Week 4 22nd - 28st March
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Monday 22nd
Snow conditions: melting base :(
Head state: slow/moderate

Lessons start today - and I'm keen to take some. Apart from learning a bit, you get to know the mountain better and meet some new people. The boys were reluctant to sign up, preferring to lounge around than get up early every for a deadline, but I managed to persuade them that they would thank me for it later. :-)

We met Adam and Jim, our instructors, of whom Jim seemed the more technical teacher and Adam the more anarchic free spirit. As we climbed up the gondola, we could see Adam's golf course across the valley causing Adam and Jim (rather disconcertingly) to talk golf for half an hour. In fact, it was mostly Adam - whose ancestors must have kissed the Blarney stone, if not been even more initimate with it!

Also in our group were Justin from Melbourne and Ed from Santa Cruz.

The base was melting and rocks and tree stumps were starting to show through. Most of the mountain's back-country was already impassable. "A week on the tracks," I thought - not what the resort is justly famous for! On top of that, we seemed to be confined to the slushy lower slopes, practicing carving turns and posture. Important but rather boring on what was possibly my sixth repitition.

To Black's pub for after-ski. My first impression of Adam is that he is a punk kid who's bored of snowboarding and bored of his job. Luckily that changed over the course of the week, but bejesus, he can talk!

Apparently snow is expected later in the week...

I'm sure we had another couple of B52s at this point - before our perseverance waned. Nothing memorable in the evening.

Tuesday 23rd
Snow conditions: slushy, poor visibility
Head state: good

We spend the day on Blackcomb - largely on the lower slopes... where it seems to me that no-one else wants to be. We spend some time in the terrain park which is a confidence builder for us all. Nice and easy. The mistake I have been making is trying to go too large too soon - baby steps! I need to build up more slowly in future, rather than going for the 3 meters up in the air type of manoeuver I was favouring when I knocked myself out in Norway a couple of years ago.

We do a video analysis and I start to get a better impression of Adam. He is a real talker, but if you call him on it, he cracks a smile. My opinion also improves when he teaches us the uphill turn technique to see how well we're carving. He does seem to know his stuff, he's not as young as he looks and it's becoming obvious that he knows the area like the back of his hand.

We head down to Merlin's for lunch via the Childrens Adventure Park. We are meant to cruise "The Blue Crystal Trail" but M & I take a wrong turn before we reach the castle and end up in "The Black Forest". Uh-oh! Steep! We pass a couple of gnomes sitting outside their shack but it seems they haven't seen anyone for a few days so we just press on. Eventually we reach the other side but both of us have been somewhat psychologically scarred by the experience. :-)

The snow arrives after lunch! Nice! Spring skiing conditions and golf are forgotten - we are back to winter here! :-) I am keen to get up higher but when we do, it's obvious that the visibility at the top of the hill is very bad. We head back down.

I decide to cook a meal tonight - coconut curry - which I say we will cook around at Justin & Jill's place, cos they've got more room. I go out and buy all the ingredients but when I get back to the room, neither Cal nor M can stay awake. A & I go round to Justin & Jill's with only the starter (baked Camembert) - there would be too much food if I cooked it all. I decide to save the curry for tomorrow - perhaps we will eat out tonight.

Justin & Jill are on a 3 week, 3 centre trip: Whistler, White Mountain and Banff. Nice - and they are staying in a suite too as opposed to our 4 bed fold-out bed and mezzanine mini apartment. Jill works in travel! :-)

We eat the cheese and demolish a nice bottle of South African red then play cards. A baby brother version of Bridge called "500" which is popular in Australia. Crazy nights! :-) It's a great game, though and a quiet one is welcome.

When we get back, I expect to see the others up and unable to sleep but no, they sleep right through.

Wednesday 24th
Snow conditions: soft new snow, base improving
Head state: very good

I get up early to make the red curry - working on the theory that the longer you leave it, the better imbued the flavour is.

We meet Adam at the Roundhouse and head out from there.

