There may be better ways of starting off life on the first day of the year, but it’s doubtful. The best way is to stand on the very top of one of the highest mountains on the continent, in brilliant sunshine, and then ski to the very bottom—without breaking any valuable parts. Nirvana has not yet been approached, probably never will be, but Seventh Heaven has been achieved.
Seventh Heaven is the name of the bowl at the peak of Blackcomb Mountain, an eight-kilometre run above Whistler Village, the Gucci-and-Rolex resort some 90 minutes north of Vancouver as the plastic flies. It is to die. To stand atop Seventh Heaven, as we approach the new year, the sun glancing off the preening egos, and the keening ski bunnies, is to experience the gift of gravity: let go, open one’s eyes occasionally and, an hour or so later, one’s wretched body is sprinting rapidly toward the hot tub that rests at ground level. From raw nature to raw steam. It’s the only way.
At the moment, as we ache, Blackcomb offers the best skiing in the world. There is insufficient snow this season at the posh European jet-set pads that sop up the mink. Conditions are not that grand in the American West—Sun Valley, Aspen, Vail. For this moment, WhistlerBlackcomb is atop the destinations for all the hedonists who are willing to plunk down $31 a day for the privilege of fracturing a limb or two (there is a group rate if you break more than one).
The reason for all this is a mere 20 million smackaroonies, that being the bill for the new high-speed lifts that can get you faster to a broken leg than any ski resort anywhere. Skiers, being frozen masochists, view everything as a ratio: how much time they can risk killing themselves compared with how many minutes it takes to get up a mountain where they can fall down again.
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
The two-mountain complex—Whistler and Blackcomb being side-byeach—pride themselves on providing the greatest vertical drop of any ski resort in North America, and possibly anywhere. To get to the top of Whistler, so huge is the mountain, it takes you an hour, on four different lifts.
Blackcomb, thanks to the 20 mill, now has four-body chairs, moving at the speed of a small Volkswagen, that zoom you into the ozone at disgusting speeds—affording you twice the opportunity over a day to crush your
tibia. It is a rare privilege.
What’s it like in Seventh Heaven? You’re far above the tree line so you gaze about: in a 360-degree circle are nothing but ice-cream cone peaks. And silence—save for the occasional cracking of a fibula. Ordinary mortals ski the glacier that extends below the last chair. At the restaurant, there are now fluffy tablecloths and polite waiters and a menu as good as the view.
Final proof of the strength of the yen? At the Roundhouse atop Whistler, along with the chili and the burgers, there is now a sushi bar. Nothing like a little raw tuna to warm you up after a snowy morning of skiing. Final satisfaction of a New Year’s Eve among good friends? To gaze about at midnight and find that one’s children, instead of out trashing some disco, are still sprawled around a fire, content and stationary.
In the end, at the end of it all, there is nothing like the slippery se-
duction of snow. Nonathletes can masquerade as athletes by allowing gravity to do its thing, pudgy fathers faking hip-feints, like Franz Klammer and Jean-Claude Killy and maybe Ken Read and possibly Nancy Greene, shoosing through the schusses.
You have to be fairly fit to play tennis. (You don’t have to be fit at all to play golf, the world’s second-mostboring sport; curling being the winner there.) You have to be fit to jog, or jogging will make you fit. The joy of skiing is that if you learn to point the tips down, all effort is removed from your brow. The slope does it all, if you are half-bright enough to dodge trees, snowcats and errant Japanese tourists dressed in nylon outfits that cost more than your airfare.
There are a piffling 78 runs on Blackcomb, slicing down the mountain, and the new lifts can handle 19,000 skiers an hour. Most of them wear sunglasses, trying to look like Warren Beatty (Jack Nicholson does not ski, restricting his jockdom to attendance at Los Angeles Lakers basketball games). Skiing, as with most middle-class sports—tennis, jogging, shopping—is as much a fashion show as it is an athletic pursuit. We reach the ultimate when a spectacled chap encountered in a gondola ride demonstrates his method for keeping his bifocals from fogging up: his ski goggles encompass a fan that unfogs the unfoggable. Other visionaries actually have windshield wipers on their goggles. We all struggle.
On the final run down into Whistler Village, the tastes of Umberto’s simple cuisine and shy patrons beckoning, the hot tub waiting, the golden sun lowering, there is a sharp shoot along a trail and—as if from ambush—an icy blast in the face from a snow-making gun that lurks in the trees.
The chap zooming along beside me leans over and confides: “That’s put there on purpose. Just to remind you what the weather in Toronto is like today.”
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