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Maxed Out: Even when the skiing is bad, skiing is good

What kind of ski season was it in Whistler?

“It was the best of times.”

October was the best of times. Last October. It was much like September. Which was much like August. Only cooler. Summer lingered long into autumn. Again. But that was okay. Nothing wrong with prolonging summer. To a point. Wearing shorts in October. Biking. Climbing. Whatever.

Environment Canada and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were still hedging their bets on what kind of winter might be just around the corner. To the extent there was agreement, cold and wet seemed to be the watchwords for British Columbia. Being optimists, cold and wet was heard as snow. But the Man of Flowers, looking at the ramrod straight Echinacea in his garden, attracting late bees from far and wide, was predicting a mild winter. Pffft—what does he know?

“It was the worst of times.”

November was the worst of times. Not as bad here as places where many of the wildfires of summer still burned across the country. But in our particular bubble, waiting for snowfall, bad. Better than what was to come but not nearly as good as we hoped. It was a lot like October. Which was a lot like September. Etcetera.

Newbies were palpably nervous. “Where’s the snow?” Oldies were nostalgic. “I remember skiing top to bottom on November 11.” Or some other date already past as November dragged on with no real snow. Ugh.

“It was the age of wisdom.”

Not personally, mind you. Those of us with enough seasons here to remember really good ones that started slow whistled past the graveyard. Channelling Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera.” Horrible thing to have in my head, but at least it was from an Alfred Hitchcock film. The Man Who Knew Too Much, in case you’re wondering.

There was no wisdom to be found but there was still a lot of optimism. Maybe not optimism. Maybe just hope. Leavened with prayer. To Ullr.

“It was the age of foolishness.”

As the angst of November bled into the depression of December, people notched up their concern. Holiday reservations were down and being cancelled. Even the fabled November rain crust was tepid. Snow was an increasingly hoped-for event.

Some enthusiastic young guys pilfered ice from the Zamboni shavings at Meadow Park and built a hit in their driveway. Flat, narrow landing. Perhaps desperation, not foolishness. Others scoured that place across from WAG for rockier rock skis than the rock skis they already had. More desperation. More hope. Lots fled to the desert. Maximum desperation.

“It was the epoch of belief.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll come,” said with a shrug of the shoulders. “S’gotta. Always has. Well, almost always.” Even the most liberal-minded were ready to clamp down on immigration and send El Niño back where he belonged.

Worse, the jet stream settled into a familiar, portentous pattern, sending moisture further south. Not much. More than once Squamish and Vancouver got dumped on. We got dick. If we’re going to have a white Christmas we’re going to have to flock the heck out of the village.

“It was the winter of despair.”

Yeah, I skipped a bunch of Dickens’ other clauses. So sue me. Hail Mary snow put a happier face on the holidays. Not a lot happier, but way better than Earth tones. A cold snap snapped. A new year began. Not a lot better than the old one, but we were able to move up a step in the strata of rock skis.

It was about this time I was reminded of a lesson passed on to me by a crusty, old Whistleratic. “Max, there’s a big difference between saying skiing is good and the skiing is good. Skiing is always good. The skiing sometimes sucks. If it does, just remember, skiing is good.” And so it was.

Skiing was good. Life affirming even. Nothing like it. Not even close. I was settling in, getting used to what there was. I backslid a bit on a trip to Big White. There was so much snow some guys were shovelling the roof of the place I was staying. Seriously. But living up to its name, I didn’t see anything there but thick fog three of four days. Big Whiteout. On the other hand, I wasn’t worried about hitting rocks.

So all this is just chewing up real estate, leading up to the annual question: What kind of season was it?

In a word, Epic. Just kidding. In three words, skiing is good. There were moments. Not many. But there wasn’t anything I’d rather be doing. And as has been said for decades by Maple Leaf fans, there’s always next year... er, later this year. Next season. And the latest prognostications—fancier form of whistling past the graveyard—from the people who honestly believe forecasting weather is rooted in science rather than voodoo, offers a fighting chance El Niño will be replaced by his sister, La Niña. She of the I Can’t Believe How Much Snow There Is years. Muy bonita.

The worst part of the season had nothing to do with skiing or conditions on the mountains. The worst was the cold snap in January. If you think skiing and riding was a little disappointing this season, be thankful you don’t own a vineyard. Feel sorry for them, not ourselves. Well, ourselves when B.C. wine becomes harder to find.

And if you need something to buoy your spirits, it’s hard to beat having Whistler opened late this year. Spring skiing doesn’t get a lot better. Unless we miraculously wake up to 30 centimetres of fresh next week.

So while I hesitate, I feel compelled to use the old-same Out of Ten scale and proclaim 2023-24 a... Four. With a bullet. The bullet being spring skiing on Whistler. Maybe even a Five, due solely to rekindling a passion for skiing groomers and finally finding some amazing slalom skis to replace my old favourites, now next year’s rock skis. Thanks, Bill.

And I have to give a call-out to the hard working boys and girls at WB. Vail may still be a local epithet but being able to dish up as much of a playground as we had this year was a noteworthy, almost alchemical effort. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re riding the Peak Chair take a look at that cliff just to the side of the Patrol bump. That used to be the main entrance to Whistler Bowl. Not that many years ago.