Weathering Whistler’s image 

It’s fickle, often frustrating and can change in an instant, but what does the world see of Whistler’s weather?

In December I stood in the rain in Whistler Village to watch the live national broadcast of cold[er] >play, Jian Ghomeshi’s CBC special about winter in Canada. Images shot both in Whistler and across the country blossomed on the inflatable screen, all of them white, blue, crisp and cold looking. Farley Mowat and Anne Murray, icons of Canadian winter, shared their thoughts on the season. The cameras were then supposed to capture the crowd live in Whistler’s winter playground and simulcast the scene back across the country. The few dozen souls in the square, many in wet sneakers and duck boots, left plenty of open space where the increasing rain splashed up from the paving stones in a mockery of the pristine images on screen.

"We’re here in Whistler Village," Ghomeshi said, trying to sound chipper and not too ironic, "What better place to explore winter?"

The disparity between the Whistler we project to the world and the one we periodically find ourselves living in has always fascinated me. More often than not, the weather manages to almost gleefully reveal that disparity. Our image is that of a ski resort, perched high in the pristine mountains where crystalline flakes float down onto a bed of white. Our reality is that we live in a rain forest, 20 kilometres as the crow flies from the Pacific Ocean, on the path of the pineapple express and the El Niño current, like a deer caught in a warm flood of headlights.

If global warming or climate change are for real Whistler’s image as a winter playground could become even soggier. But then, that could be the case for a lot of other winter resorts too. Most Colorado resorts, for example, had some rainfall over the Christmas-New Year’s period this winter. But regardless of weather realities, the images on brochures for ski areas always show clear skies, fresh snow and smiling faces.

I have other recollections of Whistler’s fickle weather. In 1975, the world watched as Whistler prepared to host its first World Cup downhill race. The course was set, the sponsors’ banners were flying and the racers were ready; then a warm Pacific southerly rolled in and swamped the course in a downpour. Again in 1979, with the Crazy Canucks at the top of their form, the inevitable warm melt occurred prior to the race and then froze into bullet proof concrete on race day. The European officials, in their infinite wisdom, cancelled the downhill in favour of an exhibition super G because they said the course was too fast and dangerous; the Crazy Canucks straight-lined it to prove them wrong.

One of my favourite stories involving our unco-operative weather and another big TV production unfolded when Much Music broadcast a special called Snowjob live from Whistler in the early 1990s. After Randy Bachman played a set, an up-and-coming glam band known as Sven Gali took the stage at the bottom of Whistler Mountain. The lead singer, clad in tight black leather pants, no shirt and a long poser hairdo, introduced a song by claiming he’d been up on the mountain that day snowboarding in his leathers when… Whack! a snowball flew out of the crowd and hit him. It was a rather hard snowball, the kind that can only be made with rained-on snow. Who was this unknown singer telling an unlikely story about taking air on his snowboard in his leathers?

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