Saturday, January 6th: It's an odd year, so it's back to skiing outside the USA. Everyone tells me that Whistler/Blackcomb is a place that, after I ski it, I will never want to ski anywhere else. One thing I want to try is heli-skiing, which I am told is a MUST thing to do. It costs about $350 American dollars, and you only get 3 runs, but it is in untouched, virgin snow, away from it all.
I want to add to my repertoire of ski toys this year, so I go out and buy pair of two-way radios with two-mile range, and a flare gun for use in case of one of those emergencies that has never happened. Yet. Couple this with my 40 foot rope, cellphone and thermal blanket, and I am ready for the worst. Then I realize that maybe it's not a good idea to take a flare gun on a plane, so I call the airline and ask them about it. They inform me it's not an approved item. I could just envision being thrown against the wall and have a S.W.A.T. team rough me up, so I return the flare gun.
This year has the added bonus of Tommy T from work, and his three friends joining us (or us joining him). Luckily we get a flight out of JFK as opposed to LaGuardia (officially now the worst airport in the USA). I ask Tom is he has exchanged his money for some Canuck bucks, but he says it is not necessary as every place will gladly take American dollars. I search for the magazine stand to find a Discover magazine, but following the signs in JFK for the newsstand makes you feel like you're the brunt of a Polish joke. One sign says go this way and when you go that way, another sign says go the exact opposite way. If I were Rain Man I would keep walking back and forth between two points and never find it. I never found it, but was smart enough to give up. Once on the plane, Tom hands me a discover magazine that my parents were able to track down and hand off to his friends before we boarded the plane.
Our flight attendants were right out of some bad exotic movie, named Jasmine, Desiree and Holly. Some time into the flight there is an announcement asking is there is a doctor on board. This is a little disturbing. Am I going to live out a scenario from the movie, "Airplane?" Looking out the window, at some point over Washington, I felt like I was in a Bob Ross painting. I don't know if that was Mount St. Helens or Mt. Ranier, but it was big! I notice that as we are approaching Vancouver airport, there is plush green grass and the trees have all their leaves. This is January. What's going on?
At Vancouver airport, I see that Trok's plane has landed and pull out the two-way radio to page him. He answers that he has just landed and is still on the plane. I told him to shut it off. Everyone knows you cannot operate electronic devices on an airplane. He said, "What are they going to do, throw me off?" He has a point. It turns out he didn't turn on the radio, but that it must have activated when he was fumbling with his carry-on luggage.
Tom and crew head off to take a rented van while we wait for the pre-booked bus. The temperature is in the mid-50's Fahrenheit. Trok is hungry and gets some Burger King. We get on the bus and the smell emanates. The guy next to us asks where we got the Burger King. He runs in and gets himself some too. Someone from the back of the bus comes forward and also asks where he can get the Burger King. It turns into a Burger King bus.
We take the two and a half hour trip up to Whistler. First we pass an area that looks like a mixture between San Francisco and Queens. The bus driver, named Day (yes, that's his name), who is a colorful character that's a mix between John Fogarty and Jerry Reed tells us that this is a very expensive part of Vancouver. I couldn't tell if the gas prices were expensive or not. It was 67.9 cents, but this was Canadian dollars per liter. That's double deception and too much for me to spend time on deciphering. On the windowpane are some funny symbols telling us what to do and not to do to get out through the window in case of emergency, but they are the same exact picture. I even had to ask Trok to humor me that I wasn't imagining this. I guess this means in case of emergency, just get the hell out any way you can. Day points out that we pass through an area, home to many bald eagles. We see a few. Hey, aren't they an American symbol? The trip is beautiful and we pass by a little café used in the latest Jack Nicholson movie, "The Pledge."
We arrive at the Pan Pacific lodge, with the Blackcomb gondola right out the rear entrance. This is THE place to stay if coming here, if only for it's convenience to the slopes.
