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Pique n your interest

The curse

Whistler is blessed with beautiful mountains, forests, alpine meadows, lakes, rivers, and streams. The snow falls in the winter and the sun can be counted on to shine for at least part of the summer.

The weather makes this place, but it could just as easily break it. Imagine what would happen if the snow decided to stay away one year, or the rain didn’t let up enough one summer to allow for even one round of golf. What would happen to the hotels, stores and restaurants if people stayed away? What would happen to the residents who depend on those businesses for their livelihood?

It’s a chilling idea, but really nothing to make you reach for the Pepto Bismol. It would be a freak meteorological oddity for an entire season to be ruined by bad weather.

When it comes to weekends and special events, however, it’s a different story.

The weather has wreaked havoc in the past on everything from World Cup skiing to skateboarding competitions. It’s such a common phenomenon in town that I’ve heard of it referred to as "The Whistler Curse." The bigger the event, the more severe the weather system.

The International Federation of Skiing took away Whistler’s World Cup downhill event after it was cancelled three years in a row due to the weather.

The SkateSpace BMX, skateboard and In-line skating contest and expo had rain four days out of five last summer, cancelling the vert ramp events and delaying just about everything else.

This winter the weather hampered the World Cup snowboarding events in December, the World Cup freestyle events in January, the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships for alpine skiing in March, and the Whistler Cup international juvenile ski races in April. It also affected a number of smaller events in between.

On a personal scale, the unpredictable weather has no doubt ruined days for all of us. I had friends come to visit from Ontario who didn’t see one shred of blue sky for the entire visit, and probably left Whistler wondering what I see in this place.

For me the snow and rain have ruined hikes, bike rides, picnics, snowboarding, or just about any outdoor activity you could name.

There is always snow during the annual Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, but this year the weather created some of the worst conditions I’ve seen in my three seasons skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb.

It rained during the Ripzone Snowboard Invitational big air event, and while that didn’t stop thousands of people from converging in Mountain Square, it made more than a few photographers and videographers grumble.

People wrapped their cameras in their Gore-Tex jackets, preferring to get themselves wet rather than risk damaging their equipment. They punched holes for their lenses in plastic bags and toques, and stuffed their cameras into their jackets in between jumps.

For years the snowboard big air event has been held at night, which made it extremely difficult to shoot for publications. This year it was held in the afternoon, in the light of day when shooting conditions are best, and look what happens. Instead of blue sky and some of the most amazing snowboard shots you’ve ever seen, everything looks gray.

The same rainfall also drenched the mountains, right before a cold front moved in freezing the slush into masses of hard, gray ice. It also snowed a few centimetres that night, hiding the worst patches.

The conditions didn’t affect the quality of halfpipe competition, which was interrupted by a few fog delays and flurries, but once again the shooting conditions weren’t great, and the trip down the mountain was a nightmare.

From a festival point of view it was a success. A lot of people came out and the athletes put on a show that people will be talking about the whole year. But there’s no denying that blue skies and sunshine would have made it just that much better.

The World Skiing Invitational is on this weekend, and so far the weather reports look encouraging. I hope it works out because the last thing Whistler needs is an international reputation as a rainy resort in the spring.

Unpredictable and unpleasant weather is a thorn in the side of this town, but locals have learned to make the best of things. "If you don’t get out and learn to do things in the rain, prepare to spend a lot of time cooped up indoors," one friend says. That’s good advice.

Event organizers have also made their peace with the weather a long time ago, otherwise they would have stopped trying to organize all of these events and we wouldn’t be bidding for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

When the sun does come out, and it always does eventually, you tend to forget about the bad weather. Five days of sunshine can erase five weeks of rain.

Strangely enough, it was bad weather that brought me to Whistler in the first place. I was attempting to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Manning, B.C. to Mexico back in 1999, and was hit by a blizzard and close to a metre of snow on my third day on the trail. It was August.

Fearing more of the same, and wanting to get as far south as possible by October, I pushed myself harder and harder. By the time I reached the Mt. Rainier area, I was hiking more than 40 kilometres a day.

Since I was riding a desk before I left on this trip, my body wasn’t ready. I sprained a ligament in my knee, and had to limp more than 30 km to the highway. A doctor told me it would be three weeks.

I came back to Whistler to stay with a friend and recuperate, found out about the Pique job, and stayed.

It’s hard to hate the weather when it does something like that.

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