09.03.2012 - 13.03.2012 -7 °C
Friday saw a really heavy fall of snow here – over 1m in 24 hours. Even for Whistler where snow is king and there is no such thing as the ‘wrong kind of snow’, this was the stuff highly prized by the kids in hoods who like to ‘shred it up’ on the mountain. This was big heavy dry flakes the size of a 50 pence piece that gently ‘pat’ on your jacket as you walk up to the bus in the morning.
I laid in bed on Friday and stared down the corridor and through the floor to ceiling windows in the lounge and it felt like I was in my own private snow scene that someone had just given a good shake to. I like to watch the snow building up on the power lines that go across our windows – sometimes over two centimetres can balance on this tightrope before there is just too much and it flops onto the driveway below. In the 8 weeks we have been in Whistler we have had 3 kinds of snow – this dry powdery stuff (so beloved by skiers and boarders including Carlos but not by me because it brings out all the speed freaks on the mountain), the wetter sticky type and finally the icy needle like snow that stings your face as you ride into it going down the mountain.
Each morning we are up at 7am to look out the window to see what has happened overnight. You can tell so much from the colour of the sky, whether you can see the mountain in the distance and whether the snow ploughs are scraping their way up and down the road outside.
Then we check the Whistler/Blackcomb website to see the weather and snow reports for the day. What this says will dictate just how many layers of clothing are needed and whether it is a sunscreen and sunglasses kind of day or a goggles and facemask adventure. We have had a whole range of weather and temperatures here from full on snow storms and -26 degrees (boy was it cold on the chairlifts then) to blue skies and +10. Even so the drop in temperature here from the summer we left in Argentina is still as shock to the system. When you come skiing for a week you go out whatever the weather but when you are doing it for 9 weeks, it is amazing how fussy you become and you learn very quickly how the slightest change it temperature will change the snow conditions. My ideal day is for the sun to shine over a clear blue sky (they call it a ‘ bluebird day’ in Whistler), for there to have been 5mm of fresh snow the night before that has fallen on machine groomed slopes and for the freezing level to be down in the village. Many Whistler skiers would disagree with me here – they would prefer a really heavy fall of powder that the resort is so famous for.
When we are togged up we trudge up the hill to the bus stop at around 8am. It doesn’t matter how much snow there has been the roads are continually cleared, the buses still run and life goes on. A very different experience to snowfall in the UK, but then it is a way of life here. Very often, this early in the morning we are joined on the bus by only a few more really eager skiers or boarders. I am always glad at this point that we opted to get a locker at Blackcomb so that we don’t have to struggle on in boots and carry skies that have a mind of their own. At the locker comes the worst bit of the day –forcing your feet into your boots while dressed as the Michelin man is always a struggle. But then you are rewarded with the best bit of the day- the first chairlift ride up the mountain. It is wonderful just to have 10 minutes or so of complete peace and to enjoy riding above the tree line and as soon as you see other skiers elegantly carving their way downhill you want to join them. At the top we separate if we have a lesson. Carlos is an expert skier and has used his 15 lessons on Blackcomb in Level 6. He has been ’ learning to love’ bumps more and has also had a couple of days out with our friend Chris doing the really scary steep stuff- runs that have such beguiling names like ’Couloir Shoots’, ‘Spanky’s Ladder’ and ‘Ruby Bowl’.
Carlos likes to challenge and scare himself slightly on the mountain, while I prefer just to enjoy the scenery and work on being technically good – too much of an obsession probably. I have been having my lessons over on Whistler Mountain because the terrain is slightly easier and to get there I ride the Peak2Peak – a feat of gondola engineering. I never tire of this journey.
The lift soars 427ft above the valley floor, travelling 2.73 miles between the two mountain tops in 11 minutes. It has the longest unsupported span of its type in the world of 1.88 miles. The views across the valley, lakes and mountains are awe inspiring and you have the feeling that you are looking down on some precisely constructed model of a ski range, especially if you travel in one of the glass bottomed lifts where you can almost touch the tops of the trees at the start of the ride.
Very often I am in a car alone which I really enjoy but I try not to let my mind run away with me with thoughts of how it would feel to plummet to the valley floor if something went wrong. It is feeling of absolute exhilaration with a back note of stomach churning fear.
When I reach the other side I meet up with the other level 4 intermediate skiers and we head off with whichever instructor has got us for the day. For both of us meeting other people is one of the joys of these lessons as Carlos and I have spent 6 months so far travelling together in each other’s company. Each lesson sees a change of faces and a change in dynamic of the group. What the instructors have in common though is a real desire to take you to places you might not otherwise go and to get you to see as much of the mountain as possible. As a result I have rediscovered how liberating learning can be (a good thing for a teacher to be reminded of), that it is good to challenge yourself and that I can enjoy black runs and bumps!
Yesterday though was Sunday - a non- skiing day for us as we have passes for Monday to Friday only. It was also a ‘bluebird day’ so we decided to take a walk on one of the many valley trails into town. At the bottom of our hill we stopped at our ‘local’ for a coffee and a muffin in case we needed the energy (who are we kidding) and to sit outside and take in the rays. Coffee here is a cross between an art and a religion – a habit taken from nearby Seattle perhaps? There is no such thing as just a ‘coffee’ here. There are numerous types and there are various and numerous flavourings, choices of milk and processes to be done to it that it can be a bit overwhelming at first, but we have each found our favourite to accompany the ubiquitous muffin.
From here we crossed the road and picked up the trail in the forest. In here the deep snow made everything silent and clean. All we could hear was the squeaking of our boots and the occasional thump of snow sliding off an over reaching bough of a fir tree.
There was no one else around and I had a feeling of being somewhere ancient and enchanted. Somewhere deeper in the forest there would be bears asleep for winter and cougars on the prowl. We have learnt that given the choice of an encounter, always opt for the bear – they will back away if you make enough noise – cougars will stalk you and hunt you down aggressively. As we left the forest, the tracks for cross country skiers were clearly gauged out in the snow and several of them passed us looking like something from a Victorian Christmas scene. There are so many ways to enjoy the snow here and Canadians know how to make the most of the conditions.
We headed around the edge of Green Lake – deeply frozen and crusted with a layer of snow on top and it was difficult to imagine sea planes landing here from Vancouver in the summer.
From here the track runs alongside Nine Mile Creek with its leafless trees etched out in a covering of ice and we followed this into the back of Whistler with the Peak2 Peak in the background.
At the Olympic Plaza families were out enjoying the sunshine and tourists were having their pictures taken under the Olympic rings left over from the 2010 games.
We met up with friends at the famous GLC bar to listen to the legendary ‘Hair Farmers’ and enjoy some beers. Then it was home on the bus and early to bed to be up early to ski again tomorrow.
Deeper into the woods where we were walking on Sunday, a young man’s body has been found this morning by walkers on another part of the trail. He disappeared after leaving a friend’s party three days after we arrived here in January and now he has been found two days before we leave. It seems he was walking home and lost his way. He wasn’t far from civilisation but the Whistler winter claimed him for its own. Every morning I have looked at his ‘missing’ poster in the bus shelter and wondered where he had gone and what had happened to him. I have a feeling of sad resolution - I am leaving knowing the end of the story, but it is a stark reminder of the reality of the well- worn clichés that danger and beauty are two sides of the same coin in a place like t