Fat flakes and other big moments of the decade 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE SHULEY - THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES Goar Bermúdez García enjoying one of his finer moments of the decade atop Slalok Mountain.
  • Photo by Vince Shuley
  • THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES Goar Bermúdez García enjoying one of his finer moments of the decade atop Slalok Mountain.

There's nothing that quite lifts the spirits of a snow-starved community than fat flakes. I'll never forget the first time I witnessed these beautiful shapes falling from the sky. It was December 2004, my very first winter in Whistler and I was calling home to Australia from a (wait for it) payphone outside my building at Whistler Blackcomb Staff Housing. I'd never seen such quick accumulation of snow on the ground and struggled to keep my attention on the conversation with my mother, assuring her I was doing fine. I later learned that these fat flakes—with their high water content and temperature-driven clumping—don't necessarily provide the best skiing, but just like that day 15 years ago, I'll happily take fat flakes over no flakes at all.

When I saw the snow doing its darndest to make a Rocky Balboa-esque comeback this week and recalled that first magical, fat-flake moment, I realized that here we all are, at the end of another decade 10 years on from the Vancouver Olympics. Remember that big ol' party? We've had some not-as-big-but-still-notable things happen since then. While I'll refrain from a Whistler history lesson that you can probably read on interpretive signs around town, I am going to cop out with another Outsider's Greatest Hits column. This time it's a double-edged sword of the best moments having some unfortunate negative baggage and some of the worst moments having some real silver linings. All moments of the decade as seen through my outdoor-opinion lens. Don't say I didn't warn you.

No. 1: Doing our best to bring back social justice in the lift line

I'd been a columnist with the Whistler Question (RIP) for a little over a year when I had my first verbal altercation in a Whistler chairlift line. It was an early morning powder day congregation at the Wizard Express and myself and two friends had been waiting there for around an hour to reserve our place. A late-arriving salt-and-pepper-bearded local decided he could fill an empty spot we had in the line and I told him that no, he would have to line up at the end of the singles line. I'd never seen a man so offended, but I wasn't having any of his snakey, pow-day tactics. I wrote about the experience the following week, which sparked a vehement online debate about lift-line etiquette. Having seen all too many times the arrogance of locals skipping lines, the audacity of ski instructors abusing their lift-line privilege and too many meek rank-and-file crowd members seeing it happen and doing/saying nothing, it was time to take a stand. Localism is our common enemy in ski towns.

No. 2: The Spearhead Huts becoming a reality

I wasn't here for the inception of the Spearhead Huts idea back in the '80s and '90s, but I did witness the rapid rise in ski touring culture that made building the Spearhead Huts a case that few could argue with. There have been so many obstacles along the way as one would expect from dealing with provincial government (and many other forms of) red tape, but the worst thing was hearing about the people in stakeholder power that were doing their best to stall—if not sabotage—the project through legal and governmental bureaucracy. No one would ever go on the record of course, it was all hush hush behind closed doors and an insider speaking out would likely land that whistleblower in the unemployment line. The Spearhead Huts proponents overcame all that adversity by doing their due diligence and standing up for what is rightfully a community asset. One out of three huts is great progress, but there's a lot more work and fundraising to do. And the Spearhead Huts Committee isn't without some of its own internal struggles trying to do just that. More on that another time.

No 3: The rain that brought out the worst of Whistler

Hailing back to that infamous 2014-15 season that drenched Whistler in one of the biggest Pineapple Express weather systems we'd ever seen. If that doesn't ring a bell, remember the photo of the drowned Glacier Express loading station resembling something out of the Book of Revelation? That photo went viral all over the internet, but not before the Torches and Pitchforks of the Whistler Winter Facebook group rallied and began sliding into Whistler Blackcomb's (WB) DMs en masse. The argument was something along the lines of, "why the f--k do you have a four-day-old photo of powder skiing on the front of your website when this is the state of the mountain?!" Some WB marketing staff were getting ready to quit their jobs after fielding endless abuse from a sudden spike in Whistler troll population, collectively accused of misleading the public and profiting from the sorrow of Lower Mainlanders who didn't check the weather report before driving up the Sea to Sky Highway. WB was doing what any business does during a rough patch, which is stay as optimistic as it could. The wrath of a rained-out locals crowd was one of its more trying moments, but once it snowed again, everyone forgot about that and went skiing.

Let's hope our community endures the next decade just as well. Stay well and play outside.

Vince Shuley is hoping for another decade of outdoor adventures and the occasional missadventure. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email vince@vinceshuley.com or Instagram @whis_vince.

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