Pique'n Yer Interest 

Soul train

Stop me if you've heard this before: after ten fabulous days of overdrive partying, presenting, presiding and participating, I lie beaten, bloodied and broken in the gutter of spring ... with a smile on my face. Far from congratulating myself on surviving the 16th incarnation of the world's largest showcase of mountain sport, art and culture, however, I instead find myself thinking about the important crucible it represents and the superheroes responsible for staging the marathon that many of us run (ok, stumble) each April.

Stop me if you've read this before: I rarely use editorial space to talk about Whistler. That's because this town and its mountains already receive plenty of play here and anywhere else that matters. It's hard not to talk up the critical mass of athletes, photogs, cines, terrain, snow and infrastructure residing here, but in order to maintain a shred of objectivity; I make a conscious decision not to join the sycophantic clamor. Until I hear someone from another ski area joke, a bit too seriously, that Whistler has no soul. What?

Last December marked my 11th anniversary here, the longest stint of anything in my adult life. And it has been a winter filled with reminders of why this stint will surely be extended. Like many, I'd been looking for myself outdoors, often in the mountains, since I was kid. What I was really looking for, of course, was something that connected with my soul. It wasn't until landing here that I found the magic combination woven by the people, setting and peculiar sensibilities of Whistler - a place where you can't help but be inspired by the constant vibrancy and proclivity to reach for the possible. There's no beating the wilderness and scenery, but the human backdrop is also key, and when it comes to this, culture is king and soul is culture.

We almost sleepwalk through the mind-boggling cultural offerings of this town, and no matter how grateful we are after the fact, fail to truly appreciate the magnitude of the event or the shear volume of work and creativity required to bring it - all of it built on a scaffolding of soul. I'm referencing both WSSF - for which the town should prostate itself and kiss the organizers' toes - and our other marquee events. Cornucopia's monument to food and wine and hedonism has barely wrapped in the fall before the Whistler Film Festival begins, this past year marking 10 years of celebrating Canadian cinema. At both are found plenty of black-clad Vancouverites and Torontonians, New Yorkers and Los Angelenos. That such urban sensibilities and artistic endeavours seek here (and in Davos, Telluride, Aspen, Park City, Banff...) the perfect venue for congregation and inspiration is further endorsement for mountain towns. But there's more.

On the final night of the film festival, The Troutsmen - part fraternity, part service club, all fun and games - held a charity screening of the infamous snowboard film Whiskey alongside Heavy Hitting Films' equally infamous ski flick, Parental Advisory , also a decade old. It reminded me of when I viewed the latter's youthful makers - Travis Tetrault, Feet Banks, Chili Thom, Stu MacKay-Smith - the most creative force in the valley, emblematic of the gravitas that drew me here. Deep in the drunken din that night, supporting his one-time and current employees, sat Mickey Homma, owner of world-renowned Sushi Village, which soon celebrated its 25th anniversary in style with several meltdown parties, proceeds to the local adaptive ski program. Both The Troutsmen and Sushi Village united later to hold fundraising events in aid of Japanese earthquake relief.

This soulful show of how culture and caretaking go hand-in-hand is a constant in this town, and even threads its way through the often-commercial overtones of the WSSF. As if we can't thank Sue Eckersley and her hardworking Watermark crew enough, the festival's final blowout - Best of the Fest - is a cooperative fundraising event at the GLC for another far-reaching Whistler charity, playgroundbuilders.org (http//playground builders.org). Seeing everyone turn out not just to celebrate the winners of the WSSF's many cultural competitions but also to do what they can for a worthy cause is just another amazingly deep turn in an amazingly deep winter. In Whistler, of course, even such noblesse oblige turns into a big party. Yes, I remembered where I'd left my car the next morning, but happily turned up at the GLC in the afternoon for Ace MacKay-Smith's annual Hot Dog party only to find that my credit card was there and I still had a tab open. Seamless. It's this constant cycle of givin'er hard and giving back harder (then sometimes givin'er again) that comes closest to prescribing my personal utopia.

And stop me if you've heard this before: the open-minded, free-spirited mindset behind all of this springs not from the mountains, of course, but from what mountains inveigle from all of us. And that, my friends, is soul.

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