After enough seasons I have to take my shoes off to get an accurate count, springtime in Whistler remains a disorienting mystery. It has something to do with what social scientists call imprinting. Growing up in the desert southwest, spring was the gentlest of seasons. It started in early February, when we could finally abandon the winter coats we’d worn for all of eight weeks, and lingered well into May at which point it gave way to the next season known locally as Stinkin’ Hot.
When I lived in Montreal — my first experience with what Canadians like to call Real Winter, often accompanied by the most genteel bit of chest thumping — spring started in February as well. Unfortunately it lasted only about three days, often over a weekend. The fabled thaw of February would melt mountains of snow. Downtown intersections would become giant, grey-brown Slurpees as old newspapers and the excrement of three quarters of a million dogs plugged sewer grates like so much hair at the bottom of a huge shower.
By the time Monday rolled around, the errant spring-like conditions were nowhere to be found, having usually been replaced by an Arctic front and –40° temperatures. While you no longer needed waders to traverse intersections, ice axes and crampons helped immensely, as they were transformed from distasteful to dangerous, frozen solid from curb to curb. As Christmas was to retailers, so the Thaw of February was to towing and auto body shops, an annual event they all counted on to see them through to the Demolition Derby of summer holidays still many long months away.
But there is no parallel in my life to spring in Whistler. Spring in Whistler means you can ski powder in the morning, get a sunburn that’ll land you at the medical centre in the afternoon and be mosquito food just before the sun goes down. And while it seems impossible it’s almost over — this best ski season we’ve had since last year — the signs of spring are everywhere.
Most notable among the returning birds, melting ice, lengthening daylight and two-wheeled mayhem along the Valley Trail, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival is Whistler’s inarguable harbinger of spring. It’s the starting gun in the annual race to strip down, feel the sun on your skin, dance to the music and find your summer groove. While there are those who have been through it 12 times before, who verbally masturbate about it losing some of its vitality and direction, about it being co-opted by its TW-Borg owners, and even people who grouse about the corporate imprimatur that keep most of its events and all of its concerts FREE, I can only say, in the best of Canadian spirits, take off, eh?