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Alta states

Doing the torch thing: A New Year's ritual for the ages



It all started at the dawn of human time, in an era when much of the world was terrorized by long vicious winters. Most tribes sought immediate shelter from these attacks; few regarded the cold months with any pleasure. But the Snoweaters were different. They loved the cold. They loved the snow. Favoured by both Eagle and Raven, this hardy tribe of adventurers had been taught how to fly over the frozen white stuff on ingenious wings made of wood and leather. And so they gave thanks annually. Across the snow-covered hills and mountains of the land, families of Snoweaters would assemble on their favourite summits each New Year’s Eve to welcome the incoming year. Toasts would be given, firewater consumed, and sacrifices made. This done, the family elders would then set flame to massive torches to help light their group’s snowflying ride back down to the valley. They say that the serpents of light swaying down the slopes on the first night of the year bestowed good health on both performers and audience…

– Excerpt from The Legends of the Snoweaters, Stormy Press

By Michel Beaudry

Sure it’s kitschy. Like wineskins and turtlenecks and guitar-strumming blond boys by the fire, the cliché image of the torchlight descent is framed in a 1960s ski context coloured by equal parts nostalgia and ridicule. Think ski instructors in tight black stretch pants and red V-neck sweaters wedelning down the hill with flaming torches in hand; think gluewein and yodels and girls in flip hairdos doing the twist. As I said, so-o-o-o kitschy…

But maybe kitschy isn’t such a bad thing. At a time when our world seems to be slowly falling apart — an economy down the rabbit hole, a stretch of winter weather both nasty and uncompromising, and a spate of local accidents whose timing couldn’t have been worse — celebrating tribe-defining rituals like Whistler Mountain’s annual torchlight descent may be the best thing we can do for our self esteem right now.

As Socrates said so many times: Know Thyself . And for Whistlerites, that dictum couldn’t be more appropriate than it is this season. So who the heck are we?

Until somebody shows me numbers that clearly indicate otherwise, I still firmly believe that Whistler is primarily a ski (and snowboard) town. In fact, after nearly three years of writing this column, I’ve yet to come across anybody who moved to Whistler “for the fine summer weather.” Don’t get me wrong. The off-season sector has shown promise in recent years. But it’s nowhere near what the winter business accounts for. Snow. Fun. Sliding. Adventure. Discovery. Camaraderie. This is what people are looking for when they come here. But they’re also looking to connect with the local culture. And that’s what distinguishes us from most other industrial-sized resorts.

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