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Alta States

Me and a pika and Arthur De Jong A sunset walk in the alpine

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But things have changed. I'm damaged goods. The weak link. The guy you have to keep an eye on now to make sure he stays out of trouble. Still, it's a foreign feeling for me. And I'm not yet entirely comfortable in that role.

But what can I expect? I've been out of the mountains for an interminable five months. And it's been tough as hell. Babying my new bionic knee, holding back on the hard stuff, and hoping that all my aches and pains will magically disappear with time (and no, I don't believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny). Still, I want to believe this isn't the end of my mountain adventures. That there are still a bunch of years left before I have to hang-up my hiking boots and backpack.

Hence this late afternoon walk-and-talk session. "We should really get going," repeats Arthur. And then he takes off. I have to scamper to keep up to his giant steps. Clearly, this is a man used to ranging in the high country. And I can only chuckle at his energy.

To be honest, I don't really know how I'll fare on the hike. Happy to be back in vertical terrain, no question. Happy to be spending a little quality time with Arthur, for sure. But confident in my abilities? Somehow, no. I feel like I am still in the process of learning to walk again (on a number of fronts). Silently, I mouth a little mantra to myself. I just hope I won't stumble and lose face up there...

There are few people living in this valley who embody "Whistler style" as well as Arthur De Jong does. When it comes to leading both the community and his WB bosses into the post-industrial age, he has no equal. "Don't think it's easy," he warns. "Because it's not. It's both a blessing and a curse..."

It can also get complicated. How do you square helping an American-owned corporation raise shareholder value, for instance, while trying to keep it environmentally honest? Easy, he says, you focus on changing what you can change. "The sweet spot in mountain design is where conservation and economics overlap," he's told me time and time again. "Really - it's all about celebrating the true value of your surroundings..."

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