Opinion » Maxed Out

Whistler can be a bargain... for the right guest

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I'd like to thank, assuming that's the right word, the caucus-goers of Iowa — Motto: If it Ain't Corn We Ain't Interested — for saving me the unpleasant task of writing about what a scary fascist Donald Trump is. Ted Cruz being only marginally a less scary fascist, I'll just wait and see how the folks in the Peoples' Republic of New Hampshire vote next week.

In the meantime, I'd like to say I am immeasurably grateful for whatever twists of fate landed me in both Canada and Tiny Town. I can't imagine a better place to live.

That having been said, one of the drawbacks of living in a resort is hearing from people you used to know, people who still live in places you'd just as soon forget. Toronto, for example. People who want to come visit. I know in my heart of hearts they don't really want to see me. But they want to not see me less than they want to not see the inside of a $450/night condo.

If you live here, it's axiomatic that friends of varying degrees will eventually contact you just to "stay in touch." Funny how they choose to stay in touch around the time they're planning a holiday. Their conversation grazes around the subject of their upcoming vacation, taking tangents to update you on the status of people you've forgotten in the intervening years, until an opening occurs, a weakness is perceived.

If you've lived here very long, you've gotten pretty good at avoiding these openings by now. You can sense them coming. There's a tentative but distinctly manipulative quality to the choice of words, the phrasing of sentences, the references to what grand times you shared in the past. It always makes me feel like a sheep being nudged toward a knife-wielding shepherd by a tenacious border collie.

But it takes experience to hone that kind of insight.

I lacked that experience when a friend contacted me shortly after I put down roots in Whistler. Still, luck was with me. The first thing he said was, "I'm coming to Whistler to ski... and I already have a place to stay." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Couldn't believe it because Mr. X — not his real name — may easily have been the most parsimonious man in the world.

Mr. X and I worked together in another lifetime in the centre of the universe — Toronto. I admired him because he'd raised cheapness to an art form. He wore thrift store suits that did not merely shine, they glowed. The glare from his suits far surpassed the shine on his shoes which, sometimes, seemed to not be perfect matches for each other if one paid careful attention to such details. Few apparently did.

Some people who are cheap come to their thrift by way of a penurious youth. Others simply reproduce beyond their means to support their eventual family. Mr. X, I concluded, was cheap because it was the least expensive hobby he could find.

He had no children, a working wife, modest house, old car — which, in the heat of summer he'd pretend had a broken air conditioner when, in fact, it had none at all — and very modest expenses. His only other hobby was fishing, a pastime he indulged from the seat of a small aluminum boat on a lake upon whose shores he kept an unassuming cottage with neither running water nor electricity. He fished with worms. I'm not entirely sure he used a reel. Or a rod. He once said his tackle box fit into his shirt pocket. I don't think he was lying; I'm fairly convinced he was bragging.

He admired the fact I didn't own a car, only a bicycle. But he thought me fiscally foolish to be addicted to skiing.

Imagine my surprise then when he announced one day he was taking up the sport. I was speechless. Had he told me he was leaving his job for the priesthood, I would not have been more surprised. And this from a man who'd once said he didn't go to church because he didn't like being hit up for money every Sunday.

I asked him if he realized skiing was, well, expensive – much more expensive than running – the only other sport I knew him to pursue. He said, "What the hell Max; it's only money." I stared at him carefully, searching his head for any signs of trauma.

Not withstanding incurring the extravagant expense of a week's worth of lessons at Gray Rocks, he was, for many seasons, a most dangerous skier. His zeal for the sport far surpassed his skill and judgment, and not infrequently, the durability of his equipment. Rare was the ski day that did not involve blood, broken skis or both.

In the early years, his ski ensemble was remarkably similar, possibly identical, to what he wore running. I didn't recognize the maker of his boots; the name had been obliterated by years of skiing on the feet of their prior owner(s).

The year I moved to Whistler was the first year he decided to ski here. He did call, but he didn't ask to stay then either. He and a gaggle of friends had a reasonably priced condo in Eva Lake. Two bedrooms, eight guys, an authentic Whistler experience.

I met them on Whistler. Mr. X wore a faded Ski Patrol jacket from Value Village. I recognized his skis; I'd seen several pairs at the compactor at the end of the prior season. I kindly inquired whether his new boots might not be a woman's model and he admitted they were but quickly added they were exactly the same as the men's version and $40 cheaper.

When we stopped for lunch, he pulled a large plastic bag from his knapsack. "Brought your own?" I observed. "Did you stop in Vancouver or Squamish to shop?"

"Neither," he said. "I bought this at home before I left. I have a Frequent Shopper card at the Bag-n-Save." I felt humbled in the presence of such perfection.

Mr. X was in town recently. The intervening years have loosened him up, fiscally. Perhaps it's the stark reality of mortality or a definitive realization he's unlikely to outlive his savings. He's becoming a spendthrift. He had new skis and men's boots. He even ate out once or twice.

But just to assure me he still had his hand in the game, he boasted about paying a bit less than the other guys for their lodging, this time in the Village. "I'm saving the price of an Edge Card by sleeping on the sofa," he said, proudly.

Just proves Whistler can be a bargain.

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