Wow! This is Whistler on form! Deep fresh satin light snow - you can feel the base underneath but if it keeps on snowing, it will only get better. We cruise the Harmony Bowl in the morning. Justin takes a big tumble when he gets his board caught on an interfering pine tree just as he's about to take a 12 foot drop off. He tumbles out head over heels but the snow is forgiving and he doesn't hurt himself... until 5 minutes later he slides into Cal who ends up sitting on his head which results in a touch of neck strain.:-)

I'm riding Adam's big Ride 162 board today. Nice and fast in the powder but I have a bit of trouble initiating my turns. By the end of the day, I decide that it's a bit too big and square for me. I will shop around a bit more...

In the afternoon, we are the first people to drop into the Boomer Bowl. Wow! This is truly awesome boarding. A vast bowl of fresh snow for us to play with. Does it get any better?

We meet up for after-ski in the Crystal Lounge but I can't stay long as I've got a massage booked at 5.30. It only works out to be 35 for an hour's massage - as opposed to 45 for about 25 minutes with the osteopath in Guernsey, so I reckon I'm on to a bargain.

The bright & lovely Shannon gives me my massage. I tell her that I'm standing for election in Guernsey which cracks her up for 5 minutes. :-) We talk of this and that and she finds all those knots which only someone who knows human phyisology can find. Ow, ow, ow, that's sooo good!

When I leave, I am resolved to be as open as possible regarding my intentions relating to the election... including not trying to down- play the fact that I have been boardin' this week. Shannon's massage was a real tonic to mind, body and spirit, just like it says in the adverts.

Back to the hotel for the curry and game of Risk with the boys and Ed. Ed seems like an intelligent sort of guy but comes over all gung-ho and Uncle Sam when we play, so I feel obliged to wipe him out. Embarrassingly, I miss one of his countries and when I get to the end of the trail, I can no longer finish him off. Needless to say he came back to win. I failed in my duty to the world... Ah well. Typically, good tactics but a careless mistake. Ed leaves victorious; I retire a broken man. :-)

And oops! I seem to have drunk (in no particular order): B52, red wine, beer and whisky. Typical quiet night in.

Thursday 25th
Snow conditions: Insane! Powder day.
Head state: excellent (a bit morning after)

Woo-hoo! Powder day! Man, I love this place!

Up the mountain first thing with Adam and Justin for "Fresh Tracks" - a 7.30 lift up the hill for a 8.30am start. Cruising the blue runs around The Roundhouse before heading up The Peak Chair for the real stuff. Plenty to go around for everyone. I pick a line from the top of the ridge down towards the waterfall and back to The Peak Chair. This is as good as it gets. Yee hay!

We are joined today by pretty Vicky from Brighton who is learning to be a snowboarding instructor.

Nowhere else I have been can compete with Whistler when it's like this. 30cm of powder with a firm base - you can go wherever you want and it's hard to hurt yourself. Look at the sheer area you can explore:

Whistler-Blackcomb trail map

An insane day of boarding ensues, with powder carved, cliffs dropped and slopes cruised. At one point, I end up facing my biggest fear (like Luke Skywalker in the hollow tree trunk! :-) when Adam flies off a side of the infamous "Waterfall" near the base of Peak Chair lift. "Come on Rob", he exhorts, but Justin has stopped and I pull up too. Mistake! I end up summoning the courage to follow but by then I have lost my smooth momentum and when I take the drop it hurts & I tumble. In fact it's better to do it with some speed - then the whole thing flows that bit more smoothly. "Speed is your friend" - approach with confidence and don't panic - stay on top of it. A lesson for life.

Afternoon brought exhaustion and a welcome retirement to Dusty's on Creekside, where we indulged in a few beers sitting first outside by the firepit, then inside around the dart board and pool table.

Home resulted in another split - with Major General Cal taking his usual rear-guard approach to the social scene. A had had a day off and was fighting fit, so we headed down to the Savage Beagle for a few drinks. Met up with Justin and Jill's ski group and talked nonsense with them for a while. When they retired, M, A and I headed down to the Crabshack for a heavy metal covers band. They were great - I think. By this time, I was leaning rather heavily on the bar and not much touching my "Apple Jack" (JD & apple juice). Soon on to bed.

