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13th Mar 2010 – Whistler, Take 2

May 21, 2010

My second Whistler snow-sports experience can quite easily be described as infinitely more successful than the first. This time my chosen mode of transport was a snowboard, for which, unlike the skis I was sporting last time, I had had recent experience. I had strapped one on just the day before rather than 16 years hence. This time I also had a better idea of what I was letting myself in for when I’d agreed to go to Whistler, whose mountains are, in no uncertain terms, very much higher than the plastic excuse for a hill I’d learned to ski on.

I had been a little hesitant in my decision to join my friends this time because of the memories of my previous experience on the mountain as I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on the lift ticket to then have a bad time because I was not ready for it. Realistically though, I’d had much more recent experience of snowboarding after having spent many hours after work on the local runs. I knew that I could definitely stop and had endurance for many several hours of riding. This already put me at a huge advantage compared to my first experience! The only thing that was bothering me was confidence in my turns but I knew that it was mainly a matter of getting out there and practising and what better way than a whole day on a massive mountain!

I was happy that I quickly discovered that I was able to keep up with my friends once I’d got the hang of strapping in quickly after getting of a chairlift (there was only 1 other snowboarder who was a lot more used to this process than me, the others were all on skis) and follow them down the same runs as we’d done last time. The difference in the experience was considerable. I couldn’t believe how short the runs were, how shallow they were compared to my memory and how long it had taken me last time compared to this. I was much more at ease.

We made it to the Seventh Heaven Chair which goes to the top of the mountain as it was opening and once at the top, traversed some way to find the good fluffy stuff. We chose to take a narrow ledge that was just wide enough to go down tentatively on an edge and we were then on the rim of a huge bowl of the soft stuff, rubbing our hands with glee, and with a sparkle in our eyes. Up to this point I’d only really been riding on machine-groomed and quite hard-packed snow and so this was a very exciting moment. The other snowboarder dropped in first and made some lovely turns in the fresh stuff with us onlookers in admiration, and then I went for it. It was so much fun and exhilarating. The ride was like floating on top of blancmange and my confidence was high knowing that any bailout would not result in any major bruising, well at least not of body, maybe the pride! To ride “fresh tracks” and not be hindered by ridges that other snowboarders and skiers had made was fantastic and most certainly addictive. There is one important thing that has to be thought of when dealing with this stuff though, you don’t want to lose momentum (say up a little rise or on a flattish section) or you can find yourself stuck and struggling to get going again and ensuring your board is waxed definitely helps with that!

The next lap up the mountain, we decided to go to the Blackcomb Glacier, which involved going down a narrowish run that we’d taken last time when I had been terribly tired and consequently had been scared I wouldn’t be able to make the tight turns required to get down it. I could strongly remember the emotion, which made me a little hesitant but I was much more confident on my snowboard and was soon wondering what my fuss had been about. The next challenge was a T-bar lift. This really did dent my ego. I’d really just like to say that I didn’t do it well, but that would not be a good story. Skiers ride a T-Bar in pairs whereas snowboarders can only ride it one at a time because they have to be oriented side on. One side of the “T” hooks underneath the leading leg, and only that foot strapped in to the board with the other resting on it and you hold on to the other two parts of the T. You then lean back and let it take you up the mountain, your board/skis remain on the snow but you are lifted just enough to enable you to coast up the slope. That’s the easier-said-than-done bit over. The first time I tried, I couldn’t find the correct position to stay in and ended up over-balancing to yells of “let go” from my friends. The next time I tried, I was much more successful and was enjoying the weightless feeling of being pulled up but then all of a sudden I caught one of the edges of the snowboard on one of the ruts in the slope. The snowboard went from underneath me, the T-bar slipped from its position and I was left hanging on to the T-bar which was now hooked under my right upper-arm. The snowboard, still attached by my right binding, was dragging along behind. I was about a third of the way up the slope and the advice “if you fall off just let go” was going through my head but I wanted to see if there was any hope for recovery. I attempted to bend my knees to bring the board back underneath me and see if I could possibly get my rear foot back on the board and get myself upright, but to no avail, I couldn’t oppose the drag of the board along the ground. I looked back, I looked up, could I hang on? I really couldn’t face the thought of letting go, having to ride down and try again so I just held on for dear life and let the thing pull me a long for a bit. Sometimes I’d try again to get upright again but it was no good. Eventually, the pain was too great to hold on any more and I already knew there’d be a commendable bruise from where I’d been clamping my upper-arm down on the bar to hold on. After letting go, I unstrapped my front foot and then hiked up the rest of the slope, which took some time because of the combination of the steepness and the altitude. A passing skier said I deserved kudos for the amount of time I had hung on for. I took some consolation from that as I approached my friends who’d been waiting for some time. Oh well, it gave me a story to tell and onlookers some entertainment!

I’m glad to say that riding the Blackcomb Glacier more than made up for my T-bar experience. We enjoyed large untouched areas of snow as we made our way down. I had tired myself out pretty good though so headed back to more familiar parts of the mountain rather than attempting the T-bar again!

At the end of the day, as we got to the bottom of the mountain, I was again quite emotional, this time with thankfulness and pride that I’d made it down without having to be rescued!

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