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Maxed out: Can you feel the mountains calling? I can…

MAX Nov 4 2021
The mountains are calling in Whistler as ski season nears.

There’s a palpable difference in the air this year. Or is that just the teasing weather?

People who don’t usually seem particularly excited by the prospect of another ski season are almost giddy, torn between the thrilling anticipation of a child’s Christmas and the latent fear of Halloween. Is that Santa coming... or Freddie?

Heightened anticipation extends well beyond the newbies who’ve drifted into town, fewer in number than needed. They’re always pumped at the prospect of bumming through their first season in a place they’ve either visited or simply dreamed about. Easily identifiable in their newly acquired, not quite comfortably fitting phatpunk attitude, they wander the village sneaking quick looks up the slopes, judging for themselves the depth and quality of virgin snow, nearly bursting to get up there and slide back down.  

Shoulder season weather teases them. Endless foreplay; no relief. Some snow, some rain and, to underscore the irony in their lives, a bit of sunshine, something otherwise treasured but wholly unwelcome at this very moment, revealing, as it does, slopes not yet ready for prime time. Walking slump-shouldered and toqued, they’ve become supplicants to pagan gods and goddesses of precipitation. Let the heavens open up and unleash their manna. Pray to Ullr. Find a virgin to sacrifice. Let it be me.

It’s expected of them. The drama plays out yearly as every new crop of fresh-faced seekers drifts into town. But when you see the same look on faces etched and worn by age and repeated exposure to hundred-day seasons too numerous to clearly recall anymore, well, maybe this is the new world order, the lens through which events of mid September get simultaneously focused and blurred.  

“Get back to leading your normal lives,” our leaders extol. Sort of. Be careful. Continue to take precautions. Get jabbed. Admonitions within a changing the landscape virus-tinged, climate-threatened reality lying so far beyond normal no one can be sure they know what it means.  

“I remember normal,” we each think, remembering something perhaps unrecognizable to the person next to us. Normal is shuffling through the off-season with a cadence of expectation. Normal is sweating through the chill of October and November, sweating the snow that seems to come only teasingly if at all, sweating the unsure start of a new year on the calendar of ups and downs, sweating rebirth at a time the rest of the hemisphere celebrates the season of death. Normal is the painful realization you don’t have nearly enough dough to afford a season pass and new board(s) this year and normal is realizing you didn’t need new after all, just a chance to get the old out, patch the base and let gravity pull you toward a state of bliss where you can’t even remember what you’re riding, just that you’re riding. Normal is more newbies than either jobs or housing, not businesses closed as much as open.

The trouble with normal is, as Bruce says, it always gets worse. Usually that just means it gets normal, it loses its thrill because of repetition and diminishing marginal utility.

So will the thrill come back to town this year?

Is it as simple as seeking refuge from the insanity of the new normal? Does it have something to do with looking at what’s dear through cleansed eyes? Could it be the devil-may-care, live for today, tomorrow we die syndrome so familiar to those facing a scary and uncertain future?  

Hell, I don’t know. I just wanna go skiin’. I just want a season that ends sometime after March. And so does everyone else I know.

Maybe that’s the answer to the contagion gripping the world. Go skiing. Live life. Let your face freeze in the winter’s wind. Feel the pow float up your nostrils and choke your breath away in its icy grip. Lose your sense of up and down as you tumble ass over teakettle down Whistler Bowl, laughing your brains out like a looneytune all the way down. Climb the career ladder in reverse or, better yet, jump off entirely and live your passion.

Surrounded by a town full of snow junkies, of unrepentant winter lovers and adrenaline-fuelled thrill seekers, I wonder why more people—everyone—and especially Canadians whose very definition of self rests on a foundation of winter, don’t ski? Or board? I don’t wonder about it for the same reasons skico execs wonder about it, it’s not a monetary, bottom-line, grow like a cancer cell or die sort of thing. I just wonder how they can know there’s something out there, something they can do in an otherwise dreary, endless, dark season, that’s better than sex, better than food, better than drugs, better than driving a fast car on a twisty road, better than a technicolour sunset on a deserted beach, better than clipping along at 20 knots on a sailing yacht with the leeward rail under water and the keel threatening to come out, better than... chocolate. Hmmm.

Is it the expense? The cold? The fear of falling? The stories of friends and friends of friends injured and broken after a skiing holiday? The learning curve and the visible foolishness felt struggling with something those surrounding you do with such grace and simplicity. Not knowing anyone among your circle of friends who’s caught the fever? Fear of the uncaring vastness of mountainous landscapes? Fear of trying something so powerful it can suck the soul out of who you thought you were and send you careening on a new life path? Fear of fear?

It may be raining in town but it’s snowing further up the mountains. The snowguns were blasting diamonds earlier this week. The rhythm of the season has my body dancing to a downhill beat. Skis in the garage whisper it’s almost time to scrape off their storage wax. Listen—the mountains beckon. 

I can’t wait.

Update: Still no justification from Vail Resorts on riding the gondola without being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Still hewing to their, “We won’t do anything we don’t have to,” strategy. No new pledges. Meanwhile, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies—Fernie, Kicking Horse, et.al.,—greeted November with this announcement:

Following the advice provided by the Provincial Government Health Authorities,(emphasis added) RCR has decided to require proof of COVID-19 Immunization Record to access all chair lifts and indoor facilities at our resorts this winter. This decision has been made with the goal of providing you, our guests, our staff, and our resort communities with the safest environment possible.”

Safest environment possible. So where does that leave Whistler?