"I think this was my best one ever..."
- Whistler local Max Horner, 16
It's 6 a.m. and already we're standing in line. As usual, the full crew is in attendance - you know, Vinny and Peppy and Swilly and Farg and Double and Rude Boy - a token gang of middle-century guys (and one gal) stuck in a swirling, seething, celebrating sea of twentysomethings. Talk about a foreign environment. My silver moustache and beard almost look like a leftover prop from Halloween. At least, that's the way I read the curious glances surreptitiously cast our way. "What are these old guys doing here?" I can see the kids asking each other. "And why are they smiling so much?"
I can't help but laugh. The smiles are earned, I wanna tell them. Some serious downhill miles have been logged by this crew, I wanna say; some impressive Opening Day streaks too. Three decades worth for most of the gang, over four for the rest of us. And my own smile stretches even further. For all their present fervour, the young kids here are babes in the woods when it comes to celebrating this most honoured of Snoweater high holidays.
Don't get me wrong. It's great to share this moment with the youngsters. Wouldn't have it any other way. I mean, for anyone who is serious about playing in the snow in wintertime, Opening Day is like a sacred ritual. Nothing else even comes close. Whether good weather or bad, total coverage or bare minimum, that first run of the season when you point your feet down the hill and start to glide on that crazy carpet of white is the moment you fall in love with snowsliding all over again. Know what I mean?
And it has its unique challenges too. Whether jumping water bars at mach speed or grinding blowdowns on less-than-covered forest runs, laying down first tracks on a classic line and discovering hidden reefs or tasting early powder in an ass-over-tea-kettle fall - the first day of the ski season is fraught with potential misadventures. Which makes it even more compelling...
It's still quite dark when we arrive in the village. At least two more hours of waiting before the lift starts doing its thing. The mood in the lineup is totally positive though. The kid behind me, a former ski racer from Huntsville, Ontario, is so amped about the day that he's nearly choking on his own adrenaline. But he's doing a commendable job given his story. "I blew both my knees out just before coming out here last season," he explains. "So I've been waiting a long time for my first Whistler run. Do you think it will be good today?" I pat him on the shoulder reassuringly. It's always good, I say.