Taking sanctuary 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE SHULEY - Weathering the storm Like so many bad seasons Whistler has had in the past, we can weather this storm.
  • Photo by Vince Shuley
  • Weathering the storm Like so many bad seasons Whistler has had in the past, we can weather this storm.

When I wrote this column last week, I was still making jokes about the world ending. What I hadn't anticipated was—in the space of a few days—the sudden and drastic measures taken by governments around the world to contain COVID-19, including our own. Last week, I was still pointing and laughing at alarmists who were hoarding toilet paper and canned food, starting supermarket brawls over them. I'm not laughing this week. And the doomsday preppers are all happily grinning from the safety of their fallout shelters.

I'm still cautiously optimistic. I'm staying informed by getting daily updates from credible news sources and not the rumour mill that is the Whistler Winter Facebook group, which has already cried wolf a number of times. (I also realize that by the time you're reading this, we will likely have a confirmed case in Whistler). I'm trying my best to be diligent with hygiene. I'm making contingency plans in case myself or my partner have to miss work. Travel plans in the short term have already gone out the window.

Steady as she goes.

Whistlerites generally look to the invisible membrane south of Function Junction to shield us from the outside world and its woes. That works for almost every other negative international news headline, but there's no escaping this one. We're at risk like everyone else, so we best lather up our hands, sing Happy Birthday twice and greet our friends with the "Wuhan Shake" as well as other social distancing measures.

Last week, I thought that spending time on our home ski hill Whistler Blackcomb would be largely unaffected. Skiers and snowboarders wear gloves and often neck tubes and facemasks. It's easy enough to slink down behind your jacket and keep your mouth covered while on the chair lift, eyes safely behind a pair of goggles. But noticing the string of resort closures in Europe and clusters of outbreaks in the U.S. (including ski towns), our Powers That Be at Vail Resorts have stepped up the precautions by suspending operations at all its North American resorts. I thought skiing, mountains and fresh air were going to be my sanctuary against exposure to COVID-19, but as I'm discovering with each passing day, it's not that simple. At least we will still be allowed to skin up Whistler Blackcomb.

What about the backcountry? That's where all the social distancing and social isolation-themed social media posts seem to be coming from. Surely this is the safest place to be outside the house right now (perhaps safer, in fact). But if you're heading out for a few days to escape the urban curfews, watch yourself. We can't afford to stress our beloved Canadian healthcare system right now, so don't take the risks that you normally would when skiing in the wilderness. Be careful around people in cramped backcountry huts, stay sanitized (if you can still buy sanitizer) and consider winter camping in tents instead. It may not be as warm as a cozy fireplace in a remote cabin, but the reduced exposure is probably worthwhile.

We all hate missing powder days, touring days, sledding days, Nordic days and all the other fun stuff that require our bodies to be in pretty decent shape. Injuries suck, but sickness can bench you just as quick. So in order to get the most out of the remaining winter and reduce risk of COVID-19 at the same time, here are a couple of tips from ex-alpinist and skimo racer Scott Semple, who recently updated his online article "Functional Mysophobia: Crazy Ways to Stay Healthy." You can see more of his endurance athlete training tips at uphillathlete.com.

Decrease your outdoor germ exposure. Sounds obvious, but have you thought of strategies like staying upwind of people in case they sneeze? Try to limit your deep inhaling breaths when passing people on a trail or skin track. Avoid crowded enclosed spaces like washrooms, hallways and busy gondola cabins. Keep your gloves on (or use glove liners) for as long as possible when touching communal services such as door handles, gas pumps and PIN pads. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Reduce your vulnerability. Sleep as much as possible. That might not work with that double shift you have to work tomorrow, but consider how early you rise the next day and how hard you plan on skiing. If you get a crappy night's sleep, adjust your training plan. Don't over-train and avoid high-intensity workouts. Eat a healthy diet that boosts your immune system and take it easy on the alcohol. Ski touring hungover is never as fun anyway.

As much as I'm bracing for the worst, I'm hoping for the best. I feel for all the local businesses and hotels that have suffered massive cancellations for the rest of the winter season. I feel for the employees that are getting laid off a month early without knowing what the summer will bring. But like so many bad seasons we've had in the past, we can weather this storm. We're not quite at the end of the world yet.

Vince Shuley is ready for some good news. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email vince@vinceshuley.com or Instagram @whis_vince

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