Last week I was in Whistler, BC on a ski trip. It rained some, snowed some, and the conditions were just okay. We attended a martini party, paying $20 apiece to get in, which got us nothing, then another $12 apiece for the worst martinis either of us had ever had. So for $64 we had two martinis. It's apparent this is a for-profit event now.
We attended a comedy show one evening featuring a lesbian comic I had never heard of. She was hysterical! Unfortunately we were forced to endure a horrible drag queen doing a Newlywed Game on stage. I don't understand why some people think every gay event has to have drag queens. I really think women dressed as men are icky.
There was also a banquet, which featured a performance by The Alexa Brothers from Cirque du Soleil. Now that was simply amazing. Now I have to go to Las Vegas and see them live. There were also three other performers who wandered the crowd. One was a gymnast and contortionist who did all sorts of cool things, another was a comic character with a huge overstuffed butt who did botched versions of the gymnast's tumbling, and the last was a disheveled looking clown type in a suit who followed people around and heckled them. It was a lot of fun.
Until the drag show started. The same horrible drag queen from before, only this time he was lip synching to some screechy song that was being played so loud my ears were distorting. That was followed by The Alexa Brothers (did I say they were amazing?) and then... a burlesque show! I wonder who planned that one. 800 gay men in the audience and there are a bunch of women on stage stripping. It was like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
On to the skiing. I love skiing, and I like to think I ski well. Steep doesn't bother me much, and I rarely feel out of control when I'm on a groomed surface. Even ice doesn't phase me much. The only things I don't like are powder, big bumps, and trees. Despite this I had two seriously scary experiences.
The first was on Tuesday. My partner and I had an all day lesson with a group of about 6 people, and we learned a lot of the little things that help make you better. On the last run of the day we were skiing a narrow traverse down to the Big Red Express, which we would ride back to the top of the mountain. There was a low road, about 20 feet below and there were trees along the hill between the two roads. The run was an easy green, but it was full of newbies who were scared out of their minds and acting accordingly: skiing in wedges, arms stuck straight out, taking up more space than you ever would have thought possible.
I was skiing along the edge of the run, making short quick turns to control my speed and keep out of the way of the freakazoids blocking the main run. Suddenly one of my skis caught a chunk of ice, came off, and I went hurtling off the side of the run. Straight toward a tree. The next few seconds took about 3 years. I heard myself yell "not the damned tree!" I slid, flipped, somehow managed to keep from hitting my head, and ended up on my right shoulder on the low road. The world was still spinning as someone was yelling from above, asking if I was hurt. I was shaken but thankfully okay. As scary as that was, the next was even worse.
The WinterPRIDE folks arranged for daily guides. People would meet at a central location on the mountain du jour (it alternated between Whistler and Blackcomb), split up by ability levels, then spend the day skiing (or boarding) with a guide. Friday was the first day we joined the guided group and we had a good time, so we decided to join the same guide for our last day skiing on Saturday.
We did the first warm up run off the Symphony Express, then went back up the same lift and regrouped at the top. The guide, Michael, asked "who wants to do trees". Two out of 8 people said yes immediately. The rest of us looked around at each other with terror in our eyes, and I finally said I didn't want to and asked to be pointed toward the groomed run that would intersect with wherever they were going. Then the rest chimed in with their concerns.
Let me take a moment to explain where we are at this point. The top of Whistler mountain is accessed by two lifts, Symphony and Harmony. We were above the tree line in a big bowl that had a trail groomed through it, but it's largely left intact for people to just ski wherever they want. I will also point out that I typically ski steep terrain and my skis are shaped accordingly. They're not made for powder or tree skiing. They're made for speed and carving, with wide tips and tails and a narrow waist. Powder skis are wider throughout to provide more surface area so you can "float" through the snow.
After we all shot down the tree idea, the guide said "oh well, let's just go over this way". He was taking us through the untracked snow, which consisted of about 14" of fresh powder over the old base. As we skiied off the trail my skis kept trying to carve and I had to fight to keep them out of the snow. For a while I could see the groomed trail below us and tracks of other people who had skiied to it, so I didn't freak out. We kept going and going, and soon the groomed trail was hidden behind the trees. When we got to where we would have to ski out the only option was through the trees.
What ensued was about 25 minutes of hellish mayhem, with at least one member of our group down at any given time. I fell twice, once when I hit an unexpected bump and was launched face first into a snow drift, testing the forward release on my bindings (which thankfully worked), and another when I dodged someone who had fallen, went out of control, and fell into a tree well.
That trip through the trees was the most harrowing ski experience I have ever had, and I've had some doozies. I have since dubbed our guide "Michael the Death Guide". He didn't see the humor in it, possibly because there was none.