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Pique n' your interest

Five years later

This week marked my fifth anniversary of living in Whistler and working for Pique. I’d stop to wonder where all that time went, but I’m pretty sure that it went the same place as my money – into making the most of the life I think I chose, but most likely chose me.

I arrived here in the summer of 1999, visiting a friend before setting out on a three month, 3,000 mile hike from Manning Provincial Park to Mexico via the Pacific Crest Trail.

I lasted all of three weeks on that trail, spraining my knee while humping a 40 pound pack up and down mountain passes in Washington state. I literally dragged my lame leg 20 miles over two days to get to the highway, made my way back to Canada, saw a doctor, and was told it would be at least three weeks to a month before I could hike again.

I didn’t exactly budget for that. In fact I didn’t budget reliably at all, not realizing that the guide book I was using was printed in the mid-1980s and the price of supplies and equipment had gone up since then. I should have clued in when the guidebook suggested rubber ponchos as appropriate rainwear and wool sweaters for cold nights. Looking back, there no mention of GoreTex or Polar Fleece anywhere.

So I found myself back in Whistler, recuperating and mulling over my options. It was then that I learned of a job opening at Pique Newsmagazine, and had my mom send out all my press clippings and some examples of the work I did over the previous 18 months at an advertising agency – mostly brochures for road graders and reverse osmosis water purifiers, but hey, everybody has to start somewhere.

The way I saw it I had two options at that point – if I got the job I would stay in Whistler, do a little snowboarding over the winter, and save the Pacific Crest Trail for another year. If not, I would take a bus down to Oregon and get back on the trail, coming back to do the sections of Washington I missed another year. After that I would probably return to Whistler to find work for the winter.

To make a long story short I got the job, and it’s been my privilege to report for the Pique and the people of Whistler ever since. It’s a fascinating town, with a lot more going on than most people could imagine, or one paper could possibly cover.

I’ve made some mistakes here and there – colossal any-other-newspaper-in-the-world-would-have-probably-canned-my-sorry-ass mistakes – but the people have been pretty good about them. Very ‘Whistler’, if you know what I mean.

It’s been challenging putting down roots here. Some of the friends I’ve made have already moved on, while others have moved to other distant Whistler neighbourhoods where I see them less and less. I have a wonderful girlfriend and we’re always looking at ways we can make our roots here a little more permanent, but it’s tough in a market where staff housing is our only affordable option and the waiting list is over 400 names long.

Still, all things and alternatives considered, I’ll think we’ll wait it out.

We rode Comfortably Numb over the weekend, looking down on our town from one of the many lookouts on the trail, and agreed for the hundredth time that there’s no better place on earth to eke out a living. Money doesn’t seem as important when you have that kind of trail to that kind of view.

Sometimes I wonder where I would be if a freak summer snowstorm didn’t hit me on the third day of my PCT hiking trip, scaring me into picking up my pace so much that a knee injury was a virtual inevitability.

Then I realize that I would probably still be here, possibly even in the same career – it was always my dream to move back to the mountains after taking a year off of university to ski bum in Banff, and Whistler was always on the top of my list.

Although five years is a drop in the bucket compared to a lot of people living in this valley, it was a huge milestone for me. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place since I was 19. It’s also the longest time I’ve ever held the same job.

It’s funny, but people tend to think of their tenures in Whistler in terms of the level of development that took place. The older residents can remember when Highway 99 was a dirt road, Whistler Village was a garbage dump, and the health care centre and bank were housed in trailers (the bank being hauled away one crazy night by enterprising thieves). Some were even here the year Whistler Mountain opened, while later arrivals can remember skiing Blackcomb for the first time in 1980.

Other residents can remember Whistler before the North Village was built, when Nicklaus North and Meadow Park were part of an expansive wetland, and the glory days before high-speed quads replaced all the old-school double and triple chairs.

I haven’t seen nearly as much development in my short tenure, but in five years I’ve witnessed the construction of the Westin and the Four Seasons hotels, and all the new development at Creekside.

Almost every day at this time of year I see another new arrival to town, standing at the bus stop in a sea of luggage. I wonder if they’re here for the season, or they’re here to stay, or if they even know what they’re getting themselves into.

For all you you newcomers, I give you the wisdom of my last five years.

First of all, save your money. You’re going to meet new people and be sorely tempted to party away your savings, secure in the knowledge that you’ll be working steadily in a few months. It doesn’t always work that way, unfortunately – two seasons ago we didn’t see snow until Christmas Day, and most workers didn’t see their first real paycheques until two weeks after that.

Also, there’s probably a one-in-five chance you’ll injure something in the first few months, so you’re going to need some money in the bank to recuperate with. The last thing you want to do is to get into debt here, because it’s hard to put extra money away when you’re in constant need of new skis and snowboards, mountain bike parts, and nacho platters.

Secondly, get involved. If you really want to meet people and feel like you’re part of a real community during your time here, then sign up for something. You get out of this town what you put into it.

Thirdly, stay positive and be patient. The snow will come, you’ll find a place to stay, you’ll find a job or two or three, and you’ll have the time of your life.

Lastly, take lots of pictures. Whether you’re here for a year or here for a lifetime, pictures of your powder days, your bike rides, your hikes, your parties and your people are going to be important to you down the road.

Without pictures I’d have a hard time explaining how I spent the last five years, and why, given the chance, I’d do it all over again.