There's always a funereal quality around ski resorts this time of year. Generally, it's danced to the dirge created by chairlifts grinding to a halt, staff vanishing like the winter's snow and the off-the-shoulder season showing pale, bleached skin to the warming sun.
This season, in most resorts, the funeral metaphor strikes a little too close to home. 2011-12 was the season that never was for too many ski resorts that still are... barely. They limped through an autumn with unrequited hope, put on a brave face for Christmas visitors relegated to skiing crowded runs of man-made snow, and finally tucked their tails between their legs and closed earlier than they ever feared they'd have to.
And then there was us... the uncommonly lucky. No gloating, no bravado, certainly no homage to good management. Whistler lucked out, period. The storms that plastered us with great snow from November until whenever they stop — hopefully sometime before June — could just as easily have tracked 30km south and left us sporting earthtones.
But they didn't and we've benefited from an influx of people that never had any intention of being here this season. It's been a year when the most frequently heard line has been, "I usually ski at (fill in the blank) but they don't have any snow this year so I thought I'd try Whistler."
Thanks. Y'all come back now, y'ear.
Now, the rituals of spring are being played out. Skis are being waxed and relegated to the space in closets recently abandoned by golf clubs. Roof racks that carried them are being swapped out for bike carriers and kayak holders. Light is replacing darkness just in time for sunglasses to carry the load goggles did all winter, and the thud of ski boots is giving way to the slap of flip-flops.
April has risen, Lent has passed and it's time to get down and party one more time before last November's instant locals take off for adventure, home, and the absolute certainty that life, wherever it plays out for them, won't play quite as hard as it has since they first hit town, livers and savings intact.
So with a base of more than three-and-a-half metres, days that bounce between frigid and wilting, bank accounts and immune systems drained of reserves, what's a Whistlerite to do? Hell, get down and party. It's Festival time.
Almost, but never, reaching maturity — a state all too familiar to the aging population of this town — the TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival is getting ready to rock Whistler for the 17th time, an accomplishment few thought it would reach given its shaky start.
The story's familiar by now, except to those celebrating their first installment of Festival Follies. Back in the dark ages, when Whistler pretty much celebrated April like most ski resorts, with a smattering of econotourists and hard-core locals who can never get too much of a good thing, Party Dude Doug Perry was desperate to find some way to make a living out of doing what he loved most: skiing.