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Lucky to be alive After reading about the frightening events that took place recently in Whistler, I am reminded of the exact same chilling tale I lived on Boxing Day, five years ago.

Lucky to be alive

After reading about the frightening events that took place recently in Whistler, I am reminded of the exact same chilling tale I lived on Boxing Day, five years ago. I still have nightmares of when I had to watch my brother, Chris, fall helplessly down the same 160 foot cliff, and by some miracle, live to tell about it.

It was a horrible day on the mountain, as it had rained all week, and the hill was like cement. We decided to drop into a bowl I had skied a few years previous, in the hope of finding good snow. We too saw the exact same signs, ducked the same aircraft cable, and looked down the same slope, which rolls over into a steep, 60-plus degree pitch. Chris said that we should turn back, for the whole ridge line had been ripped off from a recent slide, leaving a small, five-foot bomb shelf below were we stood. I decided we should drop in and we would traverse out.

I pushed off the ledge, and as I landed, my skis kicked out from under me, and I immediately began sliding down the mountain, unable to stop. I desperately stabbed my poles into the slope as I rocketed down about 200-metres, with a massive cliff rushing up at me. I reached out for a smaller rock patch to scrape my fingers along it, and it was just enough to slow me down before I could slam my 201s between two rocks, stopping myself right on the edge. Chris wasn't as lucky. I heard my walkie talkie squawking, as my brother could not see me, but reaching for my pocket was making my skis slide closer to the edge.

Over my shoulder I heard muffled screaming and scraping sounds. I looked back only to see Chris sliding on his butt, with his board flipping back and forth on the steep decent. I screamed "Chris!" as I watched him shoot off the edge and into oblivion. He flew way out, about 60 to 70 feet, and then came crashing down onto the rock. The impact shattered every plastic part he had on.

I watched him tumble down the jagged face as pieces of snowboard, goggles, bindings, helmet and buckles came flying off him. He fell over 160 feet, landing on exposed rock. I could not see him from where I was, but I heard the screams of pain, and then he went silent.

Either he was dead, or knocked out. In the distance, I saw ski patrol on the adjacent ridge, heading our way with a toboggan, so I figured they had seen us. At least someone could get to him right away. My whole body was going into shock.

I didn't know if my brother was dead or alive, my heart was pounding, my legs were furiously shaking with fear, my skis were slipping, and I was beginning to freak out. The last bit of snow holding me up finally gave way and I lunged at a snow drift. It held. I dangled over the edge for a few seconds, and managed to pull myself up. I slipped out of my bindings, and tried to calm myself down. I decided, very stupidly, to put my skis on my pack, use my poles, and kick step myself out of the bowl, which is very wide, very steep, and completely exposed. Nothing but compact snow and ice. I began climbing, painstakingly booting holes two or three tries to get a foothold, then again, about 500 times straight up. Then coming back down at 45 degrees, and going back up again, all the while knowing if I missed one kick step, I would slide on my chest over the cliff.

As I skied down exhausted, two to three hours had passed since I had last seen my brother. I screeched into my walkie talkie hoping to hear his voice, anybody who knew if he might be alive. I found patrol; they said someone had been taken to the hospital.

I followed the noise at the clinic, and found him in bad shape. He was bleeding profusely from all his punctures; the floor was a half mopped red. They hadn't spent much time to dress the wounds because both his lungs had collapsed, and they were working on keeping them inflated and assessing his other injuries. Wires and monitors were buzzing away, his face was so swollen and cut that you could barely recognize him; it looked like he had been run over by a truck. The doctors were shouting orders, it was chaos, but he was alive. About 20 minutes later he was stabilized and moved into observation. An hour after that he was taken down to VGH in and ambulance, as the chopper was in use.

I left the message a mother never wants to hear, and drove down in silence to Vancouver. We spent three hours at VGH, and finally we were told that he was going to be okay. He had collapsed both his lungs, broke his pelvis in two places, broke his collar bone, separated both shoulders, broken four ribs, experienced minor head trauma, and had stitches and punctures all over his body. He was in intensive care for four days, covered in bandages with two garden hoses jammed in his lungs to drain the fluid. Chris spent two months in a wheelchair and on the couch, a month with a walker, a month with a cane, and now walks with a very slight limp. The doctor in Whistler said he is the luckiest kid he has ever seen in his 26-year career. He's right.

However, the accident has taken a toll on his body, and now he cannot snowboard, mountain bike, or BMX ever again. My heart goes out to the skier who lost his life last week, to his friend who lived, and to the families of both. I am very sorry for your losses.

