Well, I guess the good news is it isn't exactly a stellar start to the season elsewhere. Oh sure, Aspen says it's 100 per cent open... with a 15 inch (38 cm) mid-mountain base! Of course, that's a whole inch more than Snowmass. Wouldn't mind having that inch here, it'd just about double our base. But with no virgins to sacrifice, and Ullr apparently on vacation elsewhere, what's a ski bum to do?
There's a palpable buzz around town. Worried looks are creeping onto normally optimistic brows. "It'll come, sooner or later," is still the preferred salutation but there's less confidence in the voices carrying the message and the grim visage of the faces behind it scream WORRIED.
So the only sane thing to do is go skiing. See for myself. After all, it's not every day you can rise to the challenge of skiing every open run on both mountains... even if you only start at noon.
My confidence was shaken a bit when a former co-worker at Guest Relations told me Bob Dufour had been around and, when asked how things were up on the mountain, answered, "It's okay."
Okay? Really, okay?
The word chilled me. Okay? Bob Dufour thinks conditions are okay? Just okay. This was far worse than I could have imagined. Riding the Peak Chair with Bob a few years back, he mused about how he probably had more days and hours on Whistler Mountain than any person living or dead. Since an unscientific poll of rabid Whistler skiers generally shows most people think all Bob does is ski on the mountain, I had no reason to think his statement was anything but true.
But okay? In all the years I've known him, I've never heard Bob use any word milder than "excellent" to describe conditions on the mountains. Epic, outstanding, best ever, and those descriptions have been used on days, not unlike those we're muddling through now, where it was raining to the top. I've seen Bob, at a time of year any sane person would think of as the end of the season, mud-spattered from the knee to the cuff of his ski pants, kicking his skis off at the base of the mountain long after the most die-hard glissehead had given up and downloaded at least the last lift, picking pieces of shale the size of fingers out of his bases with a Leatherman and proclaiming the ski-out conditions "excellent." Okay?
Undeterred, perhaps because I'd seen the weather heading our way, I went up anyway. Riding up Excalibur, the sky was full of clouds the colour of new bruises, mottled and folded over onto themselves, relaxed, not roiling. Teasers of sun oozed through a seeping suture now and again like liquid fire. Everything above the monochrome landscape said "Snow." But no snow fell and none was threatening. There was virtually no snow under the path of the gondola. None up the first usually mogulled pitches under Excelerator. Finally patchy, crusted centimetres started to cover the colours of late autumn. The lowest swaths of snow bore clear tracks where crazy people had pushed the envelope of the possible and made their own contribution to the local economy — springing hard-earned dough for base repairs and flaming crayons of P-tex.
It was shocking. More summer hiking than winter sliding. I half expected to see marmots and bears foraging a prehibernation snack. The dominant features were foliage, stones, exposed logs over streams and a notable lack of people, the latter undermined by an occasional cluster of instant locals with more enthusiasm than brains, their faces frozen in a death mask of concern over what they'd gotten themselves in to and how they were going to get themselves out.
The bros were out in force though, hitting dust-covered rocks, smoking joints, hanging out, sharing theories on how they could beat the RFID pass gates. All of 'em seemed to be having a good time. Many new voices opined that what lay in front of them, limited as it was, still outsized and out-excited anything they'd otherwise be skiing in the Old Country — Ontario. If, that is, Ontario had snow. Which it doesn't. Neither does Quebec. Judging from pictures on the nightly news, only New Brunswick has gotten plastered. Waste of perfectly good snow. The fish are already frozen.
The run down to Jersey Cream was nostalgic. It reminded me of skiing back East. Too little real estate; too many people; not enough snow, lots of ice. If it was minus 40 the illusion would be complete.
Except for the view up valley toward the Pemberton Icecap. And the view west to Tantalus. Low clouds pooled in deadend valleys, bouncing off exposed rock and unladen trees. Earthtones wrestled with white for colour dominance. Earthtones won.
Too soon I was riding back up, sharing the chair with a longtime local — second season — from Quebec. I asked about his day. He was stoked on the riding, hoped to be shredding the whole mountain soon, and was noncommittal about his lack of work at the mountain. "Only had two shifts so far," he said matter of factly. He'd been up since opening bell and was still having a ball. It made me feel sheepish about my crack of noon start and the knowledge I'd likely be back home long before the last lift up.
It was a short guilt trip. Glancing over at Cougar Chutes was not an encouraging sight. Made me nostalgic for rock climbing. Ditto Bunbury Couloir, the rockscape formerly known as the Couloir Extreme — dumb name — formerly known as the Saudan Couloir, a better name until the heirs got greedy.
Having skied, let's see, both open runs and one with 'Marginal Conditions' warnings hung along the rope discouraging all but the foolhardy, I gave some thought to peaktopeaking over to Whistler and skiing the four open runs over there but decided to ski down. The run of the day turned out to be the skiout to Base II. Yea though I ski through the valley of the screaming snowguns I shall fear no rock. Best powder, no people, almost felt like doing it again.
Verdict? Slidin's slidin'. It's all good. For now. WB must be bleedin' red ink keeping one mountain open let alone both. When this biblical rain finally blows through, assuming there's any snow left, I'll head back up; that's why I live here. Not every year can be epic, although two in a row that start off the way this year and last year did is pretty disheartening.
But sometimes, okay will have to be, well, okay.