Saying goodbye to snowplay for the season 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY EVE BLECHER / FLICKR.COM - goodbye winter, goodbye wizard chair As the season ends, we say farewell to a few beloved fixtures of our mountains.
  • photo by Eve Blecher /
  • goodbye winter, goodbye wizard chair As the season ends, we say farewell to a few beloved fixtures of our mountains.

It's sad.

It's not, "Your puppy's dead," sad. But it's way sadder than, "Your hamster's dead." It's somewhere in the neighbourhood of your girlfriend/boyfriend has left you but you were kind of thinking it was time to leave her/him anyway. Sad, but nothing a good bottle of wine with friends won't make you forget about.

Still, it is sad. Whistler's down with something like 300 centimetres on the ground and the potential for the best spring skiing we've seen in years. Spending the day up there Sunday, enjoying the sunshine and questioning where the heat was, having a picnic in Burnt Stew and wondering why closing day is, well, sad, the saddest part was still hours away. Really sad, strikingly sad, was looking out at Whistler and Blackcomb before crawling into bed and being struck by the flurry of activity on Blackcomb, the lights of groomers crawling all over the mountain, and the total darkness of Whistler. A porch light at Oly station and the Roundhouse. Nothing more. Darkness. Sad.

Not as sad as feeling upbeat and then suddenly remembering The Orange One really is president of the Untied States. Still. Not as sad as watching the Liberal government's attempts to set new standards in hypocrisy by saying Kinder Morgan's expansion has to move forward so they can meet their Paris commitments. Sad and confusing. Or questioning whether they've lost their minds even thinking about investing money in such a shaky business venture.

And way less sad than watching the lame duck premier of Alberta throw a hissy fit and threaten to let the Western bastards run out of gas on their summer vacations if she doesn't get her way. Chill, Rach; have another Alberta cider.

I haven't decided where Blackcomb's half-open/half-closed spring season falls on the sadness continuum but it does remind me of the joke—I think it was a joke—a painter told me one summer when I was helping him out on a couple of jobs. Having taught me his painstaking, OCD approach to prepping walls, I did my best to emulate his high standards, notwithstanding it seemed to be taking a long time. At the end of maybe the second day, he examined my work and said it was OK, then added, suggesting I took a bit longer than he'd have liked, "You know, you're not really fast and you're not really slow... just kind of half-fast." It's funnier said out loud.

Blackcomb, as of late Monday, is kind of half-fast. The good news is they're running more lifts than they're dismantling. Blackcomb glacier's open, 7th, Glacier Express, the T-bars, Crystal and there is a way to get to them. The skiing's good but, remembering it's spring and heating up, there is no profit in starting early. And, there is no profit in staying late unless by late you mean well after the mountain has closed and everyone else has left. Even with mandatory download, getting to the top of Excalibur anytime in the afternoon, but especially near the posted closing time, is about as nerve-wracking as driving the Don Valley Parkway—ask someone from Toronto if that makes no sense to you—without brakes. There's only one way out of Dodge, unless you're testing your wax against the hydrology of spring snow on the long, long road out from Crystal, and that way is Zig-Zag ... giving an entirely new meaning to a name we'd always associated with rolling papers.

Now, if you're like my friend, Al, who snorted at the very words "mandatory download," or if you're like me, who has long adhered to the policy Death Before Download, I wish you luck. Blackcomb seems to have cornered the market on fencing. Not the kind that needs wire cutters but the kind that will, nonetheless, make you think twice about finding a way around—or through—it. Festooned with "Closed" signs, it calls to mind the kind of boundary that if crossed, leads to getting your pass pulled. While that may not be a big deal this late in the season, there are probably three good reasons to be circumspect.

It may well apply to next season; no problem if you're headed back to Ontario to work in your mom's insurance office, but problem if you're already looking forward to next season.

Ski patrollers are not as kind and loving at this point in the season as they usually are, and it would probably be extremely cathartic to strip someone naked and make them walk the rest of the way down the mountain if they caught them.

And, oh, there's the three-metre drop at the road cuts you probably won't see until it's too late.

But skiing anything is better than skiing nothing and it's way better than whacking a golf ball, so enjoy the ice, cream, corn and schmoo for another month and suck up the download.

Which brings up the point, this being the bonus season: What kind of season was it?

In a word, weird. The weirdness was a gift of Vail Resorts, whose management decisions and timing left many of us wondering whether they were really in the ski business and wishing the mountains had just been bought by another hedge fund. But this too shall pass. Pete said so. Given that Vail Resort's ownership falls squarely in the category of things about which you can do absolutely nothing, best to move on.

It being the kind of year it was though, it's impossible to assign a simple X-out-of-10 kind of score. The snow was a solid 8.5. It came early enough for us to have a great pre-season and more seemed to come whenever it was needed ... including last week, which while spring in name, dished up a couple of the finest days of the winter.

The weather was somewhere in the high 7s, call it 7.8 for the sake of continuity. Cold enough to nurture the early snow, not too many juicy Hawaiian days, the promise of spring and the usual number and duration of choking grey days.

The gestalt, the ski experience was, well, all over the place. What may have been a high score for the combination of snow conditions, grooming and weather, was moderated by the unsettling quality of people sharing the mountain. Too many out-of-control people resulting in too many ugly collisions, too many people who have no idea how to approach or load a chairlift without the word clusterf%#k coming to mind, too many who must think they're on a closed course and it's OK to ski side-to-side without a clue there's anyone else there, and too many dilettantes in general.

But where else in the world would you rather be? Yeah. And we'll be here next year, too.

See ya then.


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