The season that was 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MEGAN LALONDE
  • Photo by Megan Lalonde

The chairs have stopped spinning, the last Hawaiian-shirted, bucket-hat-wearing snowboarder has downloaded, and another ski season has come and gone.

Whistler is officially in summer mode.

If I remember correctly, I think I said the same thing last fall.  

Thinking back to November, I recall how opening weekend rapidly approached, but the snow, on the other hand, took its sweet, sweet time.

Take this observation with a grain of salt, considering the only other opening days I experienced were the previous two—both of which were ushered in by Mother Nature with a massive snowstorm—but I was seriously questioning whether Whistler Blackcomb (WB) would even be able to open on time. How do you expect people to ski without any snow?

To the surprise of not a single local but me, WB opened on time. Conditions might not have been ideal, terrain might have been limited, and many of the precious white flakes might have been the result of the resort's extensive snowmaking system, but the mountain was open.

From then on, it was a season full of highs and lows.

December was a dream, mostly thanks to record-shattering snowfall—384 centimetres, to be exact. It was good enough to erase any lingering fears of a subpar season after its less-than-exciting kick-off.

The last month of 2018 also marked the opening of the new Blackcomb Gondola—but unlike the mountain itself, it couldn't get up and running on time.

Despite Whistler Blackcomb's insistence that the shiny new lift would be ready to go on opening day, it instead opened to the public on Dec. 15.

Since there aren't too many reasons someone who lives near Creekside would need to upload from the Upper Village, I don't have a lot of firsthand experience with Blackcomb's newest lift. I had no complaints the handful of times I used it, but the word on the stroll was that between slow speeds, constant stopping and difficulty loading to capacity, it wasn't exactly living up to expectations.

An even bigger low? The temperatures in February—literally.

It was so. Friggin. Cold.

Back in Ontario, those temperatures wouldn't have made me think twice about tossing my board in the car, throwing on an extra layer or three and heading to the hill, but it seems I've finally acclimatized to southwestern B.C. weather. This season, those temperatures—coupled with a lack of new snow and a few seriously icy runs—were enough to make me wuss out and pick a couple more hours of sleep over a morning up the mountain.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to some heavy March snowstorms. But then, aside from a somewhat decent day or two, they never came. All of a sudden, it seemed like winter was gone and hot, sunny, spring weather had taken its place.

I wasn't wrong: Temperatures in March in Whistler this year reached a low of -13.9 C and a high of 17.9 C.

I couldn't help but feel like I spent the entire season waiting for snow that never showed up. This season's snowfall reached approximately 950 cm—more than a third of which took place in December alone. A far cry from 2017-18's total of 1,239 cm and 2016-17's 1,307 cm, according to Tourism Whistler's website.

Besides new chairlifts and fewer powder days, one other difference I noticed was the number of people on the hill. It was still busy on weekends, but choked-up runs and lines so long they make me want to throw in the towel and head for the Umbrella Bar were fewer and farther between, compared to other winters.

Was this the result of less-than-ideal early season conditions prompting skiers to book their vacations elsewhere, or sky-high day-pass rates prompting Lower Mainland daytrippers to ski closer to home?

Who knows, but it seems like a two-per-cent drop in room night bookings, according to Tourism Whistler, is definitely noticeable, according to me.

At the end of the day—or should I say, Gaper Day—the highs beat out the lows by a long shot this winter.

I'll remember this season as the first I ventured into the backcountry, the first I lined up at 5:30 a.m. for Fresh Tracks and the first I clipped into skinny skis and hit the cross-country trails—all some of the most fun experiences I've had since moving here a few years ago.

There will always be something to complain about, whether that's your favourite side hits being groomed out or a lift that's stopped for a few too many minutes.

That said, I think we can all agree the benefits of getting to live and ski in Whistler will always outweigh the cons.

Hey, even if you get stuck on a chairlift, at least you get to take in one of the best views in the world.

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