The First Time – Part 2 – reading “White Planet”

“Things have changed.”, I thought to myself as I put down the first couple chapters of Leslie Anthony’s ‘White Planet’, 

…and picked up a plastic Batman action figure in the bathroom in an otherwise meaningless gesture that symbolizes my instinctual steps towards order in the quiet chaos of the life of a father in 2010 Powderville some…well, let’s just say ‘some’ decades since Leslie and I started skiing. I looked through the blinds and saw the heavy white flakes had turned to the other stuff that was forecast below 1600m…then snow again.  So much has changed.

Fast Forward…a week later…my buddy Neil, in Collingwood, was on the first chair up Blue Mountain on opening day all smiles through bearded chunks of frozen snow sending live pics from his phone.  Pictures of smiles, of frosty eyelashes, of the digital thermometer display on his dashboard that read -20 degrees and the lines of jealous commentary multiplied beneath the hand-held video of his snowboard plowing through another lap searching and slashing any powder left untracked 3000 miles away, live, loaded and looped on his Facebook profile.  What time is it when my Whistler Facebook timeline says he loaded the car pic at 4:00am? The one our mutual friend Dave commented on from his endless summer travelling and surfing somewhere in south-east Asia this morning before I made it to the village on the #3 bus and the short walk through the empty $8.00 daylots of another December Saturday.   What time is it? It doesn’t matter. 

Rewind…home…the Batman came with me but the little orange t-shirt with the dogs in Santa hats, big brother’s orange socks, the plastic molded pirates and Playmobile knights that surround the tub, the Ernie with the surfboard in a striped farmer john shorty in the frying pan from the Play Dough kitchen set, the other Playmobile dude in the circa WW II deep-sea scuba suit and armor sitting confused in pieces (looks like he lost the battle with the pirates), and the Ken doll I was given at my 9th grade Jr High grad can all wait.  I read somewhere in the 90’s that ‘not’ cleaning up a few things is a good sign of coping for type-A, OCD types….obviously that person didn’t have a wife, a six-year-old boy, an 18 month old sister chasing him and live in a Whistler 2 bedroom condo making that point obviously oblivious.  (Aside: to my recently married former roommate and best friend who still shares my pre-children-ian orderly fantasy of the suite we lived in with the shoes in rows on mats in the entrance hall…Buddy, I’m over it.)

I boiled some water for hot chocolate and instant porridge from the variety pack with those single serving packages that you have to eat two of (yes, like the ones when we were kids, only now they don’t have the raisin flavour???) and piled up some pillows on our bed (aka the big bed) to block the light from shining on my daughter still sleeping with her hands up over her head like Dada does.  I put my feet up, sipped some chocolate and opened another chapter of Leslie Anthony’s trip into the reminiscent.  A decade, or four, a generation and a lifetime apart, his introduction to skiing in eastern bliss echoes my childhood and scatters my premonitions and western righteousness (religion) that there is no place, no experience, like this place, this white winter wasteland-wonderland I have called home my entire life.  (That said Leslie, you still sound like one of those foreign bankers from Toronto sometimes so don’t think you’ve bridged the 4000km gap that makes everyone west of T.O. call themselves ‘Western Canada’ just by blowing some white fluffy memories our way, well at least not all together.)  There was a time before mountain bikes and even snowboards (yes there was generation-i) when the other seasons were simply the days between skiing and winter was the one place where there was no place I’d rather be and Leslie reminded me exactly where that is.

The truth be told, in not so many words, a decade later than Leslie and his childhood friends back east, somewhere between here and there, I laughed out loud and smiled like a kid reading his first time rope tow account.  I felt his rope tow yank my arm and conjured up images of the buckled grey suede glove protectors we wore over our mitts to save the palms and seams between the thumb and first finger from being torn off all together before the magical epiphany of calculating the coefficient formula of estimating rope speed and the grip tension necessary to avoid the obligatory burn and pursuing damage.  I felt it as the words passed through 35 years of skiing nostalgia and the memories of those first days came rushing back.

I flashed back to the place between here and there, south of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I joined a ski instructor for the first time in 1975 at Black Strap ‘Mountain’ (a 300 ft’ pile of cars covered with dirt…and naturally, snow) and suffered one run laps at -40 degrees (C or F doesn’t matter at -40) between warm up sessions and hot chocolate from those same rusty push button machines in the day lodge.  Growing up in Saskatoon, frozen eye lashes and the pure practiced knowledge of sticking my tongue to the metal zipper of my ski-do suit  (and the unforgiving knowledge of ripping it off that frozen zip leaving a patch of skin behind and a sore spot on my tongue that could no longer taste for days) were home to me, but sliding down the first hill I remember that I couldn’t see over by climbing a tree in my six years of knowing everything there was to know about the white frozen world would shape my life forever.

I laughed to myself on the Peak Chair opening day, holding my tea with frozen fingers on the 11 minute ride from Whistler to Blackcomb on the P2P, pulled Leslie’s book from my pack and it all came rushing back…just like the first time.  Things haven’t changed at all.  Thanks for the trip Leslie…


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