Maxed out 

Timing is everything

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Now is the winter of our discontent, made easier, perhaps, by the long-awaited arrival of snow. The calendar says January, the year says 2009, but my psyche says November. The vortex of holidays, the crush — though less crushing than usual — of visitors and that most gentle of dopplering hums as the resort slows down in the new year aren’t enough to shake the feeling that something’s been missing.

I haven’t been getting high enough.

Oh sure, the place has been dripping with alcohol. You don’t have to walk very far to wonder whether the skunk cabbage is coming out unseasonably early. And the glazed look in the clubbers’ eyes suggest no lack of pharmaceutical party favours. But my drug of choice has been late coming to the party. I still can’t believe it’s the second week of January and the closest I’ve gotten to a run down Whistler Bowl has been a trudge up Shale Slope.

With luck, this latest storm cycle will open the alpine for the season. That’s a mixed blessing. As much as I’m relishing a run down Peak to Creek, a plunge into Ruby Bowl and a tramp in the Nearcountry, when the ropes drop and the Peak chair starts running, the likelihood of death visiting our doorstep will approach certainty. And with it, like maggots on roadkill, a ridiculously uninformed — hey, let’s call a spade a spade: absolutely stupid — media circus.

The circus will be preceded by dead men skiing. They won’t know they’re dead until the grim reaper French kisses the life out of them. They’ll think they’re having the time of their lives. They’ll think they’re invincible. They’ll think they can ski anything, anywhere. They’ll think that because they’re very good skiers and have conquered the steepest pitches in-bounds, hucked the highest cliffs, developed their skills far in advance of their knowledge and judgment.

They’ll be wrong: dead wrong. Avalanches don’t care how good a skier you are or how much you think you understand the dynamic forces of tonnes of snow lying temptingly on slopes steeper than the angle of repose. Avalanches don’t care that you think you’re in safe terrain or simply blissfully unaware of the dangers several thousand feet above you.

With any luck they’ll die alone; they won’t have peer-pressured their friends into coming along for the last ride with them. With any luck they’ll be swept over a cliff and die instantly when their acceleration to terminal velocity comes to an abrupt halt on a rocky outcropping. With any luck, they’ll be tumbled through a stand of trees, crushed in a boulder field or have half their head taken off by a sharp slab of shale.

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