Shortly after the final Pleistocene ice sheet melted, Paul Morrison moved to Whistler.
He wasn’t first, of course, but part of the initial trickle who eventually made the valley what it is today—an acme and envy among North American ski resorts. As a ski photographer of note, he not only enjoyed helping drive the bus of Whistler notoriety, but holding up a mirror to its careening path.
I didn’t know much about those halcyon days when I moved to Whistler in December 1999. But like any ski-magazine editor worth his Whistler Blackcomb comp pass, I certainly knew who Paul was. One of a handful of storied names around the light-table at Powder magazine where I worked, Paul’s money shots were a guiding light to what we all sought—the perfect turn in perfect snow and perfect light with friends whom, if not quite as perfect as the conditions, were certainly as good as they came. Long before I met them, folks like Paul were remotely filling my head with an idea of what life could be—and apparently was in Whistler: untouched powderfields and endless on-slope shenanigans amidst soaring peaks and blue-fanged glaciers where fuchsia sunsets and beer bled their last into the snow together.
In those analog days of slides, black-and-white prints and tiny names etched in faint, sic-point type on the corner of a magazine page, it was hard not to imagine these unseen lensmen as ethereal legends somehow borne of the things they portrayed—like some Norse god levitating through the high alpine arenas on their own cloud. The best part of my job was getting to meet and know many of these pseudo-deities, having fun together, realizing they were just as human as myself, and becoming friends.
I can’t quite remember when I first met Paul—maybe at a ski show, or more likely an editorial turn in Whistler while I was living in California—but by the time I arrived in town on a more-or-less permanent basis, we were well acquainted. Enough, at least, that we were paired on the first big editorial trip undertaken from my new digs for the soon-to-launch sbcSKIER magazine: a foray to Japan with New Canadian Air Force pilots Mike Douglas, JP Auclair and Shane Szocs, along with skier Smiley Nesbitt and filmer Ben Mullin.
Even after decades of crazed, mad-cap missions that scorched retinas with the unfamiliar and caused memory banks to overflow like an overstuffed filing cabinet, this was One of Those Trips. You know, like that time we… wore avalanche transceivers in the Tokyo subway system so we wouldn’t lose each other… documented every Jinglish slogan, sticker and T-shirt we came across… skied insanely deep powder in the trees of Niseko… stole Szocs’ shoes and left him asleep in a yurt bar during a snowstorm to find his own way home… drank water from a spray toilet… called each other “dude” with such incessance it persists to this day (at least with Mike, Paul and I)… and dug Ben out of an avalanche in Naeba with injuries severe enough to require both his scalp and chin be sutured back onto his head. For Paul and I, then in our 40s and already the group’s “seniors,” two risible memories lingered: dodging a Colombo-like detective looking to question me about the avalanche, and a van ride to Sapporo airport in which Paul, cripplingly hungover from an all-nighter in a basement bar where we sat on tree dolts under a ceiling so low that darts whizzed past our heads—declared into Szocs’ Hi8 camera, “Every moment of my life up until now has been slightly better.” All in all, there was exhilaration and exultation, hilarity and tragedy, and enough camaraderie to form a bond.
As sbcSKIER took off, Paul and I worked together regularly. If he wasn’t helping out with some of our crazier ideas (like photographing the ultimate sandwich, gas-station tandoori KFC or homemade “babagadouche”) we were travelling together—Switzerland, Italy, France, Aspen, Bulgaria, Kashmir, Chile and a dozen resorts and heli-operations across B.C., creating stories and memories (chasing sasquatch across the ski areas of Washington State stands out). No matter the conditions or circumstances, Paul never once failed to get the money shot.
Generous even as a parent, he sacrificed his only scion, Ian, then 11, to play defence in the first-ever SBC Skiers vs. Snowboarders hockey game at Meadow Park, and willfully exposed him at home dinners to the wisecracking antics of pro skiers and bikers, recognizing an unconventional milieu of free childcare.
Through it all we became close friends, further bonding over our Southern Ontario roots, love of canoeing, the Maple Leafs and beer—a crucible that might explain considerable time spent in The Boot and Tapley’s. As we aged, our work changed. Less madcap young-man’s high life and more grounded soft adventure—like a sailing trip to Haida Gwaii to report on biodiversity and Indigenous tourism initiatives. Our families are close and regularly wine, dine and canoe-trip together, through which I’ve come to understand how the King of Light and wife Gail have remained so long bonded: her mastery of cooking and running a photo business dovetail’s perfectly with his proficiency at pressing buttons and ability to reheat frozen pizza.
My buddy Paul turned 70 this week, which means I’m not far behind. Sure, it’s great to reminisce about the good ole days, but one thing you learn by this point is that there’s always more to come. Another One of Those Trips. For someone who’s been here since the Pleistocene, that’s a money shot in itself.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn’t like.