West Coast winters worth celebrating 

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When I saw the extreme cold warnings posted for my home province of Saskatchewan over the weekend (-46 in Estevan with the windchill — no joke) the first thing I did was check the forecast for Whistler.

It was a pleasant -2 with some minor flurries falling on Saturday. The second thing I did was look out my window to confirm that, yes, I am still in Whistler.

I haven't met too many other flatlanders here in Whistler (Pique sports guy Dan Falloon hails from Saskatchewan's brother-in-ice Manitoba, so he knows where I'm coming from), but if you haven't visited the Land of the Living Skies — yes, that's our slogan — in the dead of winter, here's a tip: don't.

Go in the summer for the sunshine and the lakes, for the open space or the northern lights.

But don't go in January, February or March.

Because you don't know how cruel winter can be until you've survived the worst Saskatchewan has to offer.

In Whistler, winter is like a huge, months-long party. Whistler gets the absolute best that winter can give. People are outside frolicking in the fluffy, bountiful snow (another big change from Saskatchewan — even the snow is happier), skating on one of four frozen lakes, skiing down mountainsides and rocky cliffs, drinking cocoa on horse-drawn sleighs and laughing and smiling like a propaganda video for the season.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan lives with Old Man Winter's true, hateful, bastard of a self — sometimes for six-plus months a year.

If the only winter you've experienced is a West Coast winter, let me tell you this: Winter is not always your friend. At his worst, he's a ruthless dictator hell-bent on crushing your soul.

In -40 weather, there isn't really much you can even do. Vehicles seize up, exposed skin freezes over in seconds. Exhaust from ice-block cars hangs in the air forever, not really sure what to do with itself.

The simple act of going outside takes work, and no matter how many layers you put on, the cold manages to penetrate on a deep, obtrusive level.

After four months of the ruthless, prairie winter your whole worldview just kind of turns grey.

I spent a couple of winters pipelining in Northern Alberta, and the phrase "deep winter" carries an entirely different connotation up there.

At the end of every 12-hour, -30 shift spent almost entirely outside, I would lie in bed and just think about how grateful I was to be indoors and warm.

Last year was my first winter in Whistler, and while the snow conditions weren't good, I was just happy that, for the first time in my life, I did not have to endure a Saskatchewan winter.

This winter, so far, has been as picture-perfect as they come.

I can't say for sure which direction I'll be headed when I eventually leave Whistler, but there's at least a passing chance I'll end up back in my home province.

The winters may suck, but the people are more than worth the annual endurance test.

And despite the sometimes-arctic conditions, we make the best of it. We play shinny on outdoor rinks, go snowmobiling, and yes, even ski. We are Canadian, after all, and Saskatchewanians are an especially resilient bunch.

But as long as I'm here, I'm going to enjoy each and every mild, favourable winter I can — starting this weekend with Pemberton Winterfest.

Ironically enough, as I dispense hundreds of words complaining about the cold, organizers of the Winterfest could have done with some Saskatchewan-type winter as of late — warm weather has forced the festival to scale back or outright cancel two years running.

So I suppose it can go both ways. It's rare to find a place and time that so elegantly hits the sweet spot, but here we are.

There's no doubt that our climate is changing, and West Coast winters will start bearing a different face in years to come.

But as long as the conditions are right — as of this writing the ice is holding up, but organizers have a Plan B in place should things get too warm over the weekend — I'm going to do my patriotic duty as a Canadian, tie up my skates and hit the ice at One Mile Lake.

Head to www.pembertonwinterfest.com for a full slate of events.


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