We try to find Tom and the gang, but the room is not in Tom's name, and I don't know the other guys' last name. We look in some of the shops, the Jacuzzi (yes, a Jacuzzi. More later). No luck, so we head back up to the room and sure enough, as the elevator opens, there they are. We weren't using out heads this night when we headed to dinner. It's a weekend and we didn't make reservations. We tried about 5 places with no luck. So we split up in groups. Me and Trok in one group, and everyone else in the other group. We finally find an open table at Val D'Isere, which just happens to be the name of a ski resort, which we almost skied in Italy back in 1992. I had venison and Trok had something good (I don't keep track of other people's food). With a half bottle of wine, our dinner came out to a little over 130 Canuck bucks. This was quite expensive, but you have to live it up on vacation.
We're dead tired (I woke up at 4:50am) and we turn in by 10:00pm local time. For me, it feels like 1:00am.
Sunday, January 7th: First skiing day. Breakfast is not included with out hotel plan, so we head down to the bar/café for breakfast. I get a Canadian version of birchermuesli, some eggs and what I can only say is the best grapefruit juice I ever tasted! Breakfast was quite expensive at about 34 Canuck bucks. This will be out last day eating breakfast out. Let's hit the slopes!
Today we decided to ski on Whistler mountain. The temperature is about 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
I don't recall much about this skiing day, which means there wasn't anything outstanding. It was windy today, and there were some icy spots, not something we have ever experienced anywhere other than east coast USA. One thing about Whistler is that it has the longest vertical drop in all of North America. To clear things up, vertical drop is the distance in elevation from the highest skiable point to the lowest skiable point. Some people are not clear as to its definition, thinking it is just the highest point on the mountain. So, with this in mind, the weather at the top of the mountain is a whole lot different from the weather at the bottom. Oddly enough, today it was warmer on the top of the mountain by about 3 degrees Celsius [this is a common feature here called inversion] <-submitted by physicist Tom. However, due to the usual difference in temperatures, avid skiers will want to stay away from the bottom half of the mountain as it is a combination of slush and ice. I don't know is this is normal, or due to the fact that this has been a warm ski season, or it is early in the season.
Skiing at the top of the mountain is quite good. The sun comes out during the day and we have some good runs. This is the first time we ever skied that we don't actually break for lunch. We stop at a little snack stand and I get something called a beavertail which is sort of like funnel cake, quite high in fat and cholesterol, but who cares, it's good! Trok gets a chilidog.
We also experience what I named a "tree farm." I decide to try a run that looks quite adventurous. A mistake. We get to a point where there is no clear path down. It's either steep moguls, or this tree farm. The tree farm consists of the tops of closely bunched pine trees, of which only the top 1-3 feet are exposed. We surely wouldn't hurt ourselves crashing into them, but they can surely trip us up. We eventually make it out.
We couldn't really find any powder today. Our final run of the day is quite enjoyable as it one of the longest runs we have ever done, probably travelling a distance of a few miles. It is part traverse, and part medium steeps. It's as if we are never going to make it to the bottom.
Once back in the room I take my shower. The markings on the shower controls are hard to read, so I am not sure which is hot and which is cold. Plus, I don't know if they are using a letter to signify either English or French. I finally see an "H" and determine this is "hot," but am not sure if the French word for cold starts with "H." I step in and freeze. What the hell? Upon closer inspection, I can make out letters on the bottom of the controls, which are the name of the company who designed it. It is upside-down. A-ha! The controls are on upside-down, and as luck would have it, an "H" is an "H" both ways.
Tonight we head to the town market to stock up on breakfast products so we don't have to wait or pay for breakfast anymore. We get back to the room and I am wiped out! I take some Tylenol and we pretty much pass out at about 10pm.
Monday, January 8th: Our breakfast today consisted of what we bought in the supermarket last night. We wonder if we leave the dirty dishes in the sink will the maids will clean them, or will they still be there when we come back.
Today we ski Whistler again. The conditions are not good at all. In a nutshell, it is wet, heavy and foggy with low visibility. This of course does nothing to discourage us from doing any black diamond skiing. The falling snow is windblown and heavy at times on top of the mountain. We often find ourselves trying to get to a lower altitude as quick as possible. At lunchtime we find ourselves back at the snack stand where today I go for the beaver tail with Hazelnut. I asked if I can have a hazelnut/cinnamon combination and the dude behind the counter gave me some cocking bull story about how mixing chocolate and cinnamon is actually a dangerous poison. As a matter of fact, too much cinnamon is itself a poison. For some reason, this doesn't sound outlandish as I think I recall hearing this once. I decided I'd like to live, so I go only with the hazelnut.
