As I come up on my 25th winter in Whistler, it’s amazing how a little autumn snow in the alpine still manages to be exciting after all these years. Experience has taught me that it will probably melt long before it can be shredded—and also how that melting is usually a good thing given how early season snowpacks sometimes complicate the avalanche situation and can delay lift openings through an entire winter—but it’s an exciting development nevertheless.
Whatever you think of Turkey Sale crowds, there’s also no denying that the long weekend does an amazing job building hype for something at least six weeks away. It’s kind of like a Christmas commercial the day after Halloween.
We’re all now drifting in that strange dead space between the sale and opening day when Whistler gets quiet. Too quiet. Leaves fall off of trees, days get shorter, the air gets colder, the sky turns a paler shade of blue (assuming it doesn’t rain every day), lights appear on the mountains after dark as snow-making crews get down to business, and everybody starts to look nervously to the surrounding mountains for the first real signs of winter while our new ski and snowboard gear, neatly stacked and ready by the front door, taunts us as we come
Being a La Nina weather system, literally anything can happen. Usually the coast region is wetter, but not always, and it can be a little bit warmer as well, except when it’s not. But after 24 seasons I can safely say that the mountains will open on time, probably, with some actual snow on the ground—some natural, some artificial. We will get more snow on top of that at some point, followed by periods of snow that will stretch all the way to at least April. Bank on it.
Even our worst winter seasons come through with enough snow to have fun, so I’m not worried at all about that—the winters here are long and virtually guaranteed.
What I am increasingly worried about is people, and how etiquette and general courtesy count for less and less on the slopes every year. It seems to be a uniquely Whistler thing, or at least I’ve never experienced anything like the panic, anxiety, intensity and all-around peevishness you get on a local powder day at any of the other mountain resorts I’ve visited, where people mostly just seem happy to be there.
The Alpine Responsibility Code was only ever the minimum code of conduct to prevent catastrophes, and I honestly doubt many skiers or snowboarders could even name three of its 10 commandments. There are also dozens of unwritten rules of conduct, some as old as the lift-assisted ski industry, that we all figure out over time. Really though, it could all be simplified into one easy-to-remember rule.
With Rugby World Cup going full-tilt in France, I’m reminded of one principle that has been standard operating procedure for the New Zealand All Blacks for decades: No Dickheads. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re a dickhead then you won’t be invited to play. No one player is bigger than the team.
It’s a simple rule, and I think it captures the essence of what’s increasingly wrong in the sport of skiing and snowboarding. It’s the answer to everything:
Cussing out lifties and ski patrollers because you’re frustrated waiting for a lift to open.
Booing or throwing snowballs at ski-school instructors and their clients for using their lift-line privileges.
Not paying attention or communicating in the lift lines for the six (and now eight!) seaters, leading to chaos, confusion and half-empty chairs during busy times.
Not merging correctly in lines or skipping ahead, pretending not to notice other people who have the right-of-way.
Waking up at six in the morning, putting your skis in the lift line, going back home to sleep, then coming rushing back at 8:15 a.m., elbows out, to claim your spot up front just as the lift is opening, getting in everyone’s way and breaking up groups.
Jumping ahead of people in singles lines so you can be with your friends… in the singles line.
Not helping people pick up their gear after a crash or checking to make sure they’re OK.
Going out of bounds without the necessary gear or knowledge. Heading into permanently closed or avalanche closed areas, endangering all the good people who now have to rescue your sorry ass.
Cutting across people at chairlift exits, causing crashes that force the lifties to slow everything down while people sort themselves out.
Smoking and vaping in lines and on lifts.
There’s really not much that happens on the mountain that couldn’t be improved upon with a strict “No Dickheads” policy. In fact, a lot of the civility problems that seem to be getting worse in society, especially after COVID gave everyone a mild case of Main Character Syndrome by validating our non-stop whining and complaining, could be sorted out by the same simple rule.
Just something to think about while we wait.