It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and I’m not just talking about the fluffy mounds of fresh snow that always seems to transform Whistler into a real-life snowglobe.
For the first holiday season in three years, the resort will experience visitation levels on par—if not greater—than those now distant-seeming years before the Capital P word took over our lives, while most businesses will be as close to a full staffing complement as Whistler’s tight-as-a-drum rental market can accommodate.
Maybe not quite business as usual, but about as usual as we’re gonna get for now. And for us here at Pique, sharing the Yuletide tales of local writers every holiday season has been our business for years now, and one that we’re proud to fill these pages with every Christmas. And isn’t that the true joy of the holidays? The warm familiarity of tradition, the keen observing of ritual with family and friends and friends who’ve become family, reminding us along the way the importance of simply slowing down, maybe with a cup of nog or mulled wine on the side, and just being with each other?
However you celebrate the festive season, we hope you enjoy our triumvirate of tinsel-flecked tales and get to spend some quality time with the people who matter most . Merry Christmas and happy holidays from our Pique fam to yours!
- Brandon Barrett
Only a sleigh away
By Robert Wisla
It was a quiet evening and almost Christmas day.
No birds were chirping; they had all gone away.
The forest was empty as the snow came down.
Speck by speck, it covered the ground.
It kept on snowing like never before,
and started to even block the front door.
Little Robbie Whistler watched the snow build up high,
and with a deep breath, he let out a sigh.
What could cause such sadness and sorrow?
He was worrying if his grandparents would arrive
on the morrow.
The plan was quite simple if you can believe:
Grandma and Grandpa would drive out for a visit this Christmas Eve.
But it was nasty, cold and quite wet,
the wind howling in a way Little Robbie would never forget.
In a tiny town several hours away,
Little Robbie’s grandparents thought they’d be OK.
They were tough as some nails, and ready to go,
Never afraid of a fair bit of snow.
They packed up the car with presents galore,
so many gifts, they could barely close all the doors.
Their journey would take them through mountains and peaks;
if you walked the road, it would probably take weeks.
Down the road they went, crawling at first.
The snow was coming down hard but surely wouldn’t get worse.
Two small tire tracks guided their way.
If the road continued like this, they would make it OK.
Into hypnotising swirls the wind stirred the snow;
it was a tough drive, but the only way they could go.
Yet Jack Frost noticed their car inching its way,
and decided it was time to make mischief that day.
With a wave of his hand, a blizzard did form,
and he chuckled to see it was one nasty storm.
The snow whited out nearly all they could see,
And after an hour of slow driving, it was nearly three.
Half an hour went by, and twilight was near.
They should have left earlier, on one of the shortest
days of the year.
As they drove, a rumbling sound drew closer,
as if the mountain was growling in the midst of a snowstorm.
The rumble was quiet at first but began to grow louder,
then the snow tumbled down in a thunderous shower.
Grandpa slammed on the brakes with all of his might,
but the car slid like a curling stone down the turnpike.
They thought this could be the end, but their fortune was kind.
Their vehicle got traction, and they stopped just in time.
They sat frozen and frigid, nearly covered in snow.
An avalanche had come down and there was seemingly nowhere to go.
There was only one route to reach all their kin,
and Jack Frost was a meany who made those plans verboten.
They thought and thought about what to do next.
An avalanche this size would take days to address.
Back they went to the last tiny town;
the streets were empty, with no one around.
Beside the only gas station, they found a lone phone,
called in the avalanche, then sat inside their car all alone.
They drove around town, but everything was closed,
the village had lost its mill, and no one was home.
Debating their options in the empty parking lot,
no other choice but turn around and drive home with all the gifts they had bought.
Yet as they began to lose hope, they heard something near,
the faint sound of bells and—could it be?—a big herd of deer.
Bewildered and stunned, they leapt from their car.
Out of the stormy sky, a shape descended from afar.
Down he came with a loud “Ho, ho, ho, ho!”
A chubby white man with a beard as white as fresh snow.
With eight reindeer and Rudolph leading the way,
Santa came down in his shiny red sleigh.
It’s hard driving reindeer on slippery streets.
Grandma nearly got run over, almost losing her feet!
Santa said, with a joyful smile and face full of glee,
“Hey, would you like to go on a sleigh ride with me?”
They looked at each other, then at the sleigh.
Santa said, “Come on now, I don’t have all day.”
With a crack of the reins and the reindeers’ names said,
the sleigh rushed forward and leaped up ahead.
Up in the sky, the sleigh soared so fast,
up over the valleys and the closed mountain pass.
In no time at all, they made their destination quite quick,
Thanks to the holly jolly man they call Saint Nick.
At home all tucked in, Little Robbie was napping in bed,
while dreams of Minecraft and newspapers danced in his head.
