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The return of the bargain hunter

By G.D. Maxwell One of the interesting things about living in a resort populated largely by refugees from the real world is hearing from people you used to know who still live in places you’d just as soon forget.

By G.D. Maxwell

One of the interesting things about living in a resort populated largely by refugees from the real world is hearing from people you used to know who still live in places you’d just as soon forget. One of the least interesting things is having those people ask to come visit. They don’t really want to see you. But they really don’t want to see the inside of a $300 per night condo.

Of course, it’s inevitable that friends of varying – lesser – degrees will eventually contact you just to "stay in touch." Funny how they think to call around the time they’re planning a trip. The conversation will graze around the subject of their upcoming vacation, taking tangents to update you on the status of people you’ve forgotten in the intervening years, until an opening occurs, a weakness is perceived.

If you’re anything like me – and for both of our sakes let’s hope you’re not – you’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding these openings by now. You can sense them coming. There’s a tentative but distinctly manipulative quality to the choice of words, the phrasing of sentences, the references to the grand times you shared in the past. It always makes me feel like a sheep being nudged inexorably toward the abattoir truck by a tenacious border collie.

It’s good practice to abruptly steer the conversation onto a new course at these critical junctures. If nothing comes immediately to mind, press the hangup button quickly and feign call waiting. "Hold on, I may be a winner."

One friend surprised me completely a couple of years ago. He called and the first thing he said was, "I’m coming to Whistler to ski and I already have a place to stay." I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Mike – I’ll call him that – was coming to Whistler and had arranged his own lodging. This was all the more amazing when you consider Mike may be the cheapest man in the world.

I worked with Mike in the old country... Toronto. Mike and I worked at a large financial institution I will not name because it’s part of my personal therapy to forget I ever worked there. I considered him a friend despite – or possibly because of – the fact he was the most parsimonious man I’ve ever met. Mike’s suits did not merely shine, they glowed. The glare from his suits far surpassed the shine on his shoes. I think that may have been intentional. I could swear there were days his two shoes didn’t exactly match.

Some people who are cheap come to their thrift by a penurious youth. Others simply reproduce beyond their means to support their eventual family. Mike, I believe, was cheap because it was the least expensive hobby he could find.

He had no children, his wife worked and they had modest expenses. As far as I knew his only other hobby was fishing, a pastime he indulged from the seat of a small aluminum boat on a lake upon whose shores he kept an unassuming cottage. Mike fished with worms. I’m not entirely sure he used a reel. Or a rod. He once said his tackle box fit into his shirt pocket. I don’t think he was lying and I’m fairly convinced he was bragging.

Through some inexplicable convergence of forces – possibly cosmic – Mike, encouraged by the pleasure I found in the sport, decided to take up skiing. The day he announced this, I sat speechless in his office. Had he told me he was leaving the world of finance for the priesthood, I would not have been more surprised. And this from a man who’d once said he didn’t go to church because he didn’t like being hit up for money every Sunday.

I asked him if he realized skiing was, well, expensive, much more expensive than running, the only other sport I knew him to pursue. He said, "What the hell Max; it’s only money." I stared at him carefully. I wondered if I would really know if aliens had taken over his body. I wasn’t sure I would.

After a week’s worth of lessons at Gray Rocks, Mike was, for several years, a most dangerous skier. His zeal for the sport far surpassed both his skill and judgment, and not infrequently, the durability of his equipment. Rare was the ski day that did not involve blood, broken skis or both.

Mike’s early ski ensemble was remarkably similar, possibly identical, to his running ensemble. I didn’t recognize the maker of his boots; the name had been obliterated by years of skiing on the feet of their prior owner. The skis were rentals; Mike broke too many to own any himself.

The year I moved to Whistler was the first year Mike skied here. He called, but he didn’t ask to stay then either. He was coming with some buddies from work, one of whom had a line on a reasonably priced condo in Eva Lake. Two bedrooms, eight guys. At least they were getting the authentic Whistler experience.

I met them on Whistler Mountain the first day they arrived. Mike had traded up to a faded Bogner he’d picked up at an estate sale. He’d purchased new skis, that is to say unused skis, of a pedigree several years out of date. I wondered aloud if his new boots might not be a women’s model and he admitted they were but quickly added they were exactly the same as the men’s version and $40 cheaper.

All the guys had tickets purchased at 7-11 and were anxious to ride the day’s first lift to get their money’s worth. Actually, being from three time zones east of here, they were standing in line when the lifties showed up for work.

When we stopped for lunch, Mike pulled a large plastic bag from his knapsack "Brought your own?" I observed. "Did you stop in Vancouver or Squamish to shop?"

"Neither," he said. "I bought this at home before I left. I have a Frequent Shopper card at the Bag-n-Save." I felt humbled in the presence of such perfection.

I just said good-bye to Mike. He and the boys were out for their annual pilgrimage to Whistler last week. He’s getting spendthrift with age. He had new skis and new boots this year: men’s boots. He still dined on tuna sandwiches, courtesy of the Bag-n-Save, and saved a few bucks on lift tickets with a discount card.

And just to let me know he still had the old magic touch, he confided to me on a lift that he was paying $25 a night less than everyone else. He was sleeping in a chair.

Who said there are no bargains in Whistler?