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.
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.