Leaving always seems like an exciting prospect until it comes to saying goodbye. Leaving this beautiful town was far from easy, made easier for saying one less goodbye, Monique and I would be travelling on together, to Cuba!
In a surprise turn of events, it seems snowboarding won out the season. The final tally rocked in at 72 days on the hill, 23 skiing, 49 snowboarding. More than that, it just kept getting more and more exciting. The adrenaline thrill lasted from those first few slides way back in November, to exploring just how much this sport had to offer. The last week Whistler mountain was open I ended up in a lesson. A staff perk, we were allowed to join lessons, space permitting, for free. Obviously I was at the mercy of the group who wanted to work on park skills. Begrudgingly I agreed. I rather like the snow and was not sold on the idea of leaving it. Throughout the morning we worked on getting the right line to drop off the edges of the run or go on side hits, little naturally forming jumps on the side of the run. It was pretty exhilarating learning to ride the board flat, not on its edge to cut speed. By the afternoon we made our way to the park. The people who ride here are as intimidating as the jumps. They are serious about their line. There is new etiquettes to dropping in. Following the instructor over the smaller ramps I began to get the feel for the speed, the line to be comfortable leaving the ground. Whilst spending the day concentrating hard, as soon as I was let loose on the mountain again, I was secretly addicted.
Following this, it was a last minute decision to sign up for a level 1 Snowboard instructor course. The first step in teaching someone to ride, from first time on snow to turning confidently on green and blue runs, it seemed like an apt way to share my enthusiasm. Plus I’m a nerd, an excuse to study. The three days when I snuck off to school, trying to keep my poorly kept secret, I learned a lot which challenged my own riding, deepened my understanding of why things work the way I do. It was challenging, lots to learn, to convey in our practice teaches, but good fun as we took it in turns to be student and teacher, sometimes in character, sometimes coming up with games to teach children. Ultimately after three days I was ready to share my secret that a few had already guessed, I was a newly qualified instructor.
It was hard to say goodbye to the mountain and get ready to pack the winter gear away for a few months. On our final day on the mountain, Liam had to encourage Monique and I, who had had leaving drinks the night before, to drink our coffee, go to the bathroom and get a move on, as he was unimpressed with our slow start to our final day. After a pretty humiliating attempt at the T Bars on my snowboard a few weeks before, Liam made sure to include it on our last days skiing. Coupled with one of only a few double blacks of the season, it made sure to turn a relaxing last day into a bit of a heart thumper.
The final week was a blur of packing and repacking, goodbyes and re-goodbyes to some pretty awesome humans. We hosted a Eurovision party, streaming the show a few hours after its European debut. With shared snacks, bingo and a sweepstake, our little flat was filled with festivities as we all huddled around the laptop screen watching for glitter cannons and costume mishaps.
We had expeditions to new lakes, firstly the secluded swimming spot of Loggers lake. With the sun right into the evening, Monique and I joined Malachi, Tom and Claudia for an evening kayak on Alta Lake. The water was mirror calm as we paddled out to the centre. The last evidence of snow on the surrounding mountain tops despite the consistent run of warm days. It was a glimpse of why summer in Whistler comes so highly endorsed.
Another must for our Whistler bucket list was to see a black bear. As the snow thawed they began to make their way out of hibernation and were being spotted on the lower mountain and around the village trails. On my final day of work, I left early to do a final few laps on the mountain. The snow was pulling heavy with the slushy melt, truly signalling the end of the season, however the wildlife was making the most of the changing conditions. On my way up I saw three deer enjoying the empty slopes which had closed first, foraging gracefully. On my way back down the gondola at the end of the day, a mum and her two cubs were exploring the newly exposed half pipe. I darted home to get Monique and on foot, we both went on a bear hunt, getting increasingly jumpy every time we saw a shadow move. There was men working on the construction of the new lift nearby and after a long wait we were about to give up and make for home when the bear appeared higher on the slope, having been waiting for the men to clear. The silhouette of mama and two baby bears made their way across the snow in formation, maybe a symbol that we were now free to leave Whistler.
Joffre lakes was a hike on our bucket list. We hired a car for the last few days so with our new freedom we drove north to the trio of glacier lakes. Despite being ‘a straight road’ we still managed to end up on a detour, arriving early evening to begin our walk. Each lake was surrounded by high mountain walls and there was surprisingly heavy snowpack left underfoot. From the first unfrozen lake we climbed up and up encountering a hoary marmot on the way. This small rock rabbit darted around in the undergrowth, teasing us with glances of its mouselike appearance. The second lake was so calm, it perfectly reflected the snow capped peaks behind, a magical reward to our climb. The final lake, just slightly beyond, was completely covered but not entirely frozen as Will, Andrew and Monique all found out by submerging a foot each into the icy waters. (I can’t talk – I slipped over three times, three times more than anyone else!) Adding to our wildlife list, we spotted a coyote and a black bear on our return journey, luckily from the car.
With our new found freedom of a rental car we were able to discover a little more of what was on our doorstep. Along a shady pathway and over the railway tracks, a huge waterfall, Brandywine falls, jetted out into a huge drop. The path of the water, through the trees and into the distance had the perfection of a painting.
The Stawamus Chief was another impressive hike we set our sights on. Towering over Squamish this rock is a long slog onwards and upwards to three impressive peaks. We panted on up through the clouds, steps making way to gnarled roots underfoot. Just as we were lulled into thinking we had reached the end, a series of chains and ladders would assist our final push, a climb to the top. The upper body strength and team support needed to get to the top only made the view better. As the clouds had mostly cleared we enjoyed a sunny spot and a snack, one which several chipmunks were only too keen to get involved in.
Another must for the Whistler bucket list was to do a shot ski. An iconic snow accompaniment, it takes good coordination to all take a shot simultaneously off a ski. Joe was the craftsman of our drinking vessel. He worked with what was available, a pretty old school racing ski, and glued four shots to the base. The shots of choice were a minty polar bear, followed by a sunrise to acknowledge moving on from winter to quickly emerging summer. Midnight on his birthday eve we had multiple attempts at the shot ski, drinking along to Sweet Caroline, apparently a Whistler anthem. As more got poured, the headwear got more eclectic, adding to the evenings hilarity.
Our day to depart started at 5.30am with final boot camp, final packing, final breakfast with friends and final goodbyes. It was almost to busy to grasp the emotion of the day. Reluctance and excitement stirred as we headed for the city saying goodbye to everything which had been home for seven months, leaving with a lot of accumulated luggage and a friendship which was ready for its next adventure, to span two countries.