An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: First week of winter then...

Whistler's snow encrusted peaks
Whistler's snow encrusted peaks

Yep, winter is here again. The slopes are just about to open and everyone is sharpening their skis and boards and have their passes at the ready…..oh no wait, that’s not until November. So what’s with all this snow that’s fallen onto our mountain peaks then?

I’m sure it was only last week I found myself writing aghast that autumn had befallen (pardon the pun!) upon us already. Well I think we may have fast tracked things forward a month or two as the last week has distinctly resembled a week deep in October where we would typically be watching the snowline slowly creep back and forth down toward us. This rather unexpected weather front has prompted the usual pre winter predictions that always abound round these parts. Of course, the favourite is that it’s another year of La Nina and as such, we’re going to have another ‘blinder’, an early winter season start and more snowfall records to brag about. Well I guess we’ll see!

Obviously being a weekend, I recently had a couple of races. One on Saturday in the stunning Olympic park (where the cross country and ski jumping events took part) in glorious sunshine and warm temperatures. The other on Sunday, well, was a little different. An early start south down the highway, passing a few young bears along the way in the dawn light (I’ve since spoken to a bear safety officer who told me that one or two bears this last week have been hit on the highway, one by a police cruiser that is completely out of action too), to our starting point as we readied ourselves for a 25km race through some ‘challenging’ terrain over a mountain peak.

The weather couldn’t be any different as the forecast for the peaks was about 2 degrees Celsius if we were lucky. What we encountered was probably the toughest, most arduous and ugliest conditions I’ve ever had to run in. It was cold, windy and unbelievably wet. Underfoot was muddy, slippy and water everywhere. As we approached the ‘flats’ by the peak, the conditions hastened their grip on us all. It was coming down in buck loads. We’d already crossed one small stream, but now we were first encountering driving rain, then sleet coming at us sideways, then snow which was beginning to lay.

Up to the peak I had felt strong, but the strong winds, cold and the fact that I was soaked to the bone (this was true long before I had to wade across the glacier river that left a few of my fellow runners boisterously groaning in discomfort as the sheer cold chilled them to their core!) left me in considerable pain. My body was beginning to slowly shut down, as a few of the others around me had noticed, and thankfully one or two had the grace to lend me a hat and top to help keep my core temperature up. I was struggling and was beginning to turn my thoughts away from my distress, but toward survival mode. We were too far into the run to ‘escape’ and turn to any short cuts to get off the mountain. It was either back the way we came or straight on toward the finish. I was physically shivering with every forceful step and becoming a little disorientated. I needed to start to descend and hope that in the slightly warmer temperatures lower down, that this would help kick start my body once again and my core temperature would begin to rise.

Thankfully, having struggled and watch others long since passed, some asking how I was but carrying on all the same, I slowly managed to bring myself down toward our finish in a long, long descent which tested many an athletes ‘quads’. Finally as I approached the finish line I began to feel some resemblance of normality. Not my finest hour for sure, but I was able to understand why, when conditions are better, that this route and race lends itself to some jaw dropping scenery and dramatic views in what is typically considered one of the best races around here on our calendar. Lesson learned - that everyone copes with severe conditions differently and on this day I wasn’t ever going to win without a different weather strategy. Grateful for the run though, I thoroughly enjoyed the long, hot shower and cup of tea when I finally arrived home.

The weather in town hasn’t improved since and subsequently we’re now seeing the volume of snow on the peaks begin to settle and grow. The wise old saying that many a local can be heard saying; ‘at least when it’s raining down here, it’s snowing up top!’ has been proved correct so far this week. I still can’t quite believe that we’re only in the last week of September. Maybe we’ll get some luck and find some slighter warmer, drier weather to stave off winter for just a bit longer yet! Maybe we’re just going to have to hunker down and settle in for the long haul!

This young writer isn’t ready for the long winter conditions just yet though. We’ve an opportunity to escape for another race in Hawaii in December – right now, I’m definitely thinking of taking it!