Not much more to tell about skiing this day. It's not a day you'd want to ski if you were a beginner.
Upon returning to the room, we notice the dishes are no longer in the sink. Wow, these Canadians go out of their way to clean up after you.
After skiing, we shower and head to the Long Horn pub, just next door to the lodge, for a few drinks. It's your typical meeting place with overly loud music. It's a good winding down atmosphere after skiing and before dinner. We break off into groups again for dinner. Trok and myself want sushi. The close place is full, so we head across town to the slightly lower scale restaurant. On the way back we stop for souvenir shirts.
I get the couch-bed tonight, while Trok get the Murphy bed. I find underwear on the armrest of the bed and knock it off with a pencil. Trok is such a sloppy fellow. It seems quite warm in the room tonight and before heading off to bed. I sneakily put the heat down to 58 degrees.
Tuesday, January 9th: Upon waking up it doesn't seem cold. Trok turned the heat back up in the middle of the night. Bah! Our general rule on our ski trips is we ski for two days and then decide if we will ski a third day in a row at the beginning of the week, or ski three days in a row to end the week. This all depends on the weather, and our stamina. According to news reports, this day was supposed to be partly cloudy with chance of flurries and Wednesday will be a snow and rain mix. Our decision is not a tough one. We ski today and rest tomorrow.
Note to readers: Do not believe any weather reports.
To try something new, we do Blackcomb today. There are some nice steep runs on this mountain. We pretty much stay on one area of the mountain, by the Glacial Express lift, which takes us up to the Blackcomb Glacier. There is really only one trail down to the lift from here, but it is a thigh-burning long journey. We do experience a little powder today, as during the night it must have snowed up here. Since today is our third day in a row skiing, one of two things can happen. We can either take it easy because we are tired, or we can do the less intelligent thing and take chances, as we have an off day tomorrow. What do we do? We're not intelligent. Does that help?
Right before lunch, we want to check out one of the double black diamond runs, known as Blowhole. We head up to the top of Glacier Express and do a little bit of a traverse. We get to the top and find a double black diamond that requires a little uphill hike. Sorry, too tired for this. We go down a little bit, not liking our choices. I finally see a green sign ahead. Green means good. Red means bad. Well, in America maybe. Upon skiing downhill a little to the green sign, it says, "No easy way down." The problem is that there is no way to turn back. We'd have to climb up about 100+ feet. At this altitude and in boots, it would take an hour of our time, and a few years off our life. We have two choices to make it down and finally decide on one. We just continue staring down, along with a few other people. No one wants to go. I finally have to make a move. It's either that or wait until it's dark and still do nothing. I turn into a position to give me the best chance. Down I go through the rocks and narrow chute. After getting down about 10 feet, I am no longer in view of the others, due to the steepness. I make it down to an area where I can finally stand up. Trok takes his time and arrives shortly. It's not over yet. We still have to get past a line of bushes and trees lining a narrow path to freedom below. Again, I go first, catch a ski and tumble headfirst over a small ridge. I am airborne with my poles out in front of me. Bad idea. I toss the poles away, hit the ground and one of those rare occasions for me occurs: I lose both skies. We regroup and make it down. Time for some nutrients.
After lunch we watch the extreme skiing competition where people come out of chutes even more treacherous than ours, jump rocks, and do all sorts of things that make people go, "Oooh" and "Aaahhhh!" The sun comes out a little giving us good contrast at times. The rest of the day is uneventful, thankfully. We all head to the hot tub after showering and I make a comment that being in the outdoor hot tub is like being an upside-down hot fudge sundae, with the bottom of our bodies melting in the 104 degree heat, and the tops of our bodies freezing in the sub-freezing temperatures. I have Trok take a picture of me in this odd situation, but the lens keeps fogging up.
