An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: A week of weather havoc

Where’s the shock in this? A winter resort needs an abundance of snow levels to exist! Surprised?

Thought not, but just as the UK can have too much of the wrong leaves on railway lines and unfortunately we all know from recent disasters about too much rainfall, ski resorts can also have too much snowfall.

From personal experience I can tell you that moving around the village, or travelling by car between Whistler and Vancouver, can be pretty hair raising at times. I’ve had the misfortune to see the occasional vehicle in a ditch on a snow packed road. Snow tyres and snow chains are the ‘norm’, but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no sliding going on out there. More specifically, too much snow in too short a period can cause problems on the hills. The boys and girls of the ski patrol and mountain safety do a fantastic job of controlling where our skiing and riding is done and much is owed to the controlled avalanches we’ve all heard being blasted in the early mornings as potential ‘slides’ are triggered off. Sometimes though, the snow pack has formed all ‘wrong’ when perhaps we’ve had a lot of cold, light snow fall, followed by heavy wet snow, strong winds, icy weather, etc – this all causes a variety of different layers and they don’t always gel well. Thus, they can be more susceptible to avalanches and heavy snowfalls can easily trigger them off. It is for this reason, amongst others, that whenever you’re at a ski resort, you occasionally are prevented from entering certain areas or using various lifts because they’re too concerned about what will happen to the snow pack. If you’re really unlucky, you may also find yourself stuck on a broken lift or gondola which mechanisms have succumbed to the weather…as happened here this week. Rare, but unfortunately it does happen from time to time. Sorry guys!

Of course, the flip side to all this is as we all know, that when the bountiful powder comes, and it does tend to fall heavier and more regularly in some resorts than others, everyone’s eagerness to get up there and knock out a few beautiful turns as you feel yourself literally float and sink, bounce and ride and glide with the gods, increases ten-fold! It’s a feeling that’s hard to beat and sometimes, unless you’ve really experienced powder and learned to play in it, one’s ability to cope with the slightly different style and fitness required can pose a challenge. So sought after is this fresh fallen, pristine and untouched snow, that cat-skiing and heli-skiing operations have sprung up all over the world. Enthusiasts the world over will pay hundreds of shekels for this experience and few ever come back without the obligatory huge Cheshire cat grin pinned to their face.

Now last year, albeit something of a standout season because of the Olympics, which changed everything about last season for those here, this was a record breaker in terms of its snowfall. Despite the very high levels of snow, which were attributed to El Nina (this year’s is supposedly La Nina), the snow levels at the village and Whistler valley level was very low and in fact most roads, paths and trails were clear pretty much from late January onwards. This was great for getting around, people pulled out their bikes super early and many more individuals were out running. However, this then subsequently affected the local cross country skiing facilities, which had all but closed down by early March as there was simply insufficient snow on their groomed trails (not to be confused with the mountain slopes of course – we couldn’t shift this snow to get the summer hiking trails open until late July / August). Oh how much difference a year can make! There is simply so much snow around the cross country park at the moment, they’re already touting that they could go on well into April – virtually unheard of, but we’ll see.

It’s a little bit like the conundrum faced by the average ski vacationer. Everyone, well most anyway, would dearly love for Ullr, the snow god, to royally ‘dump’ overnight and then part the skies and clear up for a stunningly sunny ‘bluebird day. Trouble is, is doesn’t tend to work like that! You want snow; you take it as it comes. This can usually mean that visibility can be ‘challenging and with this, most in the know around here, will head for the trees. This is often where all the best snow is and the tree line will dissipate any cloud and open up the ‘vis’ allowing one to simply pick out their desired line of the day.

A complicated animal is the snow. So much of the mountain resort relies upon it. Businesses are built and have failed on its performance. Travellers are fickle and will always pay to go where they will have the best chance of ‘guaranteed’ conditions. Not always as records will show, but usually that means coming right here to Whistler.

As an aside - someone else that usually comes here, is Gene Simmons. Not sure how many back in the UK will know of or remember him, but he was a huge part of the rock band ‘Kiss’. Out here in North America he has managed to secure a long running reality television series, which actually can be quite comical at times, following him and his family around their day to day lives, but he is a huge, huge star. I mention all this as he recently made an appearance at one of the local bars during one of their karaoke nights. He made a surprise entrance to support his daughter who was on stage at the time. Interesting? Well, it made the papers out here anyways!

So while much of Europe has had its share of problems so far this winter with the snow, the east coast of America is nearly crippled and is suffering now, with thousands of people unable to move around or travel. Now while I certainly sympathise with anyone and all of you affected by these problems, I am not looking for any sympathy in return. As I said, in a ski resort, we live and die by our snowfall and all around here are having a bumper season. No reason to complain just got to get out and enjoy it all while we can!