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THE OUTSIDER: March is for skiing

Ski touring conditions at Whitecap Alpine in late March are often excellent.

I can already hear the Squamish and Pemberton locals yelling from their respective ends of the highway… You can mountain bike in those communities for most of the year, to their credit. That’s a luxury we don’t really enjoy as Whistler locals, as evidenced by our spring and fall highway commutes in search of clear trails. But we’re not talking about biking here. After all, March is for skiing.

I’m not sure exactly when it became a thing, but sometime in the last few years around the spring-ahead Daylight Savings time change I’d start to hear locals bellyaching about an early spring tease and having to put up with winter conditions a bit longer. Skis and boards were furry and battered. Bikes were built, lubed and ready to roll. Decks had been cleared and barbecues fired up. But it didn’t matter, March snowstorms promptly doused any semblance of summer stoke. The frustration was maddening for some. More than one northern English friend of mine would mutter: “All this snow can fook off.”

I’m not a year-round winter addict, far from it. I did my tenure of hemisphere hopping chasing the endless ski season, which got old pretty fast. I love my summer adventures slogging up to summits and exploring trails. Having dabbled in it once or twice, I can’t think of anything more pointless than portaging plastic and fibreglass up mountains to ski a dozen turns on patches of sun-cupped snow in July. But March… March is for skiing.

The end of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival around Mid-April has historically signalled seasonal change in Whistler. One mountain closes, the other keeps the spring skiing dream alive a bit longer. The bike park may still be a month away, but bikers are already poking around trails that clear early (I’ve never seen a line up to ride Cut Yer Bars until the pandemic spring last year) or getting a head start on shitkicking sensitive trails. I’ll consider a bike ride in April. But March? March is for skiing.

If you had the privilege to ski in the backcountry in the last couple of weeks, you were greeted with longer and brighter days, consistent powder and a (mostly) stable snowpack. The kind of days where you rally your mates, climb into the proverbial helicopter clown car and start checking off the big items on your backcountry to-do list. We sometimes wait an entire season for these kinds of hero conditions to come around. Good thing March delivers.

I didn’t witness the shift of the seasons in Whistler’s Golden Years of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but I like to think that back then, April was when you had the hero ski conditions that we have right now. March was still a month of nuclear winter, kind of like when the January storms arrive with a respectably low freezing level. “March Madness” people still call it, I think. Now, the odd balmy day sees runners out in shorts and golf course staff firing up snow blowers and shaking their fists at oblivious dog walkers. 

We might not be able to upload the alpine lifts for that late afternoon soul shred this spring, but that’s a small sacrifice to make given how locals—for the most part—had mid-week skiing all to themselves since early January. Record-breaking initial uploads notwithstanding, I can confidently say this was one of the better years for skiing Whistler Blackcomb. That includes March, because, you know, March is for skiing.

As I write this, my sometimes-right-sometimes-not 14-day weather forecast shows a couple stretches of sun coming before the end of the month with a sprinkling of mixed freezing level dustings. Multi-sporting will no doubt be the theme of people’s social media messaging. But I know what I’ll be doing. 

Hand me my Gore-Tex. Let’s go skiing.

Vince Shuley believes March is for skiing. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email or Instagram @whis_vince.