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A search for sacred places

The old ski school bell ties together 150 years of stories



If I were to call myself a disciple of anything, it would probably be a disciple of the mountains. It’s the kind of life, largely orbiting around skiing and rock-climbing, that raises eyebrows from the grinders as they’re diligently, exhaustedly going through their paces. Inspires a tangy cocktail of envy and disdain – after all, you’re just recreating. How frivolous. How fun.

The key is to pull apart that word, to recreate. To re-create yourself. The invigoration from a great day ripping on the hill, the sense of achievement from topping out on a climb, the paring away of the extraneous layers of life’s clutter, can take you to a place where you are just movement, the elements, flow. Recreating in the mountains, you catch a glimpse into the core of life’s riddles – that you can feel simultaneously powerful and powerless; that the less you have, the more abundance you feel; that the shadow of death sharpens your sense that you are alive.

People from all cultures, in all eras, have found the mountains to be a spiritual place. Mallory’s classic retort, "Because it’s there," is as good an answer as any as to what motivates us – if you have to ask, you obviously don’t get it. We set up base in mountain communities because, more often than not, we discover a nucleus of other people who do get it.

People who get that you don’t need to be under a roof, or in a church, to have a sense of the spiritual, of the Greater Than. For the Awesome to ripple over you and leave you goosebump-flecked.

My wonder was struck by the old ski school bell. A single object. A footnote to history, I stumbled upon a reference to it, half a page, in Anne McMahon’s The Whistler Story. Those few paragraphs intimated that here was an item that tied 150 years of stories together, offering some insight into the sacred, into what human beings have considered sacred over the past slim chunk of B.C.’s history, in our flawed and messy practice of life. From gold to God, the Transformers and the thunderbird, to hucking off the roof of the Roundhouse on your boards. The bell tells of it all.

At the base of Creekside by the old gondola, the Garibaldi Ski School had its meeting place. Bob Dufour, who started his Whistler career in 1972 as a ski instructor, recalls, "Mounted under a big sign for the ski school, on two big posts with a beam was this big bell that Jim McConkey got from the natives in 1968. We would ring it every day to summons people to lessons."

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