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Pique'n Yer Interest

The fine line



As any Whistlerite knows, the skiing life is full of lines: the line-up of cars on the highway and to enter (free) parking lots; line-ups for coffee, cafeterias, rentals and ticket buying (made all the more excruciating by the fact that you're lining up to give someone money); and the too-often pernicious lifts-lines - all of which serve to make you wonder, Is it all worth it?

Though we can agree that these all pretty much suck, other lines in the sport provide an answer to this all-too-frequent soul-search. These range from generalized concepts such as the fall-line, line of least resistance, and high-/low-line traverses to more concrete entities like your favourite line through the trees, that bitching waterfall cut-line under the lift, and the line-up for any bootpack to the goods. In Whistler one line is key not only to all of this, but - as befits an ocean-side mountain range where freezing levels are wont to frolic like dolphins - a subject of daily conversation: the snowline.

Knowing the movements of the snowline during each storm is important not only to gauge the accumulating wealth of a season, but also as a lynch-pin to planning on- and off-piste adventure, both in terms of snow quality and the hazards snow-load and layers might present. During the dead of winter when the snowline behaves itself and mostly stays at valley bottom, there's little to worry about. But when it's dancing a jig during a Pineapple Express or at the start and finish of the season, all eyes, ears and tongues are on where this division between pain and pleasure lies, where it has been and where it is going (which, it should be noted, is seldom where Environment Canada predicts - a fact further compounded by local variation between and on our two mountains).

Tracking the snowline then, can itself straddle a fine line, in this case one of emotion. Watching the snowline's more-or-less steady creep up the mountain in spring, for instance, is a melancholy affair: you don't like to see it go up too early or too fast, holding out for the promise of sunny spring days on the hill or touring. But you don't want it to be too slow or too late either, so that valley pursuits can get rightfully underway. Without a doubt, however, the most compelling aspect of a snowline is watching it descend from above in the fall, creeping downward to meet your growing desires head-on. Colorado can have its high-altitude instant winters; we'll take the tease any day.

Nothing gets a Whistler skier more excited in October and November than days of cold, drenching rain under a cloud ceiling so low you can touch it, and being able to follow what's happening up high on webcams and Twitter feeds only to have your expectations exceeded. When a big Pacific storm lifts her heavy skirt to reveal the hem of winter's petticoat to be far closer than imagined, an aching white that stands stark against autumn's earthy palate, it incites what can only be described as pure anticipation. That hem may raise and lower many times over the next few weeks, but you know that its net direction is down. And you can't wait to head up.

Ski areas, of course, know all about exploiting this kind of lust and WB is no different. Around here we're lucky to have snow reliable enough that a mid-late November opening on a reasonable base is a virtual certainty and, often, pre-empted by a week or two. And so there are email blasts about significant snowfalls, September footage of powder skiing on Blackcomb Glacier, and the inevitable pre-opening scheme of sending up guinea-pig athletes, photographers, videographers and, sometimes, a lucky writer, to stir hoopla that hopefully grows into a critical media mass. While these folks happily return the privilege by spreading the stoke of our coastal blessing, they're also derided and despised (in a friendly kind of way) by locals for being the "chosen few." This year another component has been added to the hype-mix, a weeklong pre-opening occupation (now underway) of the patrol hut on Whistler Peak by someone who finds himself in this rancorous position year after year, and will forever be loathed after this one. That person is Mike Douglas, who, by dint of general Godfatherliness, ski-world name recognition, filmmaking ability and social media savvy was a natural choice as beacon for the approaching winter. A marketer's dream. Strategically, one imagines, on opening day, when the snowline finally meets the lift line (whether literally or, more often figuratively), whatever revelations have befallen Douglas in his lonely vigil will have already answered the burning question of whether it's all worth it.

Fine, then. Allow me to fire the first shot in what will likely be volleys from a long line of haters. You may think you're all high and mighty watching the brumal maiden sweep across the Coast Range from on high MD, but remember this: we're all down here looking up her skirt.

And the snowline is ours.



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