back on the horse

Road to Whistler

On Saturday, April 4th, Ben and I made the drive from Vancouver to Whistler in good time, despite the copious roadworks. Our accommodation in Whistler was ready for us at 9am – 7 hours before check in – which suited us perfectly, because we could change for the slopes in our apartment rather than the car park. The sun was warm, and the day would yield blue skies, which was stark contrast from the -12C weather I’d experienced my first time there in 2007. We had prepaid our rentals and ski passes, so were geared up and ready to ski by 10:30am. Not bad for leaving Vancouver at 7:30.

The only thing tainting a perfect morning was my nerves. I always get a little nervous before skiing, because I am relatively new to it, but these nerves were making it hard to concentrate on anything other than the steep runs of Whistler Mountain. I haven’t skied many places, but when I skied Whistler in 2007, I felt liked it kicked my butt. The green runs were steeper than I had experienced before and the bottom half of the mountain was icy, which means a novice spends more time slipping and sliding than skiing.

“Are you okay,” asked Ben, noticing my apprehension.

“I feel like I did right before we went sky diving.” I wasn’t kidding, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not talk myself out of that fear.

We rode the gondola to the top of Whistler and Ben had already said that he would ski part the way down with me on the green runs ‘to warm up’. I was happy with that, and by the time I was actually standing on my skis and could see the powdery snow, I was feeling more calm. The run started well, mostly because I have had quite a few more hours on skis since my first time at Whistler. Add to that the gorgeous weather, powdery snow, and a grinning boyfriend skiing next to me, and my nerves dissipated. “I can do this,” I thought as I handled slopes that would have scared me not too long ago.

first run

Then it happened: I started having fun.

I let myself pick up speed. I tried more parallel turns (nearly there), and I took bigger chances than I usually would. I was loving it, and even laughed off a clumsy fall, which happened when I overturned and headed down the mountain backwards. I also managed a terrific parallel stop which amazed me. I didn’t know I could do that!

Ben skied off in between trees, because he can, and was pulling off a spectacular cross-country maneuver when the edge of my uphill ski clipped something hard, crossed over my other ski and I fell face forward down the slope. I put my arms out to break my fall, and ‘pop’ went my right shoulder, which is a horrible sound to hear when you fall. More horrible was the pain that shot from my shoulder to my neck and down the length of my arm. I rolled onto my back, and lay there, swearing. The swearing part was involuntary, because it was the kind of pain that makes you feel a bit nauseous.

Ben came back and helped me to my feet. He retrieved my wayward ski and helped me back onto it. He wiped off the outside – and inside – of my goggles, and I reassured him that I was okay to keep going. I cursed my clumsiness, and we got back to the business of skiing down the mountain.

The thing was, we had skied most of the soft, powdery snow. Fairly soon after my fall we hit the mid-mountain runs which were icy and more steep than those at the top. And not only did my shoulder hurt, I also started to feel the after effects of the fall. Physically, the adrenaline was wearing off, and I became shaky and weak. Mentally, I lost my ‘mojo’. All confidence was gone, and when we turned on to trails I previously would have attacked (in my clumsy, novice way), I was scared again.

We got to a major junction where Ben could get on a ski lift to more challenging parts of the mountain. I kind of begged him to ‘go on without me’. I wasn’t being dramatic. I just didn’t want to completely fall apart in front of him. He seemed disappointed, and I wasn’t sure at the time whether it was ‘for me’ or ‘in me’, but perhaps it was a little of both. He got in line for the lift, and grateful to be on my own, I continued on my way down the mountain. ‘Snowplough’ featured heavily on my descent, even though I have been beyond that for some time now.

I skied 2/3 of the way down, and came upon a gondola station where I could ride the rest of the way to Whistler Village. As I leaned against the bench in the gondola I let my tears of frustration fall. I had a stern ‘get back on the horse’ talk with myself, and I knew that if Ben was disappointed in me – even if only a little – it could not compare to how annoyed I was at myself.

At the bottom of the mountain I splashed water on my face, looked hard at myself in the mirror and shook off my feelings of self-derision. I killed time before lunch with Ben by mooching about shops, and when I entered l’Occitane, I was greeted by three Aussie accents. I spent about half an hour having a chat with lovely young ex-pats who were good company, and let me try lots of different products. When I left for lunch I was feeling – and smelling – better.

Over lunch, Ben and I decided that we would start the next day by riding the Peak to Peak gondola that runs from the top of Whistler to the top of Blackcomb Mountain. There were green runs from there all the way down Blackcomb, so I could rest up for the rest of the day and then start fresh in the morning. I was committed to getting back on the horse. I spent the afternoon alone, but not lonely, nursing my aching shoulder. We then spent a lovely evening which included the resort’s hot tub, drinks by the fireplace of a wine bar, and a gourmet Japanese dinner.

I slept carefully, mostly on my left side, keeping my right arm close to me like an injured wing. When I woke on Sunday and tried to do something simple, like pushing the covers off me, I knew I wouldn’t be skiing that day either. My should and upper arm hurt worse, and showering, drying myself and especially getting into a turtleneck all presented challenges and required help from Ben. To put myself, a relative novice, on skis for the day would be irresponsible. Damn it!

I thought of wasted money and wasted opportunities – to ski again with Ben, to improve my turns, to ski under blue skies. I so desperately want to get past the part where skiing is somewhat challenging and even a little scary and onto loving it. It did occur to me to stay in our lovely apartment and read, but that thought did not last long.

I suited up for a day in the snow, and rode to gondola to the top of Whistler with Ben. We then boarded the Peak to Peak gondola, which holds the record for the longest span between towers (3 kms).


The ride gave us incredible views, including those from the window in the floor of the cabin.

(a)cross the river

selves portrait

almost straight down

Once on top of Blackcomb, I took a few shots and Ben kissed me goodbye before skiing off.

On top of the world

I headed indoors for a hot cuppa. I wrote most of this post in a notebook while I sipped a hot mocha and looked out at a breathtaking view.

Top of Blackcomb

When the table next to mine filled with three families who shared a total of seven children under six, I made a beeline for the door. (I knew I could not listen to much more whining about who got the most M&M’s.)


cable car

The ride back across the Peak to Peak was just as enjoyable, and I met a lovely Mexican couple who put me onto Arnica (a natural remedy) for my shoulder. I sought it out when I got to the base of the mountain, but two days later am still achy and sore. More rest, some anti-inflammatory pills, and keeping up with the Arnica will hopefully have me back to boxing class next week.

The rest of our time away was wonderful. We had evening drinks outdoors because the weather was so mild –

Apres Ski

and took a morning walk along a trail through the woods before we left.

Frozen Lake

Early morning walk

I got over the disappointment of not skiing, and am keen to hit the slopes again soon – mostly likely in Washington, if we can make time before the end of the season. My turns are coming along, and I really want to get better. I will ski Whistler again some day, but for now she remains the victor. She is beautiful, but she kicked my butt again.