Going Downhill (Skiing)

I’ve re-invigorated my love for skiing this year. One might think this is ironic, since it was my last few years back in Calgary, whose backyard is world-renknowned for top Rocky Mountain skiing, when skiing dropped off the map for me, and now that I’m back on the warm, wet, west coast I’m finding a love for it again.

We were up in Whistler for Christmas with my wife’s family and a few of us enjoyed a day on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Despite the enormous amount of skiing I’d done in my youth I’d never been on these two reputable hills before. I have always been loyal to Sunshine Village in Alberta, followed by other Alberta destinations like Lake Louise. I’d been told over the years about Whistler’s heavy snow as well, which was apparently drastically different from Alberta’s whispy, icing-sugar snow.

Since my current skis are 14 years old (hard to believe) and pre-date the parabolic shape revolution, I decided to rent some skis at the hill so I could have more fun. Since the hill had received over 30 cm of new snow in the previous 36 hours, I was given fat skis (powder skis) from high-end German brand Völkl.

I was shocked at the quality of the skiing at Whistler. Despite the undesirable conditions, which were overcast, raining at the bottom, snowed-in at the top, windy and at times white-out (see the picture on top), the snow was unreal. Yes it was heavy and sometimes wet (towards the base of the mountain it was downright weird – cookie dough, pancake mix consistency) but the powder was amazing. Easy to turn in, the fresh snowfall made fast turns feel like I was flying. The vast array of terrain and runs were great too. The heavy snowfall meant that neither mountain’s bowls were open due to avalanche danger (we could hear them blasting throughout the day), but that didn’t stop us from making long mid-mountain runs. Soft-peaked moguls were a breeze to beat on. It was just about the best day of skiing that I can remember.

Yes, the skis helped a great deal. Despite their size, they were easy to turn, handled the snow great, and I noticed little details like how well they held their edge on hard, fast turns, with little to no chatter. Where the snow had been packed down it was easy to carve and I could make any kind of turn with ease. They were really, really fun.

We completed the day totally exhausted. It was a great workout for the legs – everything from my hips to my toes hurt (in a good way) the day after.

Subsequent to that remarkable trip my father-in-law and I visited Cypress Mountain, much nearer to Vancouver. Cypress is a considerably smaller hill with far less vertical (shorter runs) and less terrain. But it was great fun and truly the views of everything from Nanaimo to Puget Sound to all parts of the lower mainland and Fraser Valley are incredible (see the pictures – taken with iPhone 3 Instagram app, thus poor quality – sorry!).

I’ve visited a couple of times since and really enjoyed it. The snow is quite a bit different too. Being at a lower elevation and closer to the water means the temperatures are generally higher, forcing a need to make snow from time to time. Such conditions result in hard-packed snow and some icy spots that are hard on the knees.

The proximity to the city and limited terrain means the crowds are larger too. But no bother really, if you know some fast-learned tricks: sticking to a couple of lifts that access the harder runs obviously draw less crowds, and similarly, arriving around the 9:00am mark gets you a parking space right next to the ski-out for fast exit. Skiing as a single gets you into the shorter line at the lifts as well. The lodge is really nice at Cypress, with reasonably priced slope-side fare at the restaurant and lots of good service and TVs.

I’m intent on getting new skis soon so I can continue to enjoy this re-found past time, have fun and rebuild my skills. The difference between my current skis and the ones I rented was night and day. If there was a more dichotic metaphor, I’d use it. It was crazy. I bought new boots a couple of years ago, which were a God-send. It would be nice to finish the package off with some new planks. Having done a great deal of research recently and having fallen in love with the performance of my rentals, I’m pretty much set on Völkl. I’ve always loved Rossignol, but it would be fun to try something else. Not anticipating being in a ton of powder every time I suit up, but still seeking the fresh stuff out, I want a more versatile big-mountain ski. Thus I’m keeping an eye open for Völkl’s Kendo product. I’ll let you know how the search progresses.

Funny enough, rentals seem to be the way I evaluate products for purchase. I first and unintentionally rented the type of car I now own (a Ford Edge), and now I’m following that line of thinking with skis. I wonder if marketers have taken this philosophy to heart?

About the author cdub

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