Suddenly he woke up with a feeling of glee,
when he heard bells jingling at a quarter past three.
He jumped out of bed to see what was the madness,
seeing his grandparents were here, ended his sadness.
Before they could knock, Little Robbie opened the door,
and in front of him stood Grandpa and Grandma with presents galore.
With a huge hug, they all gave a wave,
and Santa was off, flying away in his sleigh.
Robert Wisla is a reporter with Pique Newsmagazine. This poem is based on a true story of the time his grandparents had to make their way from Hinton, Alta. to Ashcroft, B.C. for the holidays. His Grandma told him Santa gave them a ride, when it was actually a Greyhound bus driver. (Shout out to all the transit drivers working on Christmas Eve.)
A gift from the mountain
By Kate Heskett
Christmas morning, 7 a.m., and Lisa’s alarm is going off. She pulls her phone under the covers, trying not to wake her roommates. The girl in the bunk above her grunts and rolls over. Across the room, the other two girls are sleeping soundly. They only went to bed a few hours ago.
Back home, on the other side of the world, her family is also asleep, having already finished their Christmas celebrations. It feels strange to be starting the day in the pitch dark. At home, she’d roll out of bed to the sun already high in the sky, and pad barefoot across the tiled hallway to the loungeroom with the plastic tree that sags under the weight of years’ worth of kiddie craft decorations. She’d eat mince pies for breakfast, cold ham, salads and prawns for lunch, then devour microwaved plum pudding slathered with Paul’s pouring custard for dessert. Best not to use the oven when its 40 degrees out. With any luck, there’d be a pavlova topped with passionfruit and banana, or a spiked trifle for second dessert, and she’d drink gin and tonics and play backyard cricket until the summer sun finally went down at about 10 p.m. Inevitably, Paul Kelly would play on repeat, after someone put “How to Make Gravy” on for a third time and no one bothered to change it.
This year, she’s decided to make the most of her white Christmas and spend the morning skiing. She’s heard from the locals it’s the best day of the holidays to go up, as hardly anyone does, so the lift lines should be mostly empty. Which is good, because she has to start work at 11 a.m.
Lisa checks the snow and weather report. It’s -10 in the village, colder on top, with clear sunny skies and 15 centimetres of fresh snow. She decides to treat herself to some disposable hand-warmers, and adds a shot of Baileys to her morning coffee. Well, almost a shot. Should have asked Santa for more Baileys, she thinks, as she throws the bottle into the recycling bin.
Andy carries all three sets of skis through the parking lot. His eldest, Millie, strides out ahead. At seven years old, she knows the drill—no presents before skiing. His five-year-old, Xander, is fussing about his boots being uncomfortable, but thankfully he’s still walking along behind them.
It’s going to be OK, Andy tells himself, I just need to make it to the gondola.
There’s no way he’s going to admit his wife was right, that the kids have had way too much sugar and not enough sleep to be on the mountain today.
“Family tradition!” he’d cried, but she just rolled her at eyes at him.
“You’d all better be back in time for lunch.”
On the gondola, the kids settle into their usual routine.
“How much farther?” Xander wonders.
“How long until the top?” Millie asks.
“Can I have a snack?” Xander says.
Andy checks his watch. Two hours until lunchtime, they should be able to get a few runs in. He fiddles with his new goggles, a Christmas present to himself, because his wife would’ve said no. A collaboration with Fender, the goggle ad had promised “rockstar style.” The strap is supposed to look like a guitar strap. He puts them on and eyes his reflection in the glass. They definitely make him look cooler.
As the gondola grinds its way up the mountain, the sun rises over the crest of Blackcomb, beaming golden morning light onto snow-laden pines.
Xander jumps up on the seat. “Look Dad! A sun dog!”
Lisa rubs her hands together on the chairlift. She only brought one packet of hand-warmers, and she already used them waiting at the bus stop. Her thin mitts don’t do much to protect her frozen fingers, but at least the sunrise looks warm. She was supposed to meet a friend on the hill, but they haven’t shown up, and are not answering her calls. When she checks their Facebook, she finds a group photo from last night’s house party. She’s disappointed, but not surprised.
Whistler friends are so flakey!
A pang of homesickness ripples through her. No one talks about the loneliness of living your best life.
After yet another toilet stop, Andy has finally got his kids on their skis, and is kneeling in the snow in front of them for a safety talk.
“OK, I need two safety rules from both of you. Xander you go first.”
“Umm, you…have to stay together?”
“Yep, good one. What else? What happens if we get split up?”
“Umm, you, you…”
“Go to the meeting place!” Millie says.
“Mill, it was Xander’s turn!”
“But he’s soooo slooooow.”
“Alright then, where’s the meeting place?” Andy asks.
