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The Outsider: That guy who prays for rain

'Enjoy your well-earned summer, Whistler. And don’t forget to pray for the occasional week of rain.'
Will we receive just enough rain to cool our summer wildfire hazards?

At the risk of writing another weather-related column, I’m writing another weather-related column. Weather, after all, is the most common topic of conversation in our society, especially in a town where everyone’s fun hinges on a favourable forecast. 

Let’s start with the positives. The spring-skiing season of 2023 turned out pretty well, the patchiness of the closing-weekend snowpack notwithstanding. I wasn’t participating on account of my injury, but I saw plenty of photos and social media posts of pond skimming, bucket hats and all-around alpine beach vibes. Lobster-coloured bodies toting skis around the village attested to both the amazing weather and lack of UV protection everyone was enjoying. With the legacy of Gaper Day alive and well, the final weekend of operations went down as another salute to a winter of good times, the incessant whining about spring mountain operations now fading like an overzealous spring skier’s sunburn.

On the less celebratory side of summer getting its early kickoff, the floating-pool-toy convoys are already at it. My daily dog walk past the River of Golden Dreams has already met with clusters of disposable water craft, the high water levels whisking past the half-consumed beverage containers and lone flip-flops that manage to detach from their clueless owners.

Yet it isn’t the littering flotillas that make me anxious, it’s the prolonged stretches of high heat and beautiful weather. I don’t want to diminish the importance of the summer season for Canada—the population here deals with dark, gloomy and cold weather for six months of the year (sometimes more), and everyone deserves the beauty that our B.C. summers reward us with.

But when we’ve had weeks of elevated temperatures, wildfires ravaging Alberta with parts of B.C. already burning and most of our ski-town community basically built into a tinder-dry coastal rainforest… Well, you get the idea.

When I first started living in Whistler year-round about 15 years ago, we still had overly hot summers and our share of close calls with wildfires. The lightning strike that sparked the burn all over Blackcomb’s Crystal Zone in 2009 (where you can now ski without hitting branches) was the first time I’d seen fires threaten the livelihood of our town. From then on, I realized that the less happy people are with our summer weather, the greater the chance it won’t all burn to the ground. 

I don’t want to rain on everyone’s parade. But I do sometimes wish it would rain enough to affect our weekend plans on occasion. Or a week or two of deluge in our busiest, hottest months just to put some moisture back in the ground and settle the dust on our trails.

The hot, spring weather also has the potential to flood our communities. Earlier this month, Cache Creek was a casualty of overly warm spring temperatures that caused rapid snowpack melting and almost washed the entire town away. Pemberton has narrowly escaped such a disaster multiple times over the years.

So, what to do about it? Weather is never in our control, and the climate crisis isn’t going to miraculously resolve itself because I’m riding an e-bike to the grocery store instead of driving my car (though we should all consciously be searching for more efficient options that emit less carbon).

What I am doing is educating myself on what I can do around the home: limbing trees that are starting to creep closer to the roof and deck; cleaning up all those annoying piles of plant debris that seem to accumulate this time of year; and making sure our vehicle has at least half a tank of gas plus an emergency kit in case we need to evacuate Whistler in a hurry. There’s great info on on ways you can be ready when (not if) the wildfires come for us.

Another thing that many Whistler residents don’t bother with is tenant insurance. I know, I sound like your landlord (or worse, an alarmist insurance broker) right now. In my early ski-bum years, I never had much to my name except a couple of bikes and a closet full of skis. The number of possessions one accumulates can sneak up on you over the years, and when it all goes up in smoke, it can derail your life. For my partner and I, the moment it got real was when friends of ours had the basement suite they were renting perish in an electrical fire. Our friends had no insurance and lost pretty much everything. Thankfully, their family was unharmed. We bought an annual insurance policy later that month, and I’m glad we have it going into the 2023 wildfire season.

Enjoy your well-earned summer, Whistler. And don’t forget to pray for the occasional week of rain.

Vince Shuley. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email [email protected] or Instagram @whis_vince.