Alta States 

Paula Shackleton - celebrating the reader in all of us


"Language is, of course, man's greatest and most complex artefact, every word of which extends or involves all of his sensory life."

- Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher of communications

I don't get it. Where does she get the energy? How does she fit all those tasks into her very busy life? Why is she always smiling, for that matter? Doesn't she know she's living way too hectic a life to be happy all the time?

Like so many other "Whistler women" - Shauna Hardy Mishaw comes to mind, as does Stella Harvey and Kristen Robinson and Florence Petersen and Cathy Jewett and Joan Richoz and... - Whistler Reads' tireless founder Paula Shackleton is a force of nature. I know. I know. She doesn't live in Whistler full time anymore. Who cares? As far as I'm concerned, she's as much a part of this community as any full-time resident today.

What fascinates me, frankly, is the nature of her relationship with this mountain town. Why does she care so much? What drives her to keep contributing her time and energy to making this place a fuller more culturally-rich environment?

I mean, it's not like her intro to Whistler was all that promising. "I learned to ski with my father through Grouse Mountain's Headway ski program in the late '70s," she recounts with a laugh. "I loved it but I needed to focus on school at the time, and didn't have much opportunity to practise."

She was a nursing student at VGH when she met her future husband, Chris, a fourth-year medical student at UBC. "He was a former racer from the Dave Murray era and had lots of connections to the ski world," she tells me. "Chris has the funniest ski stories dating back from Whistler's Wild West days - about the Mt. Currie Rodeo and beer fights at the Boot Pub, the sketchy road up, the epic snow levels... things like that."

So was she intrigued? She bursts into laughter. "Oh yes. But I was just a neophyte skier. On our first trip to Whistler I remember riding up the Red Chair sideways in a blizzard and he says: 'Whatever you do, don't fall off the chair when we get to the top.'" She pauses for a well-timed breath. "Well," she continues, "of course that's exactly what I did." She laughs. "I felt like I'd failed my first big test..."

Her ski lessons continued however. "Skiing with Chris was a challenge. It was like playing a game of perpetual leapfrog without the opportunity to be the lead frog," she says. "But I learned to ski fast and straight."

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