It looked a bit like those grainy, archival pictures of the Oklahoma land rush. A bunch of desperate looking people lined up waiting for the starting gun to fire, sizing up the other anxious seekers around them, looking for weaknesses they could exploit to their own advantage and taking the measure of stronger people with even more fire in their eyes than they had themselves, people who would have to be fooled rather than raced outright.
They waited in the cold darkness of false dawn, some in the shelter of an overhanging roofline, most exposed to the elements. The cold and damp were easier to ignore than the interminable wait, the speculation on which swath of land would yield the greatest riches and which would disappoint.
They carried the tools needed to deal with whatever the land and nature would throw at them. Everything required to move quickly, sustain life and barter for goods they couldn’t stuff in their pockets, hang on their backs or around their necks was carefully, or perhaps haphazardly, stowed away in safe places. Too late now to run through the mental checklist one more time; anything forgotten would have to be improvised, done without, borrowed or bought if that was even possible.
When the doors opened and the lifts started turning, they all made their move in a semicontrolled, loosely choreographed pandemonium.
Opening day. Here at last.
By the time I got up the mountain, two days later, the snowiest November in recent memory had rejuvenated the landscape trashed by the opening day land rush and insulted by Sunday’s unfortunate reminder of just how fickle Pacific storms can be. It was a good first day… but not a great day.
The next day was a great day. Four days into the season, Tuesday marked the early retirement of rock skis 2006. Bring out the good boards mama, there’s snow on them thar hills.
Having once said there was too much snow — and doomed this town to suffer a three-week drought — I shall never utter those words again. In fact, I startled someone on a chairlift by stuffing a snowy glove in their face as they started to say those words. Sorry. I know it was impossible to get through some runs you can usually scoot down at high speed. I feel your pain, having chosen to plow deep fields with a snowboard that seemed like a sea anchor instead of fat, floaty skis. But the problem, which isn’t really a problem at all, wasn’t too much of what we need and want a great deal more of, it was a problem of too little pitch. With only the lower mountain opened, there just weren’t enough places steep enough to render the copious amount of snow easily passable. This shall pass; patience, Grasshopper.
After an all-face-shot all-the-time run over on… wait a minute, why should I tell you? After a deep, fast run on an unnamed part of the mountain, I was pondering how and why what snow I didn’t inhale was finding its way inside my goggles.
Regardless, I was more or less skiing blind when I lined up at Red chair, assuming you can call no line at all lining up. I thought it was my fault when I bumped into whomever was cozying in from the leftside singles line. Practising my best Canadian, I said, “Scuse me.”
“No excusin’ you, dude,” shot back an unmistakable, gravelly voice.
I could feel someone nuzzling the tails of my skis so there was no escape backwards. I gave passing thought to embarrassing myself by pratfalling off the edge of the chair when it hit me from behind but even when there’s no lineup at all, no one appreciates having the chair stop because some gomer can’t successfully negotiate his butt on the seat. Fate was running this lift and my only hope was that it would make it back to the top with no delays.
“JJ my man. What a rare treat on such a bounteous day,” I lied. It seemed auspicious, inevitable even, to run into JJ Geddyup so early in the season. Whistler’s original and, as he liked to point out, only real private eye, JJ is an apparition perfectly placed on a snowy mountain when the wind is blowing so hard the entire landscape seems ghostlike.
“Max, it’s a freakin’ great day to be alive and an even greater day to be plowin’ this much snow.”
“And how is it you’re up today? Usually the new staff are pretty keen to catch poachers. Don’t tell me you popped for a lift ticket.”
“Season pass,” he said dangling the favoured plastic card in my face. “The real deal this year, not something I cooked up at home.”
“You win the lottery?”
“Well, I know you didn’t get your Holy Panini, Jesus on a Grilled Cheese restaurant and yoga studio up and running so….”
“Yeah, bastard investors sold me out, took the idea down to Vancouver and now I hear they’re going to franchise it.”
“So whence the sudden windfall?”
“Got a steady-payin’ gig… at least until 2010.”
“Oh god, don’t tell me you’re working for VANOC. They’ve got enough troubles without you.”
“Can’t confirm or deny. But did you know China’s rounding up dogs so people won’t get bit by them when they come over for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?”
“Dogs? Are you makin’ this up to keep from answering the question?”
“When have I ever lied to you, dude? They’ve passed a one-dog law and outright banned some big, vicious breeds.”
“Yeah, golden retrievers, for example.”
“What, the Chinese government is afraid people might get licked to death?”
“Well, you know how those dudes tend to go overboard with such things. Whatever though, it’s the gospel truth. They’ve cracked down, rounded up banned breeds, snuffed tons of dogs. I can’t wait to see what they do with the ‘undesirables’ of the human breed when 2008 gets closer.”
“So are you telling me you’re spying on Whistler dogs for VANOC, JJ.”
“I’m not working for them. I didn’t say that. And if I was working for them, I wouldn’t be spying on Whistler dogs. And if I was spying on Whistler dogs… well, I don’t know… because I’m not. But that’s not what I’m doing for ’em. I mean, I’m not working for ’em at all but I’m sure not spying on dogs… dude.”
“I don’t know, JJ. I think I liked even the Holy Panini idea better than this.”
“I’m not working for VANOC.”
“I believe you. Honest I do. You wanna take a run?”
“Yeah. By the way, how’s Zippy?”
“That’s not funny, man.”