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Maxed Out: Breaking down Whistler’s 2022-23 ski season

'It was a marketing kind of ski season. Wasn’t all sizzle, there was some steak, and there was a magnificent dessert.'
A solid 7/10.

To the extent I am cynical—and not even I could argue I’m not—I like to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the folks who struggled through the early years to hone the black magic we currently call marketing. Then again, it could just be genetic, a rogue twist on my DNA spiral crowding up against the Hopeless Romantic gene, a benign mutation of the Quixotic Optimist sequence. Someone said cynics are just optimists who’ve been disappointed once too often. I don’t know who, so don’t ask.

In the seminal years of marketing, flogging product on an unsuspecting public wasn’t far removed from the sale of snake oil. It was a time best personified by the phrase “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” That’s because in most cases the sizzle was being provided by either a soundtrack or a tiny bit of salt pork rendering in an unseen skillet. The steak was in the mail, sucker. COD.

My epiphany, the making of a cynic, if you will, probably occurred in a dark movie theatre on a Saturday afternoon when I was a kid. I was hooked on serials. Batman, Rocket Man, Superman, tired reruns of Flash Gordon—you name it—filtered through town, always with a, well, sizzling trailer to catch my attention, and an admission loss leader.

My favourite was the 867 episodes of Rocket Man. Okay, maybe there were only 15, it just seemed to go on forever. Dusting Rocket Man off the shelf was the idea of the people who made Mountain Dew. The soda, not moonshine. It was the new kid on the fizzy drink block, fighting for some kind of recognition and, even then, youth acceptance. The offer was this: bring in a pocketful of Mountain Dew bottle caps, get into the theatre for free.

What a deal! Every Friday a couple of us would make the rounds of gas stations who sold Mountain Dew in their coolers, rifle through the bin that caught bottle caps and find the price of admission. As an adult, I’ve developed empathy for what the cashier must have been going through on those Saturdays. Several hundred kids sliding several thousand sticky bottle caps under the glass and, I imagine, right into a garbage can. Big yuck factor.

By Episode 3, I began to recognize a lot of the other kids. Mostly by the backs of their heads. It was important to avoid sitting behind the kids with big heads, the loud talkers, the squealers, the farters, the ones who may only have bathed on Saturday night. Likewise, you didn’t want to be in front of kickers, throwers, chokers or spitters. It was my first lesson in logistics.

But I digress.

Each episode of a serial ended with Rocket Man in mortal peril, plummeting from the sky, over a cliff, caught in an industrial crusher, naked in front of the class, reciting poetry, whatever, you get the idea. And the trailer for next week would show lots of kapow action, reinforcing the foregone conclusion that somehow, the hero would get out of the mess he was in and kick the living snot out of the bad guys.

After about, oh, say, adolescence, I finally figured it out. The good guys always escaped, the bad guys always tricked them again, good guys always won in the end and the owner of the theatre sold enough popcorn and jujubes to put his kids through college and buy a new Cadillac every other year.

I’m sure I was going somewhere with this when I started it about 500 words ago. Oh yeah, marketing. And the answer to the annual question: What kind of ski season was 2022-23?

In a word, marketing. It was a marketing kind of ski season. Wasn’t all sizzle, there was some steak, and there was a magnificent dessert. It was the “y’all come back,” post-covid season, and many did come back.

We all looked forward to what that tantalizing but teasing La Niña would bring when she came back to town. Snow drifts to the soffits or disappointment enough for everyone. The oceanic phenomena, bringing colder-than-normal sea-surface temps has, in the past, meant copious snowfall. But not always. And not this time. It played out as the warmest La Niña year on record.

It wasn’t looking good as autumn began to make room for winter. For starters, autumn was fickle. There was no real killing frost before the snow began to fall. Trees still had leaves, weighing down branches. Tall grass was still tall grass instead of knocked down, frozen, dead grass. We skied through erect stubble well into December, on what little snow fell, and we were grateful for the manmade stuff.

It didn’t look good for the holiday crowds, but as is so often the case, snow and tourists came when both were most desperately needed.

But it was not a stellar powder year, despite December’s tease. The watchword for much of the season was the not-so-subtle difference in the phrases, “skiing is good” and “the skiing is good.” Skiing was always good. The skiing? Not as often as hoped for, and nothing like the hip-deep dumps falling on Colorado and California mountains.

The late fall and a wicked November rain event made for an unsettling snowpack and a year of too many people caught in too many avalanches.

As well as marketing, it was a year of an undercurrent of discontent, perhaps misdirected against the mothercorp. It got personal... too personal. But it was, largely, a self-inflicted wound. Much of the late-season outrage could have been avoided with more fulsome and timely communication, something we’ve been promised for the future. Turns out there was a good reason for things like the midweek closure of the main way up Blackcomb, the vanishing ski down to the village from the upper lots and a few other disruptions that lit people’s fuses.

The highlight of the season was the welcome return of spring skiing. After closures in the covid years, after several seasons when spring never seemed to arrived, it roared into town this year with high temps and hero snow day after day. It was a welcome reminder of how wonderful snow transitioning from frozen to slushy can be.

And the good news if you’re fan of spring skiing is this: Next year, it’ll be Whistler that stays open for spring skiing. Details to follow.

So give this season a solid 7/10 with a bullet for the stellar spring. And stay tuned next season to see if we can do it all again, better.