Nineteen years. Amazing how quickly those years have passed. Amazing too, how profoundly we’ve changed. Back in 1989, Whistler was still a place where the mountain was big and the town small. A place where the way you skied (and I mean of the two-planked variety) was a major indicator of your social status within the community.
Things were picking up, for sure. Whistler’s economic fortunes had finally turned and new businesses were beginning to flourish. Snowboarding was just about to seduce the masses. And of course, we’d had another great season of snow.
In short, we lived in big-mountain heaven. Same terrain, fewer locals, fewer guests and far fewer rules. Most of us thought we’d won some kind of celestial lottery (if we didn’t always voice those suspicions out loud). And so we lived at a pace that was both exuberant and woefully innocent. Few of us ever thought about death. We were so busy skiing and partying and exploring and feeling that the idea of shucking one’s mortal coil seemed almost absurd.
Yet one day in March, 19 years ago, death did come to visit. And it changed our perspective on life completely.
I wasn’t in Whistler that day. Not even close. Still enthralled with a career that paid me American dollars to write ski stories — imagine that — I was deep in the Kootenays working on a piece for Powder Magazine on the sublime pleasures of Rossland and Red Mountain. The story, which would eventually bear the title of “Steep, Deep And Cheap” had me following a merry band of neo-hillbilly patrollers as they imposed their brand of law on the wild slopes of this notoriously old-school locale.
In what can only be described as “heavenly convergence”, my visit had coincided with one of the biggest snowstorms of the season. Rossland had gotten plastered. And on this day, my patroller friends had drafted me to help them open up venerable Granite Mountain. I still remember standing atop the liftline, after having ploughed my way waist-deep across the crest of the slope, looking up at the patrol leader who was yelling at me and gesticulating like crazy. I couldn’t tell at first what he was saying…
“What are you waiting for?” He was nearly screaming by now, his whole body shaking with impatience. “You made your cut. Now get skiing! Or else move over and I’ll take first tracks.” That was it? One pass above this legendary slope and I was free to go? No way. But then it wasn’t up to me to question my hosts’ avalanche-control protocols. I was just a guest. And so I pointed my 210s down the fall line and ate serious snow while carving into some of the deepest Kootenay powder that I’d ever tasted.