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Alta states

Tom Thomson: Charting a course for the future

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The trip up took forever. "I couldn't believe how far we were going," recounts Thomson. "It felt like we were linking up all these different logging roads. I kept asking the driver: 'When are we going to get there?' But he'd just shake his head and laugh."

Finally the car stopped in a huge parking lot with a horse wandering through it. At the far end of the lot was a hangar-looking thing with GONDOLA painted in white on its roof.  "It was pretty funny," says Thomson, "to get shoved into these little tin cans and literally pushed up the mountain. I'd never seen anything like it." Unfortunately, he wasn't going to see much of the mountain either. "We hadn't gone 50 feet when the lights went out. I mean, we couldn't see a thing." Another chuckle escapes. "I didn't know it then, but we were in the middle of one of those legendary Coast Mountain blizzards."

Alas, the poor young guy was hardly dressed for the storm. "I was wearing blue jeans and Stanfield underwear," he remembers. "And you know how good those 'Boggners' were at keeping out the weather - the wind went in the front and out the back."

But as ragged as his clothing might be, his skis, he tells me, were top-notch. "I'd gone out to Sparlings on Granville Street and bought myself a brand-new pair of Kneissl White Stars," he says. "They were the ski to have that year..."

The ride up the mountain seemed interminable. By the time the gondola reached mid-station, Tom was ready to strap his skis on and ride down the hill. "Are we there yet?" he asked. "No way," his friend said. "We still have another chairlift ride to go."

That's when Thomson realized that this Whistler Mountain place was a lot bigger than he'd imagined. "The Red Chair was amazing," he says. "It lurched and gurgled and grumbled and stopped and finally got us to the top." He smiles. Sighs. "I couldn't wait to get off that thing. I thought I was going to freeze to death."

His friends were still keen to ski. But Thomson wasn't so sure anymore. "I told them: 'If I make it down this mountain I'm never coming up again.'" He stops for a second. Takes a long breath. "I remember just how much snow had fallen that day. And there I was, with my 210cm skis and bamboo poles and very little experience..."

No surprise then that it took them the better part of the day to get down Whistler. No surprise too that Thomson was miserable the whole way down. "My Stanfields were soaked with sweat, my jeans were soaked with snow. I was nearly hypothermic. It was ridiculous." Thomson swore he'd never go back up that mountain. But his friends had other ideas. "They said: 'We're here for the weekend. So stop your whining and help us find a bed for the night.'"

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