I feel guilty that my brother has to suffer for my stupidity and inexperience, but I am happy he is alive. After reading about the story tonight, I am so grateful to still have my brother; he's the toughest kid I know. Please respect your limits, the terrain, and always wear a helmet, it saved his life. I believe we need to close this area in Whistler for good, perhaps a permanent fence, so that no more lives are lost.

Geoff Heather


Point of procedure

I have to take issue with Brian Bucholz on his recent letter to Pique. An official community plan (OCP) is a guideline and should be a fluid document that can change, given the proper process.

OCP amendments happen all the time and usually run with a zoning amendment. Both activities have to go to a public hearing. If council had to go to a full blown OCP review every time they wanted to do something, nothing would get done. However, it is a great excuse to use to slow things down. Sorry Brian.

Drew Meredith


p class=Style1> Make some noise

Here we go again, folks! Forget what the bureaucrats tell us, higher assessments mean more taxes. And in the meantime, our mayor and councillors, in their infinite wisdom, have already announced taxes will rise by up to 15 per cent — partly to finance gold-plated "world-class" projects like the new library, some mind-boggling $11 million or so, almost 100 per cent over budget; and partly to cover a five year tax break to the "world-class" General Bullmoose of Whistler, Intrawest/Fortress. Anybody for a tax revolt?

Back to assessments — on checking, so far, about 20 per cent of 2007 sales records of 169 houses, I find 10 houses over-assessed and about an equal number under-assessed compared with the actual sales prices. Typically, lower-priced houses are assessed at 100 per cent or more while some higher-priced houses attract lower assessments, as much as up to $1.1 million lower than the actual sales price.

Rocket scientists can figure out that the former category pays more taxes than the latter category on a percentage basis.

The lesson for bad assessments is: if you are in the latter category, say nothing; if you are assessed at equal to or more than your purchase price, make lots of noise and appeal your assessment.

Clive V. Nylander


It’s your village

Team Canada won't rub elbows with the rest of the world eh? What's up Canucks? Too good to stay in the same digs I guess.... or are we trying to send some kind of message?

Frankly I don’t care why Team Canada won't be living in the same accommodations as the rest of the world, it’s just another lost chance to show some class and actually lead by example. Don't you think the athletes would rather meet their competition on the doorstep in the morning as well as on the slopes in the afternoon? I guarantee it would make a much better show, both for ourselves and for the world, to see our team share the athletes’ village with the athletes.

Tim Ellis

That’s dedication

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who turned up at the top of 7th Heaven on Blackcomb Mountain to show their support and offer kind words for Hugh Smythe this Christmas Eve. As some of you may know, Hugh Smythe was recently honored with the naming of a run in the 7th Heaven zone on Blackcomb Mountain called Hugh’s Heaven, (formerly the intermediate cruiser “Southern Comfort”).

People who have been close to Hugh and instrumental throughout his life and career in the valley came to the top of Blackcomb to enjoy some hot chocolate, coffee, and a handful of pictures and speeches next to a plaque succinctly detailing the history of his involvement in Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain’s developments. The crowd included Mayor Ken Melamed, Ecosign President Paul Mathews, The Senior Mountain Management Team, long-term staff, and old friends who were all on hand to celebrate this momentous occasion on a postcard day overlooking the Coast Mountain Range. On behalf of the Smythe family I would like to thank all who showed up in support of Hugh.

You truly made it a special birthday/Christmas present he will never forget. Happy New Year to you all.

Adam Smythe


On that note…

Unlike Sheldon Tetreault, I can neither see moral obligation nor practical justification to turn large tracts of Crown land over to First Nations (Dialogue starts with trust, Pique Letters, Dec. 3).

Contrary to popular perception, B.C Natives already have a proportionally much larger land base than non-natives do. The approximately 344,000 hectares in B.C reserves (not including the Nisga’a treaty and other recent settlements) work out to about 6.8 hectares per capita for the 50,000 or so reserve residents.

By contrast, the approximately five million hectares the roughly four million off-reserve residents own in fee-simple represent about 1.3 hectares per head (the remaining 95 per cent of the province is, of course, Crown land benefiting all British Columbians including Natives). Nor are reserves just barren wastelands. Most are productive, valley-bottom land with agricultural, forestry, industrial, real estate and other potential.

Second, I also oppose turning Crown land over to First Nations for the same reason I oppose privatizing it in general. Privatization of Crown land is hardly desirable or beneficial to the province as a whole or to me as part owner. Neither is it necessary. The late B.C premier W.A.C. Bennett hit on the magic formula that lets us have our cake and eat it too: retain public ownership of Crown but license private enterprise (now also including First Nations businesses) to develop and manage the resources on it.

