In a perfect world, I’d be waxing eloquent about what an incredible start to the ski season it’s been. I’d still be high as a kite from last Sunday’s powder extravaganza on Whistler Mountain. Goosebumps still form remembering the uncharacteristically light, fluffy, ethereal quality of snow that, on many runs, was above my knees and, often as not, teasing and freezing my face as I floated through run after run, capping it all with a final descent down the widened and somewhat de-spirited Lower Franz to Creekside.
Of course, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t have rained to the top for most of the last 72 hours.
But that’s just the way things go in this little corner of paradise. Get snow, get rain, get freezing temperatures… get your skates sharpened cuz you’re going to need them.
In a perfect world, the thing that’d have my shorts twisted into a knot right now might be the tragedy the upcoming Olympics have visited on Ptarmigan. When I moved to Whistler, lo those many years ago, Ptarmigan was my favourite run on the mountain. I wasn’t a good enough skier to boast that Whistler Bowl or Christmas Trees or Harvey’s or something steep and scary or treed and twisty was my favourite run. Ptarmigan was about as good as it got for me; the rest — the best — was still a couple of hundred days of fallin’ and learnin’ in the future.
Ptarmigan was, in those formative days, perfect. It started with a gentle, bluish pitch. It meandered over and around bumps, rollers and a couple of blind rises. Its tree islands offered choice and mystery — stay left where the groomers had run; go right where the snow was loose and often lumpy; meet up again on the other side of the trees. The long last pitch was the steepest, fastest and often most deadly part of the run. From a wide start with such different and distinctive features on skier’s left and skier’s right you might think you were on two different runs, Ptarmigan narrowed, fell away again then twisted around and led you to the genteel, sometimes painfully slow Black Chair.
The only thing I ever broke skiing — ribs — I broke on Ptarmigan.
Mostly though, it will forever have a place in my heart as the run where I learned to love skiing in fog. I have this theory about Whistler skiers. If you ski here all the time, you might be forgiven for not noticing how high the overall quality of skiers and boarders really is here. If, however, you go someplace else and keep your eyes open, the difference is quickly apparent. Whistler skiers, especially in the shoulder seasons when most of the people on the mountain are locals and near-locals, are really good. It might be the sort of people this town attracts, might be the limitless steeps, might be magic. But I think it’s the fog.