COLUMN

Bush-league, but extremely genteel

Allan Fotheringham January 14 1991
COLUMN

Bush-league, but extremely genteel

Allan Fotheringham January 14 1991

Bush-league, but extremely genteel

COLUMN

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

The very best (and the only) way to start the first day of 1991 is to be on Seventh Heaven. In the early afternoon. After lunch. In the brilliant sunshine. Seventh Heaven is 7,494 feet above sea level, the most spectacular sight among the 82 ski runs on Blackcomb Mountain at the Whistler resort, 90 minutes, as the BMW flies, north of Vancouver. It is above the tree line. From Seventh Heaven, you can look down over two glaciers, which some people with two workable knees are actually skiing.

Those who have only one serviceable knee stick to Seventh Heaven, which, with powder snow on the best day of skiing since barrel staves were invented, makes you want to cry—and despair that working for a living was ever devised. It might even make Michael Wilson, the second-most-unpopular man in the land, smile. Perhaps. Maybe.

The maps from the Cariboo Gold Rush days show a “London Mountain.” It was sometime in the past changed to Whistler—because of the shrill and piercing whistle of the groundhog-like marmots that live in the ridges above the tree line. The two mountains, Blackcomb and Whistler, have been ranked for the second year in a row by Ski magazine as the finest snow terrain in North America.

The whistle these days applies to the psychedelic threads of the Japanese skiers who come by the 747-load to unload their yen on the unprotesting cash registers of the locals. Umberto Menghi, the svelte king of Vancouver restaurateurs, has 112 seats in his main Whistler place, always the centre of the plastic action. One holiday night, 88 of them were occupied by Japanese.

Almost at the top of the mountain, below Seventh Heaven, below the glaciers, below the tree line, is the Rendezvous Restaurant—the highest floating pig-out in Christendom. It seems to hold roughly the population of Pittsburgh. There is Christine’s, with table cloths, silver, good wine and fine service. There is the Bistro, with waiters. And there is the main cafeteria area: pizza, hamburgers, chili, a deli, a bakery, kids, home-made sandwiches, back-

packs, chaos—and Pierre Trudeau, just back from Vietnam and Thailand, noshing with the plebes.

It is a one-mile drop from the top of Seventh Heaven to the Whistler Village below. Runs called Gearjammer and Cougar Chute are not recommended for the meek. One can tell that anything called Overbite and Swiss Cheese should be avoided. On the other hand, Jersey Cream and Yellow Brick Road entice the wary, those with brittle bones and irresolute spines.

This is the 25th anniversary of the Whistler resort. There was an extended try for the 1964 Olympics (the chap who is now Speaker John Fraser was one of the pushers), but the heart seemed to go out of the dream when it failed that time ana ihe emphasis seemed to shift to Calgary, which of course did pluck the 1988 Games. Whistler settled back into being an upper-middle-class resort, with condos stretching as far as the buck can reach.

The essence of skiing, as everyone knows, is fear. Because it involves gravity, and all mountains eventually end at the ground, if you simply point the tips of your skis down you can reach astonishing speeds remarkably quickly. The secret is to avoid this at all costs. The secret is to point your tips across the slopes until you eventually hit the bush on the far side.

This makes one extremely popular with the hotdogs in the $3,000 Bogner jumpsuits who are coming straight down, their knees and ankles locked, disgustingly, together. We are an advocate of using all the mountain, slowly going from side to side, avoiding as much as possible any downward tendency. Going down can only lead to trouble.

If truth be known, the major danger at Blackcomb this year is to the eyeballs. The skiwear designers’ need to have a new look for every season—therefore rendering the girls’

last year’s outfit passé— has now reached the critical stage.

This year’s look is the neon look. Such are the colors of yellow and pink that it makes your eyes water to look at the rear end of the lady on the chair lift ahead of you. Some of the Japanese skiers glow in the dark. You have to wear goggles not because of the snow but for fear of being blinded by neon disguised as a skier.

The other main danger is the snowboarders. These are the kamikaze types who can’t leave well enough alone. Proceeding slowly from side to side—as illustrated above—on two sticks of laminated something is not enough. These types have taken the surfboard from the beach to the slopes, attached two foot mounts and unleashed themselves on Blackcomb.

The result is that they are going down the hill sideways, riding a hurtling weapon that is guaranteed to cut your leg off at the hip if you should be in a collision with one—while gently gliding from the bush on one side to the bush on the other. A lethal combination of the skateboard and the surfboard is now attracted to snow, ridden in most cases by 14-year-olds with an intense interest in the possibilities of suicide. It’s sort of like wandering by foot across the Indy 500 Speedway while a race is in progress.

The safest place, in fact, is in a condo with a book and a fireplace, a precaution taken by many who find that the dangers to their eyeballs (the neon) and to their limbs (the snowboards) are not worth the risk. That is all true, but the only place to be on the first day of the year—a promised lousy year to follow the last lousy year—is Seventh Heaven in the sunshine.