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Maxed Out: Reflecting on a ski season

Max April 20 2022
"There were good days, there were days that wished they could be good. The subtle difference between saying skiing is good and the skiing is good. It’s all good. It’s not all memorable."

Snow flurries in the morning, slow, half-frozen mosquitoes in the afternoon. Springtime in Whistler, and the livin’ is… 

The piles of snow in the backyard are gone. They grew and shrunk over and over again this season. Deep enough to obscure the view out my window during the depths of December’s snowfalls, then slowly reduced to something about the size of an ancient plains burial mound, only to rise up once more when the snow decided to revisit—two weeks after we’d put the snow shovels away. 

Gone now, replaced by new shoots of garlic, snowdrops, crocus, and other hardy perennials willing to risk exposure to Whistler’s painfully slow striptease toward spring. 

I’m basing my concept of spring on astronomical observations and the calendar. Up on the mountain it still felt like winter last week with days of -10 C, frozen toes and full-on winter layers. No shorts under ski pants, no sunburns—windburn and possibly frostbite—no corn snow, no schmoo and only the occasional patch of sandpaper snow to make me wonder when the last time I waxed was. Oh yeah, day before yesterday. 

Meanwhile, the confluence of high holy days from three religions, the Ghost of WSSF Past and a four-day weekend went off with no riots, no murders, no bodies broken beyond repair, nothing to insult the propriety of even the most do-right of Mounties—well, maybe some parts of Gaper Day—and a reported good time had by all.

The village rocked, packed with people unsure what to do with themselves but happy nonetheless to be here. Kids clambered on a seek-and-destroy Easter hunt, and I didn’t win a Creekside Gondy—probably a good thing since I have no idea where I’d put one, but did give passing thought to converting one into an electric vehicle, just for the shock value of people wondering why an old gondy car was coming down the road toward them, pot smoke streaming from its windows as usual. 

All in all though, I couldn’t help thinking the whole religious carnival atmosphere might be enriched by a tasteful mélange of games of chance. Win a gondy? Sure. But why not a wheel of fortune or games of dexterity? Toss the ring around the bottle, guess your weight, knock over the milk bottles, dunk the mayor, bear wrestling while they’re still groggy. Maybe next year.

Perhaps most joyous of all was simply reaching closing day for the first time in a couple of years. While not living up to the promise of spring skiing, Whistler Mountain, again this year, closed the bulk of the season out with enough snow on the slopes to keep skiing until June. A 278-centimetre base with more snow in the immediate forecast which, as we all know, is marginally reliable but enough to be wistful about losing Whistler’s options. 

With Blackcomb opened spring hours, 10-4 good buddy, we can only hope the Broomfield Braintrust deploys some of Whistler’s groomers to polish more of the runs on Blackcomb than they’ve managed during the regular season. Yes, I’m an optimist. Yes, I’m likely to be proven wrong. No, I don’t really care because by the time Pique comes out, I’ll have decamped to the Cariboo to triage this summer’s projects and the ones left over from previous summers.  

So, with that introduction, the annual question arises: What kind of season was it?

Disappointing... with an asterisk. In the overall scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad. The asterisk appears only because last season was so good, almost scripted. Until the PHO so gracelessly ended it. Early. Again.

Last season was like an extended visit from an old friend. It wasn’t flashy but when we needed snow we got snow. The supply chain wasn’t interrupted, it flowed like water over rock, grasshopper. We weren’t blessed with too many copious dumps but we suffered no droughts. Liquid snow to the top was almost nonexistent. Freezing cold conditions made brief appearances. A houseguest who bought groceries and did dishes. 

This season was bipolar. There was so much snow before the holidays I heard people grumping it was too much. Some of them were driving snowploughs and had run out of places to dump snow. Some of them wondered what happened to the width of their street. Some wished they’d contracted a snow removal service instead of spending their money on physio appointments after repeated driveway shoveling. There was talk of an epic—no trademark—season to come. 

And then... not so much. There was an eerie feeling during the meat of the season that we were reliving 2005, or 2006, can’t remember which. But clear memories of a long stretch with no significant snowfall. Snow so old we were on a first-name basis but not particularly friendly. Moguls so big, old and icy we started to give them names. Like mountains. 

It was almost like that. Of course, that season we were rewarded because it finally started to snow on St. Patrick’s Day and it snowed for 35 consecutive days. Copiously.

This year, not so much. 

The biggest improvement this season was the thankful disappearance of base lift lineups that snaked back for the better part of half a kilometre. That more than made up for the early, intolerant altercations between the masked and unmasked on gondolas, but even they waned as the season marched on.

This season was a bit like waiting for a service person to show up to fix whatever you called a service person for. It worked in the end, but it wasn’t something that’ll burn itself into your memory as a great experience, something that’ll grow bigger with the passing of years and the retelling of tales. 

There were good days, there were days that wished they could be good. The subtle difference between saying skiing is good and the skiing is good. It’s all good. It’s not all memorable.

Unquestionably it was another season in paradise, albeit with the occasional nod to Milton’s Paradise Lost. But all in all it was way easier than getting through that epic poem. I’ll enter it in the book as a workperson-like six out of 10. Memorable mostly in the fact we finally made it to the end of a season. 

Bring on Blackcomb.