Third, looking at their resources (talent, energy, reserve land, cash income, art, technology, band organization, etc.) and their opportunities (education, training, employment, real estate, business, trade, etc.), First Nations should be the richest segment of B.C society. As a growing number of economically successful bands demonstrate, this is not a pipe dream. A particularly inspiring example is the Osoyoos Indian Band. Bankrupt in 1984, it partnered with private capital to develop its reserve land. Today, it is an economic powerhouse in the South Okanagan. It has nine businesses including a vineyard, a winery (award winning), a hillside resort, a construction company and a ready-mix concrete plant, employing both Natives and non-Natives. The reserve has a state of the art school and health centre. The band is not just self-sufficient — it is rich. How do I know? I read a two-page spread on the band and chief Clarence Louie, the architect of its success, in Maclean’s (Sept.3, 2007).

Joe Bako


Arts council at the helm

Last week's article "Parading Whistler to the world" missed a vital fact that your readers should know about. The Great Whistler Parade, a parade involving the community and showcasing its imagination and talents, is a project presented by the Whistler Arts Council as part of Whistler Celebration 2010™ in February 2008. It was incorrectly stated that the parade is a VANOC program, and that Higher Ground was contracted by VANOC. In fact, Higher Ground has been hired by the Whistler Arts Council to coordinate the event, and we very much look forward to working with Whistler's amazing residents and artists to create a spectacular parade as part of Whistler Celebration 2010™ festival in February.

Christian Kessner

Higher Ground Retreats & Events

Energy wise?

I find it a little disappointing that the person directing our municipality on electrical use responsibility is capable of passing on such misinformation at Christmas time.

Sadly, I have to assume that his Christmas lights were a hand-me-down from his grandparents, as parallel circuit lights have been available for years, which means that one burnt out light results in one burnt out light. Not the entire string.

It should also be noted that since almost all of the electrical power in B.C. is still hydro generated, we could use 500 watt bulbs in our lighting, and our carbon footprint would stay the same.

The LED lights do require less electricity, and therefore do save us a bundle. However, let's be honest about the environmental aspect of the affair.

If Whistler is truly concerned about our carbon footprint, it might be wiser to review the transport of our garbage to Washington state. Presently we are flaring off methane from the closed landfill due to the higher degree of damage that methane does to the atmosphere than CO2. Wouldn't it be interesting if we could deal with our waste on site, producing hydrogen and usable solid commodities without putting any emissions into the atmosphere. The technology is available. However, the mayor, council, and staff are not interested in discussing it because they have already earmarked close to $80 million to the sewage treatment plant, composter, landfill closure, and ongoing garbage transport.

Let us hope that we make the $20 million mark in the sewage treatment plant revamp or we won't be seeing the $12.6 million grant from the federal and provincial governments.

Bill Overing


Missing buses

I live in Creekside and very often the buses into the village do not show up on time… if at all. When the buses arrive earlier or later than scheduled, it really does affect the passengers more than I’m sure the bus drivers realize. I (like many others) are made late for work because of this. Why should I risk being written up for being late by my boss when it is entirely on the shoulders of Whistler Transit?

Maybe I should wait a bit earlier, oh but I do… I have been due to start work at 5:15 p.m. and have waited for the 4:26 p.m., 4:34 p.m. EXP, 4:35 p.m. EXP, 4:56 p.m., 5:04 p.m. EXP, 5:05 p.m. EXP bus and nothing turns up until 5:08 p.m. That’s six buses not appearing at all and all scheduled. Having to apologize to my boss once again, for this reason is getting boring.

For all those buses that leave Creekside and head off to Function Junction and never come back, what are all the bus drivers doing? Are they all having coffee and smokes back at the depot and drive the busses when they feel like it? Sure, there can be road delays but these delays are a daily occurrence.

Waiting for a bus on New Year’s Day at the Village Gate Boulevard main bus stop really was special. Thinking there would be more buses than usual scheduled for such a busy night (especially to Creekside, silly me). All up, I waited from 1 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. for a bus home (eventually needing to walk up to the gondola bus loop if I even wanted a chance to get home).

More than 70 people waited at the Village Gate bus stop, all chanting for a Creekside bus. Three packed Creekside buses passed us over the course of an hour. Fortunately one bus did stop (and could only take another 10 people) as a result, people were yelling at the bus driver to call the depot for more buses to Creekside to be sent. Only to be met with a smile and a shake of the head by the bus driver.

There is a Creekside and a Creekside Express bus for a reason. Highly populated areas need extra bus transport. Why on earth weren’t there more busses put on for New Years?

“A bus to Creekside comes every seven minutes,” the bus driver said. What a joke! They rarely turn up!

S. Kovics