“At the top?”
“Nope. Wrong answer.”
Millie scrunches her forehead in concentration. “At the bottom?”
“Where at the bottom?”
“Do you go all the way to the bottom?” Andy says.
“Is there a colour you go to?”
“Green! At the bottom of green.”
“And how do we not get split up?”
Both kids in unison: ’Stay in control!’
To say that Lisa is a beginner skier is an understatement. She’d never seen snow until coming to Whistler. Walking along her icy street is enough of a challenge, and adding giant planks to her feet is far worse. At least she hasn’t broken anything yet—touch wood—not like some of the people at work, who come to Whistler for a season but end up leaving after a month in a cast, or a moon boot, or both. She told herself by her second season she’d get the hang of it, but she always ends up working more than she wants to. At least she has her own gear now, including a new helmet she bought with her tip money, and can make her way down the mountain without an instructor.
It doesn’t take long to get two warm-up laps done. There are almost no lift lines, and the kids seem to have remembered their lessons from last year. Andy takes a selfie of the three of them having fun on the chairlift, and sends it to his wife.
“What do you guys think? Time to try something different?” Andy says.
“Harder!” Millie says.
“Mill, it has to be something your brother can do.”
“Yeah, I’m fine!” Xander says.
“OK, well, when we get off the chair this time, let’s go left.”
Lisa rides Green Chair, feeling a bit warmer after a few successful laps. She has time for one more run before work. Maybe something different? She checks the map on her phone. It looks like the people below her are on Green Acres. The map says blue, but it doesn’t look too bad.
In Xander’s defence, when his Dad said to go left off the lift, he did not say, “Go left and stop,” or “Go left and wait.” He just said, “Go left,” which Xander does, and then points his skis straight downhill and is gone.
“Mill, wait here, I gotta go. Shit.”
Dad is gone.
Millie tries to follow but they’re too fast. She tucks down low to gain speed, like she does with the kids at ski school. She doesn’t see Dad and Xander take a right around the trees. And she also doesn’t see Lisa taking a selfie at the top of Green Acres…
Thwack! Millie slams into the back of Lisa’s knees, knocking her flat and propelling them both forward. Millie’s skis pop off, but Lisa’s are stuck under her bum, and they gather speed, a tangle of limbs plummeting down the hill. Lisa tries to pull Millie closer, to shield her small body with her own, but the child thrashes and writhes, screaming in her ear. When they finally stop, Millie bursts into tears, and Lisa holds her.
Having chased him down successfully, Andy gets off the top of the chairlift with Xander, but Millie is nowhere to be found.
Andy asks the lifties, “Did you see a little girl here? Green jacket, pink helmet?”
They shrug, shake their heads no. “Maybe she’s at the bottom?”
“I told her to wait!”
Shit, shit, shit.
Lisa takes Millie’s hand and together they walk back up the ski run to collect the gear they’ve lost: one of Millie’s gloves, Lisa’s goggles. Another skier stopped Millie’s skis and brings them over.
“You two OK?”
Lisa thanks the skier, and sits back in the snow, a little dazed but miraculously unhurt.
“I want Dad,” Millie sniffles, a giant booger hanging from her nose.
Andy and Xander take the shortest route back to the bottom of Green Chair, but still no Millie. What if she’s hurt? What if she went into a tree? Maybe she kept going down to the village?
Panicked, he pulls out his phone and dials for ski patrol.
“Dad, look!” Xander points up the hill to a small figure in a pink helmet, wiping her nose on her green jacket.
“Millie! I thought I lost you!”
Lisa stands awkwardly while Dad and daughter hug. She should already be at work.
“I crashed!” Millie bursts into a fresh round of tears.
“Are you hurt?”
“No,” Millie sniffs, “but I broke Lisa’s goggles.” More tears.
“How did you …?”
Andy trails off as he looks up at Lisa, her hair and helmet full of snow, holding a sad pair of goggles with a broken strap.
“It’s OK,” Lisa says. “I mean, she didn’t mean to. I probably needed a new pair anyway.”
She sounds younger than she looks; early 20s maybe? And the accent, is it Australian or English? Her ratty, ill-fitting clothes remind him of himself 20 years ago, a ski bum in a resort town, trying to make do with whatever he could find. But he can see the snapped plastic; those goggles are toast.
“I’m sorry, I have to get going, my shift started 10 minutes ago. Bye Millie!”
Lisa turns to leave.
“Wait! I didn’t get your name.”
“Thank you so much, Lisa. Please, take these.”
Andy holds out his brand-new goggles, the blue chromatic lenses glinting in the sun.
“No, it’s OK. I’m just glad I could help.”
“Please take them. I don’t want to start the year already on Santa’s naughty list. Consider them a Christmas present from the mountain.”