Friday 26th
Snow conditions: Excellent - more powder.
Head state: over-hung

Spend the day with M, Justin and Jill. It's a little difficult to accomodate the wishes of intermediate skier Jill with the more advanced boarders' search for powder in the trees and we have a few hairy moments when I lead us into the trees for a short-cut which turns out to be perhaps a single black diamond trees run. Jill isn't happy and it's my fault, but I take some photos and try to turn it into the positive experience of a challenge, rather than the negative experience of a trial. :)

We get separated towards the middle of the afternoon and I head down for another massage. When I get into town, I'm already 5 minutes late and I jog down to the clinic. I feel very sorry for Shannon who has to put up with me being unshowered, but she is a stoic and doesn't even flinch when she approaches my feet! Aaah, so soothing! Shannon can take a lot of credit for loosening up my legs and lower back this week! My hamstring feels fine now and I don't think I will even need another trip to the osteopath when I get back to Guernsey. We also have another very good talk - what a lovely, intelligent woman!

I head back to the apartment for an (overdue!) shower and then pop down to Westbeach to think about a snowboard again. I speak to a very knowledgeable young man who steers me away from the $630 Custom X and towards the Lib Tech TRS. Much more me - I buy, but they are out of the Burton bindings I want so I will have to shop some more tomorrow.

This trip is really working for me. I feel better each day - more alive, more energetic and brighter. My growing confidence on the board and my improving physical fitness is being reflected in my overall confidence and happiness. This is, I think, why people take to adventure sports - and extreme sports - it's a real source of energy and confidence. I must start surfing again when I get home and maintain this level of fitness.

Evening was out for dinner with Justin and Jill and the boys at The Chateau Whistler. The service is informal: "Hi, I'm Jeff, I'll be your server tonight." Someone I find it very hard to address him by his first name; the Canadians see it as friendliness, but it seems kind of disrespectful, after all we don't really know this guy: "Hey Jeff, get me a jug of water... Hey Jeff, can I get a cocktail... etc". Then at the end of the evening we are supposed to give him a healthy tip for his troubles.

Down to The Boot to meet Adam briefly and to show the boys the phenomenon which is "The Boot Ballet". The Boot is on the edge of town and it's where the relatively genteel Whistler meets the wild frontier. On a couple of nights a week, there is a strip show and, driven by the resulting testosterone, the place can get rather edgy; fights are not uncommon. I don't like it there, hanging out by the bar and I hustle the lads back into town, with the intention of going somewhere a bit less sketchy. We head back to the hotel.

Our trip to The Boot leads me to bore the boys about the sex trade. A argues that it is undeniable and should be liberalised, that it's very illegality makes it dangerous. An anti-prohibition sentiment with which I agree, but I do have a real problem with the exploitation which is implicit in much of the industry.

Fundamentally, the sex trade is a dirty and expolitative business - the exploitation runs from the minor degradation of a drunken lumberjack shouting obscenities at a well-paid but vulnerable stripper to violent crime sometimes committed by organised pornographers to feed an ever hungry market.

I think that the root of the problem is that for the most part the active participants are not those who profit most; the considerable proceeds go to the sex-entrepreneurs and pimps who exploit them. In the event of liberalisation, perhaps the way to reverse this trend would be to limit the scale of the industry by legislation. Perhaps then a relatively harmless cottage industry could be tolerated.

Not that this has any bearing on Guernsey. Like the drug question, it would be foolhardy in the extreme for The Bailiwick to differ in any way from the policies of its neighbours.

Sadly, the boys endurance isn't so good and even though it is our last night in town, they are all soon tucked up in bed. I am forced to go out on my own and head to "Moe Joes". Again, there is quite a macho feel to the place - perhaps partly due to the frontiers-ville nature of the place, but more likely related to the overwhelming number of men in relation to the number of women. The ratio of men to women is at least 2:1, perhaps more like 4:1.I bump into Vicky but she is juggling a troupe of admirers and doesn't seem to have her own free will any more.

Whistler's schizophrenic nature is revealed here - before 11pm it is a peace-loving place where everyone is your friend. After 11, the wild things come out and there is nothing further from the cool urbanity of the European resorts. This is something which is to some extent inevitable when you have a whole load of Brits, Aussie and Americans out on the beer, but it is something which the resort could look at improving, if it wants to become a more cosmopolitan destination.

I head home, taking a little detour to try to find the chalet I used to run in the White Gold neighbourhood. It is all quite familiar but when I reach the house, I can't recognise it due to alteration work which has been carried out. Still, it's a pleasure to feel my familiarity with the town returning to some extent. I shall return.

