The Outsider: Rising for the reset

If there’s one thing I’ve learned to appreciate during Whistler winters, it’s the reset.

Snow conditions oscillate wildly here in the Coast Mountains — from cold smoke powder glory to rained-out schmoo — sometimes within hours. I’ve learned to adapt to these temperamental storms the best I can. I rise early, load up on one of the first few dozen chairs, ski powder for probably less than two hours then head home just as the rain sets in.

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Experience skiing in Whistler has taught me that if 40 cm of snow (or more) accumulates overnight, it’s probably heavy enough to sink a naval destroyer. There are exceptions of course, but nine storms out of 10 I’ll wager that a dump that big will have the dreaded pineapple express looming in its wake.

Then, a reset. Scraped, icy conditions on our beloved dual mountain are coated with a fresh layer of powder frosting. The frustration of previous days or weeks evaporates and we’re all back in our most desired environment. A level of hustle rarely seen by laidback locals quickly boils to the surface.

Better get it quick before it’s gone.

One of these resets came a couple of weekends ago the Saturday before New Year’s Eve. Skiing over the previous Christmas week was satisfactory but far from all-time. The storm for Dec. 30 was forecasted yet underestimated, with many people making the decision to ski the next day based on the amount of accumulation on their cars and decks in just a few hours the night before.

We woke early. We hustled. We lined up at the Creekside Gondola at 7 a.m., the earliest I’d done so since Whistler Blackcomb’s exemplary opening day. We froze and huddled like penguins. The lineup grew slowly at first, then in less than an hour stretched over the pedestrian bridge. A couple of ambitious line-cutters tried to join their friends ahead of us and were promptly stared down and given their marching orders by a neighbouring group of seasoned locals. Reports from latecomers and onlooking workers that day spoke of the line reaching all the way to Starbucks.

But that’s the beauty of the Whistler early bird. If you manage to upload in the first wave, you get to enjoy two or three runs while everyone else is bottlenecked at the mountain access points. After that you can line up for the alpine lifts for another round of fresh tracks while everyone else is trying to validate their hour-long upload by skiing in your tracks. More than worth the first 20 to 30 minutes of rising out of bed in a zombie-like state.

This past week was a bit of a wash. The photographers of the Deep Winter Photo Challenge had their work cut out for them trying to make socked-in rain and slush look good. But I’m optimistic that the next reset is just around the corner. When it happens, we’ll rise (early) once again.

Vince Shuley has spent countless hours waiting for lifts to open. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email or Twitter @vinceshuley.

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