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"We'd planned this school ski trip to New Hampshire," he recalls. "But it got washed out. So some of my buddies decided to go to Aspen instead. And they convinced me to go with them." A long pause. "From skiing in Blue Mountain to skiing in Colorado: that was a huge step for me! I remember being at the top of Snowmass, you know, in this whiteout/blizzard where the only way you could see the trees was by hitting them." He stops. Laughs some more. "I just couldn't get enough of it."
Alas, Southern Ontario's mountain-challenged geography wasn't doing it for him. "I remember being in a local pub," he says, "and reading this crazy story about this wild ski place on Canada's West Coast. And I thought to myself: 'Hey that sounds pretty cool. I could hang out in a place like this.'"
But first he needed to get out of Toronto. "I'd just spent a summer working in Jasper," he explains. "And I realized that living in the city just wasn't for me... at least not for now." It was January 1975. John had graduated from high school a couple of years ago, and so was pretty open to anything. "A friend suggested we head west and try skiing Banff," he recounts. And laughs. 'The first day we skied at Sunshine, it was 55 (degrees) below zero. That did it for me. We heard there was this big race happening in Whistler. Maybe there'd be work for us there." He shrugs." So off we went."
Of course, the trip wasn't at all like they'd planned. "Highway 1 was closed because of slides," he explains, "so we had to take the American route — through Spokane and Seattle." He sighs. "That was quite the journey..."
But finally they made it. "Yeah," he says. "Spent our first night in the Vancouver Youth Hostel, and then slowly made our way up to the mountains. That was amazing." Turns out Grills' timing wasn't too bad either. "I found a job right away at the Cheakamus Hotel, and me and my buddy ended up sleeping in an empty construction trailer out back." He pauses for a beat. Shakes his head. Laughs. "And then there was this Aussie fellow we knew who had to leave town really quickly... and he'd left us the keys to his Fairlane 500." It was the kind of winter, says John, that ski bums usually only dream about. "We lived large. Shredded powder all winter, had free accommodation, drove our illegal car, even used our Aussie friend's ski pass... it was awesome."