All this time, and I’ve never been to the Whistler alpine in the summer. The closest I came was on our honeymoon, when we rode the gondola from a summer valley through fall colours and into a winter wonderland where the snow was already a foot deep in mid-September. I didn’t ski at Whistler that year because I was too busy dealing with finding work, applying for Canadian residency, and being broke. I suspect it was an epic season.
This September we celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary, and decided there was no better way to spend the day than revisiting the scenes from our honeymoon. We arrived in Whistler village on a baking afternoon that felt more like mid-August, and rode a greenhouse-like gondola up to the Roundhouse. The tourists sharing our cabin were speculating about what it might look like in the winter, and I pointed out the best runs and landmarks on the way.
Being in the Whistler alpine on a glorious sunny day in the early fall was a strange, strange thing. I felt like I was in an alternate universe: this world I know so incredibly well now – I can track the changing contours on a run from one season to the next – and yet everything about it was different. Shale Slope, which is pretty mellow for a black run, looked near-vertical. There wasn’t a waterfall at the Waterfall, which confused me. I could just make out the lines of Air Jordan, but without their winter coat it was hard to imagine them skiable.
All the angles were different, and everything was sharper and darker. I love mountain landscapes more than any other kind, regardless of the season. And yet they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum: the clean, monochromatic winter, where everything is so simple and pure. The jumbled chaos of summer: grasses, alpine flowers and trees, the fading reds and blacks of basalt and shale, uneven surfaces and the sudden blue of lakes that would be just another frozen surface at another time of year.
We rode up to the peak, and hiked around for a while on the High Note trail. Here and there we found trace patches of snow leading into the bowls, and with the desperation of a long summer I hurled myself onto them. One day soon the new season’s snow will start flying.
It was a very strange experience: being somewhere that I know better than almost any place on earth, and yet having every single thing about it from the colours to the way the ground felt underfoot being so profoundly different.
More than anything else, J was looking forward to her first Peak 2 Peak ride. Her dearest wish was that we have a cabin to ourselves. I told her I thought this was very unlikely – the lineup when we reached the Roundhouse was 50 deep – and yet perfectly on cue, it happened. A glass-floored gondola swung in right after the cabin we were in line for, and everyone else abandoned ship and rushed for it. We hopped into the first cabin, and rode the distance between the two mountains completely alone. It was all my favourite things rolled into one: Whistler, mountains, and J. It was beautiful. It was a very fine way to celebrate an anniversary.