Time is an interesting concept. It’s a human invention, of course. But still, what a way to frame one’s passage though the world. Consider: it was 35 years ago this month that I first set foot in Whistler. And it was total happenstance. New to the West Coast — and horny for adventures — I’d jumped at the invitation to leave the city behind to spend a weekend in the mountains. I had no inkling that this would be a life-changing trip however…
The weekend didn’t start out all that auspiciously. Can’t remember why I was the one appointed to drive the old VW bug (I probably volunteered), but there I was — 19 years old and driving like I was still in Quebec. Heck, I came from the highlands of Charlevoix. I knew what a curve in the road was all about. Slow to 20? You gotta be kidding.
That was my thinking as we came careening off the first big turn in the Cheakamus Canyon. My second thought, as we hit the huge right-hander after it, was: “Oh my god, they really mean it!”
Nobody said anything after we wrestled the car back onto the gravel. In fact, I don’t think any of my passengers said much at all until we reached our destination on Green Lake. To my credit though, I mostly kept the VW’s tires on the highway for the remainder of the trip.
I remember driving by the old Whistler Mountain base at Creekside like it was yesterday. It’s an image that recurs easily in my mind’s eye, like an old sepia postcard on the fridge door. Picture this: an (already) dilapidated-looking brown-coloured gondola barn with a faded “WHISTLER MOUNTAIN” painted on its side, a couple of wood-panelled outbuildings on either flank and a football field-sized parking lot by the highway. That’s all there was. This was Whistler.
It was hard to accept what my eyes were telling me. In my family, you see, Whistler Mountain had acquired something of a reputation. My parents had spent a couple of weeks here back in 1967. They’d come home enamoured. And the story of the new West Coast giant had grown from there. In my mind, it was the Canadian Aspen. Hip, sophisticated and very progressive. But it was more than that too. It was big and snowy and full of great skiers. I mean, Pierre Trudeau and his very cool young wife, Maggie Sinclair, hung out on its slopes. Ski legend Jim McConkey directed the Ski School. Nancy Greene and Al Raine ran ski camps in the summer here. There’d even been a big exposé on its ski bums published in the influential Weekend Magazine a few months before!