Whistler, British Columbia, by Leslie Anthony
It's mid-April and a friend asks: What was the best day of the winter? I think it was yesterday. But it could also have been last week, or during March's 29 days of snow, or in the deep-freeze of light-as-a-feather December--hell, maybe even after that six-foot storm in November. What's clear is that I can't recall. During a winter like this, it doesn't matter.
Last summer was wet, autumn wetter, so when snow blushed the peaks of the Coast Range early, few paid heed. Of course there was snow. But as the freezing level crept down to the valley and lifts started turning, the scene up high was striking. The alpine, which typically opens in stages, was midwinter ready. Everything was skiable from the get-go.
But you get greedy fast, so even what many called the best opening day ever on Whistler Mountain wasn't good enough. Early in the afternoon, D-dog, Garage Sale Frank, and I crept out under the silent Symphony Chair to Boundary Bowl. Hugging the trees on the 40-degree rim, we dropped into thigh-deep November powder. We crept out again for the next run. And then again over the following weeks, cementing a de facto powder ritual for the season.
The Pacific snow-hose sprayed relentlessly up and down the coast and far into the interior, accompanied by unprecedented cold. Climate change weakened the jet stream, causing a polar vortex to sag south. In the Arctic, temperatures remained 68 degrees above normal while BC reveled in blower pow. Even in places known for scant snowfall, it dumped huge: Kimberley and Panorama ski areas set unofficial records for the biggest single-day snowfalls ever--then broke them the next day. The Vancouver area saw more than 10 feet of snow and Whistler went close to two months with valley temps below freezing. Snow piled so high on the roads you couldn't see around corners.
More routines evolved: the short climb to West Cirque as soon as Peak Chair opened, to catch anything the bombs had missed before hitting bowling-alley lines on Evergreens; the long traverse into Harvey's Trees when the rope at Harmony dropped; the bootpack up Chimney on Blackcomb, which was epic on so many occasions we stopped talking about it.
I couldn't pinpoint a specific best-day for my friend, but I shared a final recurrent theme: wading an hour through trees to get to Peak-to-Creek, a 5,000-vertical-foot run that was layered to the valley in thigh-deep, untracked, Colorado-esque blower. I skied it often, Trenchtown-style with hands gripped so hard on the steering wheel they turned white, along with my chest, shoulders, face, and beard that were caked with snow.
It snowed right through spring. And we kept skiing. It was a winter for the ages--not that I'll remember it.
This story originally appeared in the September 2017 (46.1) issue of POWDER. To have award winning stories delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here.