Canadian Life: Après-ski

Maybe there is a secret to true happiness. Although it shouldn’t really be one. There are some people who do occasionally but all too rarely appear in our lives in one form or another who have learnt to master it, who truly understand it. They truly understand the reality of how life, existence, the universe, however you want to look at it, has phases, seasons, which when met with the same confidence, comfort and content, can be relaxed into, and they proceed through them gaining strength. Regardless whether they are seasons of bad times or good occasions, happiness or sadness, illness or good health, this requires ‘training’ over a long time, through experiences and by awareness. Granted, some people have a greater natural capacity for resilience or have lower natural levels of debilitating anxiety when testing their deeply ingrained belief systems, but whether it’s by the fortune of nurture or the blessing of nature, those who have seen way beyond the ego-fuelled signposts which modern society places at every one of life’s crossroads – you must feel top of the world, round-the-clock bulls– – are the ones who are happy and brave enough in taking the path which doesn’t yet exist, even if it initially leads into the darkness. Such phases are normal and they are true; up leads to down, winters have summers, depression precedes elevation, catabolic leads to anabolic and so on – a breaking down leads to a building up. Seasonal change can always come as a shock at various points, but if looked at in this way, it’s become clear to me that it can help with proceeding from one to the next.

Meteorologically, unlike the UK which is generally burdened/blessed with the same weather all year round within maybe a 15 degree discrepancy, Canada apparently has proper seasonal change. When the mercury falls, rain turns to snow, which later turns to slush, itself taking many forms, which all turns to water when it hits a tropical 4C, and as suddenly as it arrived, a season ends. Skiers and snowboarders vanish, no idea where they go; maybe they melt away although many are too cool to melt, and out of nowhere, mountain bikes appear outside the rental shops – nature in full flow. Oh and bears come out to play.

Whistler is North America’s number one ski resort. It has by far the most skiable terrain, the highest number of visitors and having now been bought out by Vail, will surely only become bigger, maybe better. Working for the resort in rental/retail, you get a pretty clear perspective of how customer focused it is, and it seems to work to a large extent. You also see the general public at their glamorous best, as they are there to ski and ski hard, so as long as you give them their skis in the morning, and they looked the same as they did the night before, you’ve done a good job. Or almost…

It turns out one doughnut who will stay anonymous for the sake of his own dignity, spent much of the season attaching the snowboard binding grip-washers the wrong way round. Whether or not this can be pointed back to the Kokanee/JD saturated snowboarder who gave the demonstration back in November or he was just too busy engaging with the guests about where they reside from in England, it’s fortunate that it’s the torque that counts and so physics shows the direction of the washer in this instance to be of little safety risk. Regardless, it’s still probably a good thing he spends his time in this way or maybe writing travel reviews, as despite having studied engineering, there is no present danger of this being repeated on an Airbus A380!

I thought I would best sum up the season with some honourable awards, so here are my five most memorable moments.

Most controversial work scenario: The ‘Wafflegate’ Scandal, closely followed by ‘Hottubgate’.

At approximately 9.34am, the Coast crew embarked on the daily mission-very-possible-if-done-shrewdly, of retrieving the morning fuel in the form of freshly made waffles from the hotel buffet. Whilst personally not much of a waffle fan, opting instead for the full continental spread if given the window of opportunity, on one occasion a couple of hotel room owners complained of having to wait for the measly rental lads to be served. What dark justice is this?! It went straight to the hotel’s manager who initiated the necessary military operation to ensure that this wasn’t to be repeated… for a while anyway. I personally tried to redeem the situation by enticing some of the guests to bring the gold to us, but that lasted a total of one day.

Hottubgate was more precarious. And purely a self-inflicted and avoidable wound. When you shouldn’t be using the hotel’s facilities, you simply don’t turn up in a group of two or more, three at most, let alone six… ask to borrow towels and it’s game over. Luckily, yours truly had already made use of it a small handful of times and it was worth every second; minus 10 degrees above, 45 below, and time runs real slow.

Favourite guest: Most of them. Despite their insistence on bringing all members of the family on holiday, up to and including third-cousins’-twice-removed-mother-in-law’s daughters, doubling the population of Whistler, I love the Mexicans. They may turn up at 9pm fresh out of Mexico City, or the Mexican Corner, swap boots more times than our stock can cater for, and argue amongst each other in Spanish but they were a great laugh to have around.