Lisa takes the goggles. She wouldn’t say it, but she clearly needs them more than he does. And she still has to ski out. Hopefully her boss won’t be too mad.
Andy bribes the kids with Rocky Mountain chocolate so they don’t tell Mom about Millie getting lost. When they finally open their presents after lunch, his wife surprises him with an extra package.
“I know you had your eye on these,” she says, kissing him on the cheek.
Andy opens the box to find a brand-new pair of rockstar goggles.
“Merry Christmas, honey.”
Kate Heskett is a writer, poet and canoe guide happily stuck in the Whistler bubble. They are currently working on their first novel.
The Apprentice’s hat
By Katherine Fawcett
So you’d like to work with me, would you dear child?
Tonight, of all wild and wondrous nights?
I admire your courage.
Some people might say you’re a little bit nuts.
But, join me you wish? Then join me you shall!
Don your red mittens,
your scarf for protection,
take a sip of plum syrup for strength,
In order to work at my side this long night,
you must find: The Apprentice’s Hat:
“What is that?” you may ask.
“The Apprentice’s Hat?”
It’s a Hat that is hidden away
in the Chest of Cold Magic,
‘neath a pile of tinsel
at the end of an icy blue cave.
The Apprentice’s Hat’s
not been worn since it sat
‘pon my own head,
when I, too, was wee,
some hundred years back
—I was just a young hack—
being trained by the one before me.
Through the Peppermint Forest,
you’ll pass a small tavern,
where friends laugh and dance and make merry.
They’ll beg you to join them—but—
I’m counting on you, this night.
You’ll pass the cinema,
where onscreen plays
a film of your parents
when they were your age,
and already in love.
The ticket-master offers free popcorn and begs
you to enter—but—
Others are counting on you, this night.
You’ll pass a choir of angels
who can’t remember the lyrics to their own hymns.
They’ll offer to you their halos and wings
to stay and sing—but—
The whole world is counting on you, this night.
you’ll see the moon,
like a balloon,
and there will be
a tall evergreen tree
with a tiny heart carved on its trunk.
Spread the boughs of this tree,
and a golden eagle you’ll see,
grab on to her talons,
and hang on as tightly
as a champagne bottle holds its cork,
and fly, fly, fly
over the Snowy Lowlands,
play chess while they wait.
You’ll know that you’re close
when the snow blows in triangles
and the temperature drops
to 29 degrees below pleasant.
From the sky, you’ll see
the mouth of the ice cave,
so blue it looks like the wink
of a girl you once knew.
Let go your hands and curl into a ball.
(though the landing can really sting).
But you are unbreakable, unshakeable, unmistakeable.
You know where to go!
And just what to do!
I believe, my child, I believe in you!
Slide down the ice shaft
—on your belly is quickest—
to the depth of the cave
where the darkness is thickest.
The tinsel that guards the Chest of Cold Magic
And will bite at your fingertips just to survive!
you feed it sweet crystals
from the three sugar cubes
you collected along the way.
Check your pocket!
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Three sugar cubes!
You can silently thank the drunks, the movie-goers and the angels.
For you passed the test.
And there are strangers
who love you
and wish you the best.
Now the key to unlock
the Chest of Cold Magic
is tucked behind one of your ears,
(where it’s been for some years).
Turn the key slowly,
open the chest, and there,
on a nest
of caramelly velvet is,
the Apprentice’s Hat.
Give it a brush and a vigorous shake.
It might be quite dusty,
the red fabric musty,
the magic, some rusty.
Then carefully, tenderly, put that hat on.
And if it does not fit,
I’m so sorry, dear one.
You won’t want to hear,
but this isn’t your year.
And you’ve quite a long way to get home.
But if that hat fits snug
and warm on your brain,
if it squeezes your ears
and causes no pain,
if it keeps your head cozy
the long, winter night,
then raise up your gaze
to the brilliant moonlight!
Clap your mittens three times,
put your ear to the ground,
and listen for the jingly, jangly sound
On the sleigh,
as we pull in to get you.
Oh no, young apprentice,
we’d never forget you.
From the mouth of the cave,
glowing blue in the night,
where (eight times four?) 32 reindeer hooves unite!
Saddle beside me,
on cushions of fur.
Hold your hat tight,
off we go, in a blur!
It’s a magical sleigh ride,
a magical flight.
The children are waiting.
We don’t have all night.
We’ve a long way to travel,
and much work to do.
The Apprentice’s Hat,
Katherine Fawcett is a Squamish-based author, playwright, teacher and musician. Her newest play, “Blustery Ever After,” a follow-up to last year’s “Once Upon a Cold Snap” was staged in Squamish by Between Shifts Theatre this month.