An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: And so it begins again!

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Probably the worst kept ‘secret’ in town was when the mountain would officially open for the 2011/12 winter ski season. I say ‘secret’ as the official date was always set for November 24th, but most mountains, subject to sufficient snow conditions and trained staff along with the financial impetus, will more often than not try to score one of their rival mountains or any of their competition by seeing who opens first. Well, we’ve had a lot of snow from a long way back into October, although probably not quite as much as some thought, but one thing was always for sure – an early opening was always going to happen. Just a question of whether it would have been last week or this. So, to finally help scratch everyone’s ’itch’, Whistler Blackcomb finally announced this Tuesday at around midday (I’m fairly specific to this as there were a great many people eagerly waiting the announcement and bombarding the various media sites complaining about they were being made to wait until the ‘final’ moment for the good news), that we could all enjoy sticking in a few turns come the 18th. It’s a date!

Rumour has it that they may have actually wanted to open earlier, but they’ve built this big media frenzy around a renown pro skier who was to be ensconced atop of Whistler mountain for 6 days prior to it’s grand opening. He was to give daily reports on his feelings, weather, skiing conditions, etc. Trouble was, they couldn’t get him up there quick enough as he was reportedly in Maui prior to his contracted ‘due date’ attending a friends wedding. Good for him!

So having returned from New York just last week, there are a couple of notable adjustments to be made; namely, things are a little less frenetic around here in the mountains – chilled out and relaxed, just the way this boy likes it. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy New York – it’s hard not to with it’s wide wealth of eclectic cultures and bohemian lifestyles. Something for everyone, there truly is. Not quite enough open land for me, but still something very special and alluring. I also have to get used to walking in two shoes again, now that I have, hopefully, finally rid myself of the infernal walking cast that had adorned my left foot for the past 5 weeks (funny how you end up with a slight limp even though you never started out with one!) and can slowly, very slowly begin to start running again. Patience is not a great virtue of mine!

The other ‘adjustment’ is to the weather. Yes they had a massive snow storm that hit the east coast of America and New York just days before we landed, which, thankfully abated just in time for us to land. However, as I sit here writing this I have just this morning set out on my first outdoor run in 7 weeks (don’t tell the doctor!!) on clear roads and paths, but made it home an hour later with a layer a few inches deep of snow – everywhere. Even my darn patio has about 4-5 inches covering it. Oh, and it’s cold too. Yep, in case anyone was in any doubt about the decision to open the mountain a week early – winter is definitely here again! Did we even have a summer?? God I miss summer!

The weekend will no doubt see dozens and dozens of locals from around the Vancouver area make their pilgrimage up here to reconnect to the mountain and the slopes. I would also make a small wager that there will even be a few ‘mad’ individuals that will camp out overnight to ensure they snare the first gondola up on the 18th. Why? Just a mindset really and it’ll probably be kids as well! Almost as if right on cue, just talking to someone at work today they shared their thoughts with me on what they thought it would take to be first in line and by what time they would have to set up camp! Absolutely nuts, especially as they have a whole long, very long, season ahead of them with one heck of a lot more snow to come!

This was to be our first real dump of snow in the village and combined with the announcement of the mountain opening, it seems that many a persons focus has switched well and truly over to their winter persona – that of a powder hound. You can see the snowboards and skis, boots and helmets being dragged around the village in a state of readiness, but I can tell you what needs to be readied first, the well rested and hopefully fully recovered snow ploughs. They were out in force today, albeit a bit too late once the snow had already smothered everything and then the snow continued to pound down harder and faster than anyone could clear it. Already the excuses of being late for work due to poor driving conditions are being pulled out….and the mountain hasn’t even opened yet!!

So here’s looking forward to a busy weekend and a great start to the season. This young author won’t bother rushing up the hill just yet, but will instead settle for my foot recovering from my early road run as I’m already regretting doing too much too soon on a bone that has barely even began to think about healing itself. Fingers crossed and good luck to all the boys and girls on the snow ploughs tomorrow. Surely it can’t keep coming down…can it? As for opening weekend, my prediction (as morbid as it is) is that there may be one or two individuals wondering around Whistler in various slings or casts after launching themselves through the alpine trees and ‘hucking’ cliffs like it was already deep winter conditions instead of the opening weekend. Happens every year, the kids never learn…..