A mention also goes to the British family who I was able to ski with for a day. Having landed badly on my elbow that morning on icey concrete, unsure whether it was worse than I was making out, or I was making it out worse than it was, being with a GP, I was advised to get an Xray. If you’re reading this Paul, thankyou, I did, the doc agreed, but no chip. I still feel it.

Finally, to the American family who tipped Kent and me $20 each just for walking 10 feet to store their skis. A victorious hot tub session followed with a beer and apparently it tasted sweet as…

Worst guest: A close call. Firstly, recognition must be paid to the testosterone-pumped, 5’5” British part-time gym rat who’s brains were certainly not even in his biceps. Insisting his skis hadn’t been repaired correctly, when they had, by guys who live and breathe tuning skis, he began to get aggressive and insisted on a full-refund. I left him to it, perhaps referring to him as a profanity as he walked out. He should never have got it, but he returned later, when no guests were in the shop and with one person working, and so it was the best way to rid the vicinity of steroids.

But the winner has to go to the Brolly woman, from Kent, England. Whilst I’m sure there is some glitter within her soul somewhere deep down, she’s done the most remarkable job of burying it with coal. Demanding a full $400 rental refund (and very regrettably, getting it) because her boots were not comfortable and she didn’t like her skis, insisting it has “nothing to do with money, I have plenty of money, thank-you”, she had no shame. As was remarked to her afterwards, sparking more of her beautiful fury, she also therefore received the cheapest skis in Whistler, so congratulations to her.

Most frustrating moment: Many moments, all spent with the specialists getting my boots adjusted. It’s said everything’s a science, and boot fitting is certainly no exception. Few boots have had more time spent on them within a month than mine… apparently, which due to various muscular and anatomical variations and minor nerve damage from a non-stop 80km Brecon Beacons trek last summer, made it bloody frustrating as the boot was just not providing the support it should. But some of the most talented, important and hardworking people in Whistler are the specialist boot-fitters, and so my gratitude goes out to Carl from Performance Can-Ski for all the time and expertise he spent on it.

Most memorable time: To start with, it’s back to the Mexicans. One of many similar stories I’m sure; 7pm on a cold December’s evening, alone in the shop and a group of 15 arrive, half kids, half grown-ups. Within seconds, the kids have dispersed evenly throughout the shop – behind the ski racks, under the benches, you name it. Only the impeccably dressed 17-year-old lad could speak English and so acted as interpreter. I regret not having taken a selfie with them all; actually, it’s the only time I regret not having taken a selfie, full stop. I was always greeted by Uncle Sanchez with an enthusiastic “Amigo”… and a high-five. Despite most communication having been by charades and my incredibly broken Span-glish, they stuck with me and it was a success. I had made friends for life – by life I mean 9 days. Adios.

Also, when half of Seoul returns from a day’s skiing to store their skis and the whole clan needs room numbers to be put on them, and with English not really an option, you start laughing, then they start laughing, some maybe crying. We bond this way. But at that point, I felt I could have done with a temporary Korea change…

But for me, the most memorable time was skiing on the white clouds in the rare blue sky. 28th November was the first time I had put on skis for nearly 11 years. It was also 5 years to the day since my beautiful mum passed away into the great unknown. I mentioned this to my ski instructor that day, a brilliant 70-year-old bloke called Ed who said what a wonderful way to celebrate her life. This was true, but it was also delving into something I never thought I would do, even three months before. A ski season, in Canada. A season of life I never thought I would see. Shared with a very fun, anything-goes, work team, from all over the globe – meaning Oz/NZ, England and Canada… and Holland – and a great supervisor who did what she could to cater to our requests and needs, it was a unique time. Whilst Whistler at winter is made for the outright, diehard party/powder animal, or as they are known here, Australians, not really me, it was still a great escape from the world one left behind. I’m a summer guy and that’s the season I must see here on the west coast peaks. And so, as a mountain sports junky may or may not say, ‘onwards and downwards’.

With modern country being undoubtedly the most popular genre in Whistler, this picks itself.

2 thoughts on “Canadian Life: Après-ski

  1. Fantastic work Nick and superbly written.I hope you love Canada as much as I do! Look forward to seeing you when you return to the motherland! Simone xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful,heartwarming and sentimental piece! Really captures the imagination..and makes you envious at the same time on the world that one is missing in its full glory.^_^

    Liked by 1 person

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