Now that we've got Christmas and New Year celebrations out of the way, and we're wrapping up the Reverend King's week for those states south of us who deign to celebrate it, we are ramping up for the main event: winter's tourist season. If this year comes close to matching the last several, they'll come in droves and we'll warmly welcome each and every one.
As an astute observer of the human condition, I—and I'm not alone in this—have discerned a noticeable change in the makeup of winter visitors the past several seasons. Let's call it the Epic™ Syndrome since it seems to be tied to Vail Resort's Epic™ Pass.
The Epic™ Pass is a brilliant marketing insight, coming as close as it does to making good on Dire Straits' refrain of money for nothin', chicks for free. Well at least the first part. You buy a pass, you ski almost anywhere in the world. First day's expensive; rest of the season's free.
It has joined with what we like to call the Canadian Peso to make Whistler a very attractive location for a ski vacation. It has also been, according to the U.S. State Department, one of the factors leading to a dramatic rise in the number of U.S. citizens holding passports. The last year for which statistics are available, 2017, was a record year: 21.4 million passports were issued. Twenty years earlier, only 6.3 million were sent out.
Of course, some of that increase is probably due to the collective fear of terrorism that led to U.S. citizens needing passports to go almost anywhere early in 2007 and some of the spike has been labelled the Trump Effect—self explanatory. But, doubtless, much of it has been driven by the burning curiosity of Epic™ Pass holders wanting to ski Whistler Blackcomb.
While Epic™ Pass holders come from all over the world, and I wouldn't dream of slighting any of them, the bulk come from the U.S. I know that because few of them have Aussie accents and the ones from Mexico are quick to let us know they're here because they're afraid if they try to go to, for example, Vail, they might end up in detention awaiting deportation. Our gain.
Because this is the first time so many have come here to ski, I feel compelled to share some local insight. Canada is, after all, a foreign country. Even though Americans believe we're alike, if perhaps colder, we really are different. For starters, we spell things differently. That's probably not important to you if you're on holiday but since it took me the better part of a decade to figure it out I thought I'd mention it.
We've also legalized both cannabis and gay marriage. You can indulge in the latter while you're here, if you're so inclined. Our local government hasn't yet come to grips with cannabis, however, so perhaps you're better off getting friendly with some locals or cruising down to Vancouver on an off day ... if you're so inclined.
But being helpful and friendly—Canadian traits—I'd like to pass on some tips to make the most of your holiday.
Black & Blue ... are the colour (different spelling, eh?) of ski runs that aren't green. "So what," I hear you say. So what is this: Canada is a less litigious society than the U.S., partly because we have single-payer healthcare. Our blue runs are a great deal like black runs at many U.S. ski resorts I've visited. Many of our black and all of our double black runs simply don't exist at most of them. If you're comfortable skiing black runs at Vail, you might want to test the waters here. I've been stuck on a black run at Vail on a powder day because it wasn't steep enough to keep sliding forward. That won't happen here. Trust me.
Rent skis. I don't get it. Every day, I see people who have just spent thousands of dollars to fly here, rent a hotel room or condo, buy lift tickets, book themselves and their kids into ski school, drop a wad in our local restaurants and then show up at the mountain with skis we set fire to at an Ullr rally years ago.
Ski technology is changing so fast, anything older than about three years is almost antique. Sure, you can enjoy skiing on antiques—you can enjoy driving Model A Fords. But is that why you're here? If you ski fewer than three weeks a year, you shouldn't even own skis. Rent new gear; who knows, you may be better than you thought.
White Privilege. Lose the white ski suit. There used to be a hard and fast rule in fashion: no whites before Easter or after Labour Day. I don't know why but it makes sense when it comes to skiwear. There's the obvious visibility factor. White is what the 10th Mountain Division guys used to call camo. Generally, it's a distinct advantage if other skiers can see you when you're skiing. There's also the drip factor. The mechanical equipment you ride is lubricated. Water dripping off it doesn't show on dark colours. White, on the other hand, shows everything that comes into contact with it from sneezes to chipotle mayo dripping off your fish taco. And if you knew what the backside of your white pants looked like, trust me, you'd never wear them in public.
Picnic on a glacier. Stuff a pack with some cheese, a little pâté, a baguette, fruit and a crisp bottle of white wine or maybe craft beer. Ski when the hordes head in to line up for Epic™ Burgers. Other than first thing in the morning, it's the best time to ski. Then, find a nice, isolated spot with a view toward the Tantalus or up-valley toward Pemberton and enjoy a leisurely lunch. If that's too much work, there are a couple of places in town that'll fix you a nice box lunch to take with you.
Ski with a staff. I don't mean someone who works at the mountain. I mean a three-metre length of bamboo. It will aid your holiday skiing immensely. You'd be surprised how easily you'll adjust to making turns using a motion not unlike that employed paddling a kayak and how much safer you'll feel establishing a "defensive" zone two metres on either side of you.
Go Off. We all have off days, some of us more than others. There are a lot of fun activities on tap in Whistler and by coming here, you've agreed, whether you know it or not, to try at least one or two of them. Ask around. You need a day off. Preferably mid-week. Call it local's appreciation day. Thank you.