and we aren't about to pass on our fix until we run out of options. So we suck it up and slide.

Finally, for me it was the season that marked the end. Oh, I'll be back sliding next year, probably more days than ever. But I'll be doing it as a civilian. For the first time since 1993, I've purchased — the word still hurts — a season pass. Number 576 of 7,869 of the Borg has disengaged and is freefloating through the cosmos. I've joined the LAW society and, yes Virginia, there is Life After Whistler. Transitioning from Blackcomb to Whistler to Whistler Blackcomb to civilian, it's been 18 years and every one has been memorable in its unique way. And as much as I'll miss confounding each new season's crop of 20-year-olds, I won't miss working weekends.

So if you want me, I'll be in Dusty's, grousing about prices with the rest of the old coots.

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