Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

The Outsider: Effort In versus experience out

o-Outsider 29.01
The year 2022 had a remarkable start to skiing on Blackcomb Mountain.

Death and taxes. When I first encountered this phrase as a teenager it was a lesson in inevitability. Sure, you can ignore your taxes for a while, even evade them if you’re crafty and have a dodgy accountant willing to cook your books. But like our own mortality, it all catches up with you eventually.

The inevitability of going skiing off a chairlift is that at some point, you’re going to have to line up. It could be getting up early to be at the front of the line, patiently kicking out frozen limbs while waiting for the base lifts to open (a ritual often repeated later in the day for alpine lifts). You might have to wait in traffic to make it past the Creekside lights or, during some seasons, simply waiting around for the snow to arrive so we can go skiing at all.

Just like my aversion to vehicle traffic, throughout my years in Whistler I’ve looked for every opportunity to avoid waiting in line, with exception to my early bird starts on powder days, of course. Weekend freeskiing was (historically) to be avoided at all costs; mid-week is where you get the real bang for your powder buck. For the years I taught skiing on the mountain I would enjoy lift-line priority on the weekends and mid-week was when I would explore, ski and send it with my buddies. Like many of Whistler’s hospitality workers, in those years I took pride in rarely having to line up for good skiing.

But now with my Monday to Friday schedule, the lift line death knell looms. This season’s trend of most powder days falling on weekends hasn’t helped the situation. And as we all know, 95 per cent of the time, skiing is better than not skiing. So I do my best to find at least one friend willing to wake up in the dark and meet me at the base lifts, but I’ll still line up solo and strike up a conversation with the other dawn patrollers. Start early, ski pow, then head down when the rest of Highway 99’s powder-day traffic finally makes it up to the mid-mountain lifts.

There’s other ways to dodge the lift lines, of course. You could go ski touring, but during or right after a coastal storm it’s slow travel, high avalanche danger and generally moderate-to-bad visibility. So still skiing, and great-quality skiing, but pretty much always a whole lot less skiing. And if you’ve only got your two days a week to get your pow-day fix, hitting the resort early in those conditions is a no-brainer.

But not everyone is willing to walk for their skiing, and with that, lift lines can reach a critical mass. This was most apparent in the 2020-21 winter season here in Whistler, when we could load gondolas only with our own groups. That resulted in some comically long lift lines that snaked from one end of the village to the other. I attempted to ski on an 8 a.m. start a couple of days that season, but faced with the ludicrous wait, I elected to go home and try another day. That’s a luxury of living locally.

The holidays are usually when we get some of our most heinous lift lines, but the arctic outflow weather and paralyzing wind chill around Boxing Day kept a lot of fair weather skiers indoors. I was among them for the worst of the -30s, but rallied for a few of the -20s and was greeted with a tolerably busy ski hill—a rare treat during the holidays. Some of Vail’s other resorts in the West did not fare very well with holiday traffic. Park City, Stevens Pass, Northstar and Heavenly were just a few that had social media shares showing agonizingly long lift lines. Yes, it’s the holidays and yes, staff have been increasingly hard to find, retain and keep COVID-free for every level of business, but where is the tipping point of an expensive day at the resort getting rewarded with a handful of runs and a whole lot of waiting around?

I’ve never been a regional or destination skier, so I don’t know the balance of time-and-money input versus quantity-and-quality-skiing output. What I do know is that if I had to contend with congested vehicle traffic, long lift lines and minimal vertical skiing all on a powder day, I would probably find another winter hobby. But that’s just my level of tolerance for waiting in line.

I sincerely hope the thousands of regional and travelling skiers over the holidays were leaving Whistler Blackcomb satisfied, and even stoked. I hope that transport through our town can get figured out so no one has to take 90 minutes to drive the last 11 kilometres into Whistler Village. As long as we keep getting powder days like those on January 2 and 3 (a monumental start to 2022), locals will find a way to manage. But as long as we try to cram as many skiers as possible onto the lifts and onto the roads, something has to change in order to preserve Whistler’s world-class ski experience. And it isn’t going to be solved with wider roads and bigger chair lifts.


Vince Shuley had a great start to 2022 skiing on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email or Instagram @whis_vince.