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Alta states

Astride Spricenieks – Life is what you make of it



"People who love sports are much happier in life..."

- Astride Spricenieks


She's sharp and witty and curious and fun. She's candid and feisty and totally in love with life. Truly. If I can manage to exude as bright a light as Astride Spricenieks does when I turn 86 years young, I'll be totally jazzed...

But it's not like she's living large. Despite the popular cliché of Nouveau Whistlerites flaunting their multi million-dollar trophy homes for all and sundry to envy, Astride's modest way of life represents a much different side of 21 st century Whistler. And a not entirely enviable one at first glance. Single and dependent on limited retirement funds ("I never worked long enough at one job to get a good pension," she says with a disarming laugh. "So I'm poor."), Spricenieks lives a near-monastic existence in a humble little condo she rents on the shores of Alta Lake.

Did I say the condo was small? It's miniscule. Indeed, my presence in her living room almost overwhelms the space. Here is how I describe it in my journal:

"It's the mountain equivalent of a nun's cell. Ten-by-ten living/cooking space on the ground floor, sleeping loft above. Material possessions are few; everything has its place. It's almost like living on a boat. So tidy. So simple. And then I sit down and drink in the view: the north-end reed bed of Alta Lake almost lapping at her back door, further west, the bold lines of Rainbow cutting a pyramid-shaped hole out of the sky. "I'll stay here forever," she says. "I don't need anything else. I love this place." And suddenly I understand.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

"You have to meet my mom," Dharma Bum mountaineer Ptor Spricenieks told me last spring as we sat on a narrow ice ledge high above a steep Oisan face. Our feet virtually dangled in space. Funny subject to bring up before a big descent I thought. But then I knew how close he and his mother were.  And I was intrigued. I mean, here was this single, older woman who had embarked on such a fulfilling life-changing journey at Whistler that she was still a resident 17 years later. He continued: "She'd make a great Alta States subject, you know. Besides, I'm sure the two of you'll hit it off. She's a pretty special woman, that lady..."

Okay. So most of us hold our mothers in high esteem. But this is different. Ptor and Astride have this mutual admiration thing going that is entirely unique. Maybe it's their shared sense of adventure. Or the fact that the two of them have always marched to the beat of their own drum. Whatever. Both are risk-takers - intellectually and physically. Both are spiritual seekers. "But Ptor is much more advanced on that path than I am," says his mother, a subtle dash of parental pride discernible in her Latvian-inflected tone. "He's way ahead of me..."