Whistler Opening Weekend / by Strain

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Surface skier Eliel Hindert had no problems getting up for Whistler's opening day.

I've blogged a couple times now about the countdown to shred season and the feelings of anticipation and apprehension as opening day approaches. In southern BC, November weather is nothing short of chaos and often the only separation between an early opening with a deep base and rock boards well into the new year is a few degrees Celsius. Us over-eager weather watchers use every means possible to track the freezing level on the local mountains as it dances precariously back and forth across whatever 'critical elevation' will allow enough snow to accumulate to set the lifts back in motion for the winter.

For Whistler Blackcomb, opening day officially coincides with the Thanksgiving long weekend; not ours, unfortunately (one can dream), but our neighbours to the south. Given the hectic nature of coastal weather, that date is hardly etched in stone; adding to the anticipation of snow lovers everywhere is the prospect of the early opening. One can imagine the anxiety attacks parents would suffer if Christmas could potentially happen 3 weeks early on 2 days notice (a fitting analogy since snow bums have the approximate attention span of a 7 year old child). A solid November storm can drop a metre in less than a week and send resorts and their patrons scrambling to be ready for first chair the second enough snow is on the ground.

Whistler typically opens a week early but there are no guarantees when it comes to weather. The 05/06 season kicked off on November 4th and didn't really let up until April 2008. I guess I was just spoiled by 3 epic seasons in a row but when Whistler opened on schedule last season I felt as if I'd been cheated out of several weeks of riding. This year started the same as any other with the up-and-down snowline dance but when the storms started rolling in cold a week and a half ago, it was pretty clear that it was game on and the lifts would be spinning "on time" this winter.

Opening day always comes with some degree of negativity. There's always a chorus of 'enjoy the rocks' and 'have fun waiting in line, sucka!' from those who would rather hide under an umbrella in the city that get out into the mountains at the first possible opportunity. Yeah, conditions are kinda sketchy and the end of the gondola line was in the village square by the time I got my lazy ass into the queue, but thats all part of the opening day experience.

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In line outside Crystal Lodge. Things moved surprisingly fast from here - I was riding by 10:15.

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What lift line? All smiles from Chelsea, its opening day!

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The lightboard reads green for the first time this winter:

Contrary to what the downers (read: jealous bastards that couldn't make it up) said, conditions on the hill were brilliant with a 1 metre base providing excellent coverage through the Red and Emerald zones. The snow was light and deep with pow to be found throughout the day - despite the crazy line in the morning, it wasn't much busier than the typical weekend. Anyone with a little local knowledge had face shots to last chair. A summer's thirst for fresh pow turns was quenched for many a happy soul... I know I crashed early and slept sound and content on Saturday night.

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Eric Poulin knows where to look to find fresh pillows.

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NuuLife Cinema's Dave Craig: half mad, all man.

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Katie Hall-Leah is in the running for Miss Powder Mountain 2010 - you should go vote for her right now because she probably rips harder than you do.

Whistler's Olympic year opening proved to be everything anyone could have hoped for, and with a further 71 cm hammering the mountain by Monday morning, it looks like it's going to be one hell of a season - perfect redemption for a mostly forgettable winter of 08/09. If the forecast proves to be remotely accurate, Whistler will be looking at a 2 metre base by the 3rd week of November, a milestone that didn't get hit until March last year. So, raise a glass to Ullr and hope he continues to smile upon us over a long and deep winter.

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Whistler Village, Sunday morning. Hopefully this will be the waking scene to residents all winter long.