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Pique N' Your Interest

Poker for powder

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Last Monday was apparently the most depressing day of the year.

I don’t see how it was different from any other day this week or the week before that or even the week before that.

As far as I can tell, it’s still raining, it’s gloomy, conditions are crappy, everyone is on edge, we’re all starting to get that Vitamin D-deprived look and more importantly, there’s nothing fun to do.

I know the resort’s trying. Tourism Whistler put on a few free movie screenings, with hot chocolate and crafts for the kids. The hotels have been organizing events such as Bingo Nights and giving away vouchers to the spa. And tour operators are doing their very best to be as accommodating as possible.

We’re all really trying to make the best out of an unfortunate and unpredictable situation because as long as Whistler can keep the guests happy, maybe, just maybe, they’ll come back to visit.

But what about the locals? What about all the lifties and waitresses and cleaners and salespeople who came to Whistler to ride, to get 100 days on skis under their belts? What about the people who live here year-round who count down the days until the mountains open?

We're restless and bored and choked.

What are we to do about it?

Only one short week ago I was in despair over that very question and then… I discovered poker, and my season has turned around.

Don’t get me wrong I’d throw in the cards any day for a 20 centimetre run on the mountain. In fact, I’d trade them in for a three cm run on the mountain. But seeing as I haven’t had that option, I’m just going to spend my time perfecting the game. With only a few practice hours and one official game under my belt, I’ve got a long way to go.

Poker, as far as I can tell, is having a revival of sorts.

Friendly games seem to be popping up all over the place. Poker chips were in every second store it seemed over Christmas. The World Poker Tour seems to be on every time I flick on the TV and, as I learned last week, it's fairly easy to rustle up eight people in a few short hours on any given Friday night to play a game of poker.

It's the new charades, except it's nothing like charades.

Perhaps this renaissance of sorts will change the game’s tarnished image. I once dismissed it as a complicated game of cards, played mostly by high stakes men in smoky, boozy backrooms. They talked in a language unto themselves, with their flushes, their flops and the big blinds and little blinds.

It's intimidating. And it's illegal, isn't it?

A quick call to the police before writing this column confirmed that private gambling is completely legal in Canada, as long as the house doesn't take a cut of the winnings.

It's a relief to know I wasn't breaking the law last Friday night.

It felt like I was breaking the law.

As soon I walked into my friend's house I could feel a different vibe in the room. People were here to play poker. They had their game faces on. And though we were all playing for a relatively small pot, the pressure was on.

No matter how high or low the stakes are at poker, it's a stressful game, which is, I suppose, the beauty of it.

You could be playing for $10. But as soon as you turn those cards over, the heart starts thumping. Your hands go a little clammy, the brain starts pounding, the face starts to get a little flushed. It's decision time.

While all this inner turmoil is going on, you're trying to appear outwardly calm, cool and collected, holding a steady gaze, trying not to let the hands shake, hyper aware of your body language and everyone else's.

You can imagine the pressure I was under at my first poker game, among some friends and a few strangers who were all veterans of the game.

I was up, I was down. I was confused. I made some stupid decisions, I asked some stupid questions. I couldn't remember if a straight was better than a flush. Sometimes I couldn't remember exactly what a flush was but I persevered… until 1:30 a.m.

Then I got tired.

I gambled it all. And I lost.

It was an emotional roller coaster.

Granted it's not the same thrill as floating over the snow as powder sprays into your face. It's nowhere close to the high of skiing one of the first lines down the Blackcomb Glacier on fresh snow or being on the first chair up the Peak. It's not as satisfying as spending the whole day on the mountain and then reliving it all over again with beers at Merlin's.

But with nothing else to do around here right now, a little friendly poker in place of powder is helping me get through this dismal season.

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