[whistler] :: shadow lines in the ghost snows

Cyrus riding the Whistler gondola on the way to the 2002 FIS ... :


Heather writes that "Tonight, there is everywhere ice." Here, there is everywhere snow: a white carpet that blankets and dampens this nestled valley, two hours north from Vancouver yet a world apart, even as it reveals itself as core central of a rampant, self-indulgent, internationalist filthy rich consumerism. The sound of money is also the sound of the silent swish of a snow sport. Today, in the Blackcomb gondola, two local employees ((I hesitate to say "locals" per se as no one around here is actually from here)) loudly discussed the SUV-driving "whiners" who shoved through improvements to the highway.. of course this also has something to do with the impending 2010 Olympics.. and from other quarters I hear of $15 million dollar homes and $500, 000 dollar "necessary improvements" to keep up with the Joneses: provided that the Jones' are, of course, jetsetting oil billionaires, advertising execs and/or multiple property owners and so on.

As for slicing and dicing the vertical mix of gravity, bowls and evergreens that make up the mountains... Well, Blackcomb is a rock garden, meaning that the low base (120cm) provides ample opportunity to trash new skis and edges and to keep the P-Tex industry in high gear. Some turns were to be had but the over-enthusiasm of more than a few boarders and skiers (including myself) meant some unhappy scratches, gouges and scrapes (and for a 30 year veteran of the mountain, a torn thigh muscle, as he related to me on the Horstman T-Bar). Meanwhile, on the positive side, Whistler's inclusion of Flute bowl, a backcountry peak hiked by the powder hounds for a few generations, has now become accessible in the manner of the Blackcomb Glacier: it's patrolled and blasted. While this also means more trekkers it simply legitimizes what is already an anthill destination for the pack-in semi-backcountry addict. "Now with a cat-track walk-out!" Kudos on Flute mind you -- Whistler had been heading steadily downhill since its ceaseless plans to colour the entire mountain into a fucking family zone (I still mourn the loss of Harmony Bowl's Camel Humps and its hidden powder stashes to the quad chair and the old double-black entrance of the Saddle cornice, dynamited into oblivion in the mid-'90s.)

Yet, up above the snow, and despite a flakey sewer-suited friend who failed to distinguish Crystal from Horstman Hut and thus reduced to existential nothingness our plans to rip the mountain together, I nonetheless found peace in the exhaustion of yet another hike and trek routine that proved to highlight the day... hiking the lip of Blackcomb Glacier, down into the knee high powder and soft bumps, out past crevasses and then, traversing the side of the run-out, down past rocks to the creek bed, I found myself at the peak and the limit of my strength, straining, sweating, breathing, screaming muscles and sucking at the air, goggles fogging and micropore layers overheating... the ski-out was a partial hike, dodging boulders, streams, rocks, lost beginner skiers overwhelmed by the immediacy of the serious situation (yo--the sign said "experts only," capiche?). Two point nine miles to the nearest chair and there's not enough snow to support a cat-track: meaning you've got to ski backcountry style on what are truly "marginal conditions." What a freakin' mess for the most part, but as I saw a Whistler dude drink from the handily exposed mountain creek, I realised how isolated the Whistler area can be at times... and how absolutely brilliant and wonderful that is, such a thing, this hint of danger.

In his more recent novels, William Gibson describes particular characters who are able to source out nodal points of data, to chart the forms and shapes of points in information density that eclipse vocabulary and ability to graphically map the blinding moment. Whistler/Blackcomb is one of these points: an overlapping timescape of commercial interests and the pursuit of leisure and pleasure by the ski-bum class, it overwhelms the senses and yet is also often all too easily dismissed for its cartoon village fantasies. It's something else, caught in the talons of a mean vulture culture but representing an element of danger and excessive pleasure that simply can't be sold into a vacation package. It not only represents this aspect, it is this aspect--which is what keeps the area a damn fine drop-in for the skier (and by that I mean boarder, whatever) who reads the snow not as a pastime but as the peculiar drive to the speed of life--where the hike and the fresh open heightened awareness of the loss of self in the face of the mountain. It's somewhere on the mountain, too, a particular effect of this timescape, that memory kicks in, settled deep into the onrush of the now, as the wind sheers off any thoughts of trying to possess this feeling...

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posted. Thu - December 30, 2004 @ 08:45 PM           |