Tonight is the first might we actually all have dinner together. We head to the Mongoli Grill, where you pick out the food you want, consisting of veggies and meats. You give it to the chef, and he tosses it on the mega-sized grill that can accommodate about 10 people's meals. After dinner, a most unusual thing happens. I whip out the Pez dispenser to give out for our after dinner treat. Somehow, the Spiderman head is stuck and I force it open. A piece of Pez shoots out of the head and across the room, right into the glass on a table where a family is sitting down to dinner. It couldn't have been scripted any better. Trok and I head back to the room, while the others head out for more entertainment. Upon returning to the room I fix myself a glass of juice, and notice that we seem to be short a few glasses.
Wednesday, January 10th: At breakfast in the room, I notice we have a dishwasher, hence the mystery of the missing glasses and silverware. No skiing today, and of course, it just happens to be the best weather day. Nice clear skies. I finally ask Steven to take his underwear and put it away. He said he left it there because he thought it was mine. YUK!!! Who does this underwear belong to?
Tom and the others also chose not to ski today. We meet up with them by accident outside and decide to all go take a scenic walk together. Time to take pictures. We trek on over to the cross-country ski area, which goes through some national forest or something. It is at this time that Tom tells us of the cougar attack just three weeks earlier. It was on these cross-country paths that a female skier was stalked and attacked by a cougar. The next morning the police went out to find the missing girl and found a cougar protecting it's prey. When they approached to cougar to scare it away, it became defensive and they had to kill it. The girl of course was dead.
It turns out we cannot walk the cross-country path as it is only for cross-country skiers, so we headed in another direction. We must have all walked a couple of miles, ending at a frozen lake. I took the initiative to run and slide head-first then foot first across the frozen lake. It made for some amusing photos. Without having skies or boots on, and not on any inclines, I was able to take some good photos of the scenery today.
We head back to town and have lunch at an outdoor café with heat lamps on the ceiling to prevent us from freezing. Trok chose not to sit under one of the lamps, as he thought it was too hot. Five minutes later, he was cold and realized his mistake. Of course out waitress was some hot chick. We go back to our rooms. Tom and the guys want pictures of them in the hot tub so they call up to my room and ask me to come down and take pictures. I go down, but they don't have a camera. I assumed they wanted me to use their camera. Doh! I go back up and get my camera.
Trok and I head to a really nice restaurant for dinner, after out hotel desk made reservations for us. We get to thee restaurant and they have no reservation for us. They are having a party of 130 coming in, so there are no open tables, but they rework some magic with the times and are able to get us a table. Day ends.
Thursday, January 11th: Today it was supposed to be a nice sunny day, which would be a welcome change in the conditions. Maybe we could get some good pictures and better visibility. Did I mention that one should not pay attention to weather forecasts here? It's cloudy. Today we ski again on Whistler Mountain. Tom and the guys spot us. We only ski about half a run together before Trok and I move on. The different skill levels just won't make skiing together a totally enjoyable event. [Tom says, "Bite me!]
Trok and I head to a black diamond area that we found at the end of Tuesday for videos. Even though it is cloudy, the visibility is better than the foggy condition we had on Tuesday, so the steep bowl does not look as intimidating today. I film Trok going down. Next time around, I start out at the bottom and film him coming down. Now it's his turn to film me. He films me from the bottom coming down. I make a great run, very fast with nice turns. He comes over and tells me he forgot to take the camera out of pause. I have to redo it. Of course I used up my one great burst of energy and acrobatic flair. This little clip does not look impressive.
We didn't learn from our off-trail experience on Tuesday and try another area through some trees. It wasn't anything like the double black diamond mistake on Tuesday, but the terrain made it very difficult to find a way down. We kept trying to find ways to get out of our mess, coming to breaks in the trees, only to see 20 foot drops straight down. If not for the day off yesterday, this episode would have wiped me out. I seem to have extra energy today. We finally find a way down, and three of us (me, Trok, Trok's skis) wiggle our way through a narrow tree-infested steep slope. No more experiments! Today was a long day on the mountain, with us actually skiing after the lifts had closed. Upon finishing it started to snow. Maybe this is a good sign as to the conditions tomorrow.