Saturday 27th
Home time :(
Snow conditions: Excellent - more powder.
Head state: buzzing

Today is the day of our return journey. It seemed to be going quite slowly at first, but time has accelerated over that last 3-4 days until suddenly, it's over.

I have a lot to do today: I want to benefit from Canada's low prices for outdoor equipment and buy a snowboard and perhaps some clothes if we get the opportunity to spend a couple of hours shopping in Vancouver.

Back to Westbeach because I'm a little worried about repeating my experience with the Palmer board I have been riding for the last couple of days which was way too twitchy for me! The guy reassures me that the Lib Tech is a smooth ride and I head up to town to buy some bindings. I end up with some rather chunky, Bling Bling bindings from Salomon.

Back to the hotel to sort out my stuff and to get out on the hill again. (How can I not try out my new board?) Plans for a Vancouver visit are scrapped. Maybe next year...

I pack up and get ready then meet up with the boys in a local breakfast joint. They aren't boarding today. See ya later!

I head out to try to find Adam and end up buying a pair of leather gloves in the ski-employees office for C$12! Wow!

Meet up with Adam to give him our considerable stock of left over booze. He picks me up in the Village and gives me a lift to Creekside where we stop for a beer and discuss a travel business idea. I show him my new board. "Rock n roll," he says. "It is, isn't it", I agreed as I hop out of his truck to head up, unknowingly dropping a glove... thus began the saga of the Rock n' Roll ride...

I spend 10 minutes trying to find the ticket office - labyrnthine, this place sometimes - and when I get there, Vicky is sitting behind the desk. Unfortunately, she is a slave to the hill and I go to Dusty's for a glass of water before heading up. It's at about this stage that I realise that I have dropped one of my nice new leather gloves. Goddamit! So I end up searching around Creekside for another 10 minutes trying to find it. No luck, I even have to go and ask Vicky if she's seen it. Nope. Ah well, once more serendipity intervenes.

After leaving Vicky languishing at the ticket office, I head up the hill and, having had such an fantastic time, I decide that the done thing is to make a return payment so I leave my very serious but rather ugly Norwegian gloves in the gongola. Creekside is a locals type of place and I figure that someone will find them and find a use for them in the dead of next winter. I have after all got too much stuff to carry home with me...

I reach the top of the gondola and bump into Justin. It's a small mountain on days like this! I appraise him of my plan: bus in 1 hr 15 min, so head up to the top of the Peak and board back down to the Village. He's up for it, so we head up - we should just make it. I'm riding my new board with one glove, orange trousers, my scruffy old coat, a lid with a lightning bolt on it and, I find, a confident old style which I had not hitherto been able to re-find anywhere else. I think it's a combination of the variety of the terrain (and perhaps those long flat traverses!) which challenge one's technique so much and my new Rock N Roll Lib-Tech board.

Credit also to Shannon, with whose help I have also managed to loosen up my legs and lower back and, indeed, work a big knot out of my British ass which was probably cramping my style. :-) Now I'm flying with a funky if unconventional back foot style and I'm liberated from the self-consciousness which has dogged me before. Yee-hay!

Great - we are flying along, and reach the Peak in good time... then we get a bit lost in the mist, take a wrong turn and suddenly we're heading back towards Creekside instead of down towards the Harmony bowl with only 45 minutes until the bus leaves. Ooops! So we head for a traverse called Tokum which will take us back across to the Village, then oops!, we miss that one too. Luckily there is one option left - the Expressway - a long flat traverse from the top of the Creekside gondola and there are 35 minutes to go. Luckily the Lib Tech flies along and after swearing that "I know this mountain" and immediately almost taking several wrong turns, Justin and I navigate back to the Village.

In fact, I get back to the hotel and even have time for a shower before the bus arrives. Nice! And what a board!

On the bus we are already back home as the Crystal rep comes around and hands out long and complex questionnaires which I find it hard to believe will provide any really useful information.

Airport, flight... :-(

Sunday 28th
Arrive LHR 2.30pm
Arrive GSY 8.15pm

Nothing to report... wrote up some of my weblog on my Psion whilst we waited in the airport. Very uneventful - even the LHR-GSY flight was on time. We were all tired but I was the walking dead. A bit week! Exhausting but fantastic!

Home & early to bed.

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