Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Maxed Out: Epic™ tips for surviving Whistler’s spring break chaos

'I probably should have done this much earlier in the season.'
Remember, we cherish each and every one of you.

Well, here we are, halfway through spring break and spring’s about to break, assuming you put any stock in weather forecasts in a town with notoriously difficult weather to forecast. Of course, I speak parochially. That’s B.C.’s spring break. No sooner will it be done than Alberta will break for spring. We may have a week’s respite after that, but Easter follows, along with Washington state and its 19-year-olds who can’t wait to visit B.C. with its younger legal drinking age. Party on.

Admittedly, the first week of local spring break kind of crept up on me, otherwise I’d have offered the public service tips that follow last week. But losing track of time is one of the breaks of living in the bubble. Being self-employed too.

But having been a keen observer of people, and having toiled relentlessly to reduce the Epic™ Coefficient (EC) to a mathematical formula, I probably should have done this much earlier in the season. The EC is a three-dimensional, polynomial calculation I hope will, when peer-reviewed, describe the chaos Whistler experiences throughout the resort as a function of the growing number of Epic™ passholders coming to enjoy the “free” skiing offered by their ticket to ride.

This far into the Vail experience, there is no part of Life in Tiny Town untouched by the EC. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy—admittedly one asking for my glass to be topped up—I’ll briefly touch on an illustration of the chaos and offer gentle suggestions on how to avoid it.

Driving: As with the rest of North America and much of the world, we drive on the right side of the road, right as in starboard, not as in correct. No judgment here. I wouldn’t have mentioned it except it seems some of you like to test that rule.

Green lights mean go here. As in skiing, it’s best to figure out where you’re going while you’re stopped, not immediately after you disembark the chairlift (see below). But you shouldn’t be stopped at green lights while figuring out where you’re going. If you’re not sure, just drive; it’s a small town.

Virtually all driving issues can be solved by simply not driving. And as a tourist, you don’t need to. In fact, there’s a history of tourists losing track of where they parked in Whistler’s underground warrens and reporting their rental car as stolen. So don’t drive; take the shuttle.

Walking: Shouldn’t be that hard, right? But like not moving at a green light, abruptly ceasing to walk for no better reason than to figure out where you are and where you’re going is an inactivity best done on the edge of a busy walkway, not in the middle. Pull over, look confused, and shortly, a kind local will stop and give you directions. Sometimes the correct ones. We even know where they hide the washrooms.

Skis: Trying to avoid concepts like right and wrong, let’s just say there are good ways to carry skis and not-so-good ways. Carrying them like a ripping bag of groceries is not a good way. Scissored one over each shoulder is worse, especially if your edges are sharp. Carrying them like a battering ram is not good for the people in front of you or behind you. Securely on your shoulders is good, until you quickly pivot or enter a lift line. And, unless you’re injured or under 10 years old, having your partner carry them for you is... well, have some pride, people.

Oh, and ski poles should point toward the ground, not behind you like people skewers. Ironically, this is one category where snowboarders are generally blameless.

Lift Lines: There are no friends in lift lines. Unless you’re carrying coffee for everyone, don’t even think of joining your friends/family in front of 200 other people waiting patiently in the line behind them. Our local health-care centre can verify this gauche activity results in most of the injuries they see before the mountains open for the day.

On the mountain, do not wait until you’re past the RFID gates to stop and let your friends catch up with you. What was annoying for a quad chair is potentially murderous for a six-pack. Oh, and if you’re waiting somewhere further back in the line, imagine what the folks coming behind you are going to do to the topcoat on your skis if you’re standing at an angle that blocks their forward progress.

Turning: Riding up, take a look at people who ski or board well. Their movements are fluid, smooth, but most of all, they’re turning. Over and over. Left and right. And if you look closely, they tend to turn in a “lane,” some small, some large, some far too large, but their turns are easily anticipated—unless they have to avoid someone whose turns seem random—and from top to bottom, they turn. There’s a special ring of hell for people who straight-line runs, assuming they make it to the bottom without colliding with someone else.

There isn’t a special ring for people who traverse the entire width of runs before turning, nor is there one for those who come from one far side to the other to take advantage of a hit that’s just caught their attention. Should be, but there isn’t. Why those people don’t meet up with the straight-liners more often is one of the best arguments against karma.

Moving: Chairlifts—and gondolas, to a lesser extent—are for talking. Runs are for skiing/boarding. Getting off a chairlift, grouping, standing around, figuring out where you’re going is closely related to getting off an escalator and standing still while you decide where to go next and people pile up behind you. Don’t do it. The move to larger chairs just makes it worse. Picking your way through the throng at the top of Red this season is like oozing through a crowd at a rock concert to get to the washroom. Keep moving... that’s why you’re on skis.

Après: Regarded as a prefix by most dictionaries, après is a noun in this town. It doesn’t modify ski; it stands on its own. While not formally rising to the level of religion, it is, and should be, observed by all who visit. So much a part of spring break is après, locals will, in fact, frequently skip it during these weeks to, if nothing else, avoid remembering how embarrassing it can be, as well as taking pass on the inevitable chaos it creates. So party on and be thankful you don’t have to drive anywhere, at least if you followed the first tip.

And remember, we cherish each and every one of you, and hope you’ll be back next year.