I head on down to the hot tub. Today, everyone is in the small hot tub. It must be some kind of clique or something. I go into the large hot tub and figure out why everyone is in the small tub. It's cold! Well, not cold, but not hot. I anxiously await someone to leave the small tub then run over and claim my spot. We all watch the reaction of people coming out and entering the large tub, which they undoubtedly did to me when I did so.
Friday, January 12th: Back to Blackcomb today. We tried a few trails we hadn't hit on Tuesday to start the day off. Right off the bat, the first trail we did had too many bumps for my liking. Not moguls, just bumps. I was already tired and this is not a good sign. It snowed on and off today
We head back to the Blackcomb glacier area with the long steep runs. My camera batteries die in the middle of the day, so that's the end of the pictures today. Towards the end of the day, we find an area of the mountain undiscovered by us until now. There are some nice long twisty runs and we stay here for the remainder of the day. I notice a few areas that I wasn't quite sure how to get to and was determined to find. I tell Trok that I saw and area that looked really good. I didn't tell him how good it looked. I just said it would be something we would like; a nice wide-open bowl. He seemed excited so we tried to find it.
I think I found the traverse that will lead to the bowl. I was right. Up ahead I see a sign for the entrance to the area. I know from previous experience that signs are not a good sign. Upon reaching the sign, it says, "Skiing not recommended. High probability of avalanches." Oh goody! Honestly though, let me tell you what I am thinking. Hear me out first before you say I am a moron. This area is not at the top of the mountain, and it is not a long way down to the bottom. If there were an avalanche, I think I can outrun it, or at least survive it. Hey, I told you not to say anything until I was done! I watch the Discovery channel. I know that an avalanche can travel at 100 miles per hour and have heights of 30 feet. This would not be the case here. Really. This sign was probably put here right after the mountain received heavy wet snow. This area is not extra steep, it is not untouched snow (a condition that avalanches like to start in), and like I said, an avalanche cannot run wild and unabated here. We go (we have no choice). I was right. It was not difficult at all.
Today, we experienced what can only be described as Devil noises on the two-way radios. Every once in a while, it sounded like scenes from the Exorcist. We had to change our channels a few times. Dinner tonight was with the whole crew, and we wet to the Brewhouse. We then headed off to a bar/club that is like a giant game room, called Alpen Rock, while Trok headed back to the lodge. The crowd was extra-young, it looked like Dawson's Creek. I likened it to Jillian's, a game room restaurant that I have been to in NY. I just checked, and if you go to www.jillians.com you can find out more about this kind of place. We then headed to the Citta bar but it was empty, so we headed back to the hotel bar where we had a drink. I had to have a Guinness. Time to turn in.
Saturday, January 13th: The bus picked us up at 8:30am for out trek back to Vancouver. The good thing about Canada being our buddies is that they have US customs right in the airport and we wouldn't have to pass through it back in NY. There is a $10 "improvement" fee at customs, which to me is just some extortion ring, but I didn't complain. You know those Canadian Mafia can be tough. We go through the security checkpoint and I am stopped and pulled to the side. I was asked if I had a rope in my bag. I said yes. They asked me to open it up and show them. I did. I can't for the life of me figure out why a rope would cause suspicion. I was also asked to remove a battery from my two-way radio. I handed it to the guard but he said he didn't want it - he just wanted me to remove it so I wouldn't use it in the airport. Ooops, I guess we broke the rules when we arrived, huh? He asked where the other radio was. I told him Trok had it. He asked Trok for it and he said, "no." The guard gave a quizzical look and then Trok continued, "It's in my luggage." We were then allowed to pass. I immediately put the battery back in once out of sight.
We had a little snack and I paid with a combination of my remaining Canadian money and some American money. How they figured out how to do this is beyond me. As we all know, people who work the counter of food establishments do not have the brains enough to figure out how to take one type of currency. Maybe Canadian schools are better.
For lack of a better ending, the story ends here.
Next year: Jackson Hole or Vail