14
Feb
10

Skiing at Whistler: you looking for these?

Lucky I went back for the third ski lesson at that crappy hill.  By the time I was 12, my initial hatred of the sport had changed into such a passion I can clearly remember a friend  out on a summer hike screaming, “Will You Please Shut Up About Skiing!”

We used to pile in with friends into the old man’s 1970 Plymouth Satellite and head up to Whistler on the weekends at least 10 times a season.  Brother Gordon would drive until at 16 I got my license.  We’d get out at first light for the hour-long drive to be ahead of the Vancouver traffic and be the first in line for lift tickets so we could be first in line for the Gondola or Olive Chair lift and, of course, first down the runs.

It looks like a joke now, but the first lift ticket I ever bought at Whistler Mountain cost only three dollars.  When I turned 13 I had to pay more than double that – a whole seven bucks!  You can’t even get a whiff of a sandwich for that these days at Whistler.

We’d pack lunches and throw the bags in the trees near the Roundhouse at the top, making sure they were tied up well so the Whiskey Jacks couldn’t steal our food.  We’d come back to fetch them near noon so we could eat on the lift.  Why stop for lunch when there’s so much skiing to be had?  Near the end of the day we’d time our runs so we’d be at the very bottom for the last ride up the Gondola, then scoot over to the Red Chair for the ride up the top.

If I ever find a decent photo from those days, I’ll post it, but for now, this one from about 10 years before will have to do.

And so to the story of the day everything went wrong.

The weather had been iffy on the drive up, but on the hill it was shit.  Foggy, a  mixture of wet snow and rain, and so windy…  I’m not surprised that they’ve had to postpone the Downhill ski event at the Olympics, and don’t hold your breath until Monday.  Because it sits amid a coastal temperate rainforest, Whistler weather can be awful for days on end.

Anyway, that day brother Gordon somehow LOST the car keys.  We used to split up into two groups – he’d go off with his friends, I’d go off with mine.  While picking up our lunch that day, we cross paths and he gives me the news.  “But don’t tell Dad!” he warns me.

His telling me not to tell Dad gives me the idea to phone him in the first place.   So I fish out a dime and call the operator from the payphone at the top of Whistler to make a collect call home.

Nobody there.

So I pull out another dime and make another collect call to where I’m sure my father will be, because it’s  a Sunday: at the office.  Working.  My old man worked a lot, and when he wasn’t working, he was driving his car.

“Gordon’s lost the keys Gordon’s lost the keys!” I bark into the phone.  He swore, I think, but then says, OK, no problem – I’ll drive up and give you guys the spares.

So at the end of the day I meet up with Gordon and his friends at the bottom of the gondola and Gordon’s foaming with rage at me that I’d phoned Dad behind his back.

To me it made perfect sense.  Keys lost. Dad has spare set.  Dad drives Mom’s car to Whistler.  Then we have keys.

So we’re walking to the car in the parking lot and we see Dad’s bright orange MGB parked behind the Plymouth.  Just as we’re coming up to the car we see him bend over by the driver’s side.  Straightening up, he holds up the keys in his right hand and with a big grin on his face, says to us: you guys looking for these?

They’d been lying on the ground right by the car the whole day.

I told that story near the end of a speech I gave to those who gathered in early May, 2000 for his funeral, ending with: Dad had a temper and let it loose sometimes, but he was always able to see the humour in things.


5 Responses to “Skiing at Whistler: you looking for these?”


  1. February 14, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    That’s pretty funny. I’m glad your dad could see the humour in it. And I felt a little choke in my throat as I read that you told this story at his funeral.

    I started downhill skiing in high school, but never learned to enjoy it because my harness was adjusted wrong. My skis fell off on all the t-bar tows, and I developed a fear, not of going downhill, but going up!

    To this day, I prefer cross-country.

  2. February 15, 2010 at 3:54 am

    Apart from the humour of the story, I love the reminders of that “other time” ~ not only the price of the lift tickets, but the dime for the phone call, and an operator, and the whole concept of “collect calling”. When I started my business 20 years ago, there were no cell phones, only car phones with units in the trunk and external antennae. I’d stop and make calls from pay phones. I don’t know the last time I’ve seen a pay phone.

    Your Dad sounds like a fellow who understood perfectly that the “punishment” for making him drive up there had been imposed before he ever laid eyes on you ;-)

    And by the way – are Whiskey Jacks birds?

    • February 15, 2010 at 7:46 am

      You might find skiing a lot different these days. The skis are a lot easier to turn and control, the bindings are very safe, the boots really comfortable. I like cross-country too, but you never get up any great speed, which for me is all the thrill.

      I was thinking the same thing about payphones and using dimes to call – when was the last time anyone actually used a payphone? They cost a quarter merely to get ahold of the operator last time I tried, and that was about 15 years ago.

      About Dad driving so far to find our keys for us, we knew right away that he was really glad for the chance to get away from his desk on a Sunday and go for a good rip up the road. :-)

      And Whiskey Jacks? Some call them Whiskey Jays, Canada Jays… they look a lot like Blue Jays, same size, but are a beige-grey colour. They might be different now, but when we were kids they had no fear, swooping in to steal your sandwich if you left it out of your sight for a few seconds.

  3. 4 Michele
    February 18, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    This brought back great skiing memories. I forwarded it to my Dad and we’ve been reminiscing about the old days ever since. I learned to ski with him at Bogus Basin, which is sort of a podunk mountain 20 miles outside of Boise, Idaho. Got started a little late, around age 12-13 on old “pomme frites”-style 140s, and have never gotten very good at it. But at the time we were well-matched in terms of speed and risk-taking. I prefer snowboarding now.

    • February 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Bogus Basin! Sounds like a set for the Bill & Ted movies. :-)

      I’ve never tried snowboarding. If I lived near a mountain and could go anytime, I’d try it out, but when you only get once chance to go a year, you don’t want to spend it on your butt.


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