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Weather for wallowing



The shoulder season is here

Sniff, sniff. Can you smell it? Well, breathe in a big gulp of that damp mountain air because winter is on its way.

But what do Whistlerites do in the meantime?

According to various sources, local residents engage in a number of different – and sometimes strange – activities to help get them through the rainy shoulder season between summer and winter.

It all started years before such phrases as "million-dollar house" and "shoulder season" were muttered here in this mountain valley. Whistler's pioneers did not lament the rainy season. They enjoyed it instead.

According to local author Stephen Vogler, there was no electricity, no TV and – gasp – no village bars to frequent when Rainbow Lodge first opened in 1914 on the shores of Alta Lake.

So, lodge owner Alex Philip, trapper John Millar and a handful of other local residents would gather around a jimmy-rigged still to watch it drip.

One has to assume that they had enough sense to test their homemade moonshine.

Anyway, between trips back and forth to the still, Philip found the time to write three pulp-fiction western novels that celebrated the natural beauty of this place we now call Whistler.

"Fall came and the first frosts that stole into the valley touched the wooded flanks of the mountains with a crisp stroke that transformed the poplars into yellow plumes, the vine maple and sumach into a red flame of embers dying there," Philip wrote in his book, Whispering Leaves .

"Only the black growth of conifers, fir, hemlock, pine and spruce, kept their stalwart green. The hills and valleys became a fine mosaic, an ancient tapestry woven with parti-coloured strands."

Besides writing (and drinking), fall is the time when most locals visit the Whistler Museum and Archives to step back into the area's past and re-live Alta Lake's earlier days.

"This is the time of the year when we get a lot of locals and people who have just moved here," said museum director Meaghan McKae.

Locals also seem to have an increasing interest in reading as the temperature drops and the precipitation continues to add up.

"Rainy weather is great for us," said Hazel Ellis, owner of Armchair Books.

Ellis said locals are reading travel books to escape from the weather and the "stresses of everyday life."

Locals are also flocking to the public library to check out the collection of books, magazines and newspapers.

Non-literary types are flocking to the village's video stores to rent the latest movies.

"Yeah, business actually goes up when it rains," said Mike Spicer of Whistler Video Tracks.

Spicer said this year's ski movies are just starting to arrive and they're usually the most popular genre.

"Those are really popular right now," he said. "Everyone's getting pumped for the winter."

And locals have a good reason to get pumped. On Wednesday, the snow level was sitting at Base II on Blackcomb, less than 100 metres or so above the village. Ski runs on both mountains were covered with a blanket of white.

According to the 2002 Farmer's Almanac, an above-normal amount of snowfall is expected this winter from early December to late February.

While waiting for the snow to pile up, Whistlerites are also crowding into the Meadow Park Sports Centre to stay lean and limber for what could be an epic season.

"There's lots of locals here," said Melissa Kish, a cashier at the rec centre. "People are using the gym and the pool."

Meanwhile, residents who have enough time and money are leaving Whistler in search of sun and sand.

"We've been busy," said a spokesperson from a local travel agency who wanted to remain nameless. "Most people are heading to South America, Mexico, Australia or Asia."

But the locals who remain in town will endure, curse and worship the damp weather until Whistler-Blackcomb opens Nov. 22 for skiing and snowboarding.

Because if you can't escape the wet, you might as well wallow in it.

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