I lasted nine days. And then all the stories of empty slopes plus a weather forecast of a foot and a half of fresh snow overnight broke my resolve, and I bought a bus ticket to Whistler.
See you at Whistler on
Sunday Tuesday. Day #1 delayed by an ill-timed cold.
As the snow continues to pound down in the alpine, this morning Whistler announced the big news on their Facebook page: Whistler Mountain is opening on Saturday, twelve days ahead of schedule. Blackcomb will open as scheduled on November 26th. There will be three chairs open – Big Red, Emerald and Franz’s – with a mandatory download from the Roundhouse.
Now I’m torn. I’m not working Saturday; it’s so tempting to jump in the car and head straight up the Sea to Sky. However, with a metre and a half of fresh snow and every powder-hungry ski bum between here and the Rockies descending on the resort for opening day, it’s going to be hellish busy. I’ve got some owed time at work and could just as easily take Tuesday or Thursday off and catch a much quieter midweek day. I know perfectly well the runs will be less crowded, the lift lines shorter, and the whole experience much more satisfying if I can just be patient. But it’s been a long and snow-free six months (barring that one brief visit to Calgary) and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to help myself.
Whatever happens, the 09/10 season is officially on us and I’m stoked.
The first ski hill to open in North America this year was Calgary’s Olympic Park, which took advantage of an early season cold snap to start operations in mid-October. I was lucky enough to be in Calgary for a conference the week they opened, and was able to juggle my schedule enough to fit in a brief four-hour visit on October 21st.
The snow was better than I expected: heavy without being wet, and it improved considerably once night fell and the temperature dropped. The run included a small half-pipe, a couple of decent-sized rollers and a few impromptu jumps on the ridges under the light stanchions. There were scores of park kids doing flips and grabs in the pipe, a couple of telemarkers, and even one lonely snowblader. Part of the fun for me was wrestling the carving skis I’d been given by the rental store out of the tight GS-style turns they kept trying to make, and attempting to land a few small airs on a 70mm waist. (I learned the hard way that there was just no way those things were going switch.)
The Olympic Park is pretty tiny – it took me all of about 30 seconds to get from top to bottom – and to be honest, in mid-season I would have been bored within about fifteen minutes. But in October, after five months of summer sunshine, it was just great to be back on the snow.
I can’t remember the last time I was this impatient for ski season to start. It’s not that I haven’t been just as eager to get back on the slopes, but for the greater part of my life I lived in a snow-free country and lacked the financial wherewithal to spend time in the nearest resorts in continental Europe. In fifteen years, my days skiing averaged out at less than two a season.
Then I moved to Canada and celebrated the fact that I was now just a two-hour drive from the best ski resort in the world by blowing out my left knee so badly that I couldn’t ski at all for the better part of two seasons. In 06/07, I crept back onto the local slopes with the aid of two enormous heat-treated carbon steel braces and realised that I was going to have to relearn my turns pretty much from scratch. In 07/08, I finally made it up to Whistler and began to regain my confidence on snow. And in 08/09, I skied 19 days and finally started breaking significant new ground.
It’s the 08/09 season that has made me so crazy to get back on the slopes this year. I don’t know how many seasons my knees have left in them, but I’ve already wasted far too much time. From here on in, I want to make the most of every moment.
Here in Vancouver, the rain has been hammering down for almost 48 solid hours. Mounds of soggy leaves are turning to slippery mush by the sides of the road; coming home from work yesterday, I was caught in a downpour so torrential that my waterproofs soaked clean through. Our balcony has accumulated small lakes here and there where the decking isn’t quite level, and the cats have taken to staring miserably out of the window and then back at us as though there might be something we could do to fix this. The Grouse Grind is closed due to hazardous conditions and there are rumours of mild turbidity in the drinking water.
In spite of all of this, I’m loving the endless rain because somewhere not far from here, it’s falling as snow. More than a metre forecast at Whistler in the space of a week, and they’re starting to send out emails that mention the tantalizing words “early opening.” There’s already more snow at mid-mountain than I saw during a handful of early season days in December last year. I’ve been refreshing the webcams obsessively, watching the coverage increase. It’s getting close. It’s getting really, really close.
Tonight I’m listening to the rain that keeps on falling, and I’m smiling.