Why everyone in Whistler should be a trained medical professional

Back in the real world, if someone had an injury it was quite the talking point. How did it happen? How soon can you expect it to heal? You’ll be much more careful next time, won’t you?

In Whistler, it’s more of a talking point if you can wake up pain-free. Maybe you’re not pushing hard enough on the snowboard? Have you tried mountain biking yet? Does your medical insurance cover flights if you have to go home for surgery?

As well as being a town-sized playground, Whistler is something of a fully functioning medical ward. Everyone limps, everyone knows what it means to ‘do an ACL’ and everyone holds the same fears of taking their next injury a little too far and being out of work.

An arm in a sling is to be expected. Moon boots are common and the buses are full of people on crutches.

My flatmate is currently alternating ice packs between an ankle and a hip while taking Ibuprofen for muscle pains from a few big falls in the park.

My own injuries have been mercifully limited to a sprained ankle, a chunk of flesh missing from my finger, a pinched nerve, and a constant constellation of bruises. That said, it’s only a matter of pure luck that I don’t have two broken legs after recently falling off a large boulder onto a layer of snow that disguised a collection of jagged rocks.

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A little swollen – don’t drink and run kids.

Not long after I arrived in Whistler, I was biking along a trail when a woman buzzed past me on a bike. The ground was wet and slippery so I was taking it pretty slow, which is how I managed to stop in time before running her over after she crash landed. As well as grazes and bruises, she was winded and extremely disoriented. I sat with her, found some tissues in my bag for the cuts, and essentially just waited until a better adult showed up to help her.

A week ago, I was working in my room when I could hear the sounds of a man screaming. I went outside to find a young guy lying on the path that crosses behind our house. His arm was visibly broken, he was bleeding from the head and swearing like how I assume drunken sailors swear. He had hit a small rock on his skateboard and found himself at an abrupt stop on an unforgiving ground. This time, I brought a pillow, ice, and tissue paper again for the blood. We started asking him questions as we waited for the ambulance – where did he live? Could we call his flatmates? He had no answers. It was the first time I’ve seen someone with a concussion and it was a reality check to see his fear as he couldn’t remember where he lived or who he lived with. The next day, when he showed up on my doorstep with an arm in a cast and stitches in his head, I was amazed he could remember where I lived – then he asked me to show him where he fell because he had no memory of it at all.

When I told him that he’d made me rethink my intention of learning to skate this summer, his response was quick and adamant: “No way, you’ve got to try it, it hasn’t put me off at all – I’m already back on the board!”

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How to learn a mountain: 5 tips

The Whistler ski resort is actually comprised of two mountains; Whistler, and Blackcomb. Or officially, like an indecisive couple when they get married, Whistler-Blackcomb.

These mountains stand side by side, only connected at the base and via the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which is both the highest and longest lift in the world, spanning 4.4 kilometres (of which the middle three are unsupported – another world record).

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The view from the Peak 2 Peak

With the powers of Whistler and Blackcomb combined, it is, of course, the largest ski area in North America. And it takes a lot of learning.

Nearing the end of my first season, I’m still discovering new trails every day. There are 200 official ones, as well as literally countless others criss-crossing the massive 8,171 acres of mountain terrain. There are even three glaciers. I’ve seen one so far.

I’ve started picking up a few tips and tricks on how to learn my way around, as follows:

1. Fall over lots

 A quick ride down can be great fun, but can you really remember how you found that cute little tree glade? Did you catch where you had to turn off to access that secret powder trap?

The trick is to fall over lots. This way, you get plenty of time to stop and appreciate your surroundings as you dig the snow out of your pockets, mentally check if all your body parts are still intact, and look to see if your board is still attached to your feet. For even more time, fall over in waist-deep powder – you’ll be stuck a while digging yourself out so you may as well appreciate the view while you’re at it.

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Powder like this is ideal for falling in.

2. Follow strangers

It’s like a lucky dip for snow – what might you get? Will it be rubbish? Is it something you already have? Will you discover your new favourite thing ever?

For best results, don’t follow the ski schools (they will usually take you to more popular spots), don’t follow the guys in spandex tights (they are way too professional), and do follow the dirtiest, smelliest looking 20-somethings you can find (they tend to be the locals who know the mountain like they designed it themselves).

3. Get lost

With the wise advice of always ‘aiming downhill’, you know you can’t really go too wrong. The trick is to start at the top, then keep going. It’s a complicated one, but the more you just take random trails, the more you will find before you get back to the bottom.

For best results, mix with tip one. Rinse and repeat.

4. Con your really good friends into showing you around

You’re going to have to lie to your mates, but it’s totally worth it. Tell them you’re really getting good at this snow thing, and that you need them to show you to newer, harder parts of the mountain.

By the time they take you up and realise that you might not be all that up for it after all, they will be obliged to stick with you and show you the way out anyway. Fortunately, you can repeat this process as often as you can afford to buy them a few beers as thanks/apologies.

5. Let your stomach guide you

Snowsports are hard. Snowboarding is essentially one long squat and the act of falling over then pushing yourself up with your arms does wonders for the biceps. It will take approximately 1.5 runs before your stomach tells you it’s time for hot chocolate, poutine, and waffles.

There are 17 restaurants across the two mountains, and there’s nothing wrong with attempting to visit all of them in a day. Like a pub crawl. But with food.

Only – you have to figure out how to get to each one. Good luck with that.

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Hot chocolate is life.

On being a traveller from Christchurch

Five years ago, I quickly learned not to tell people I was from Christchurch while travelling unless I could help it. I’d left New Zealand a few months after the devastating quake and most of the places we travelled to had seen a few newsworthy minutes of my home town in ruins.

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The little building attached on the left is the Cathedral Cafe – my first ever job!

Not that I mind people knowing where I’m from, it’s the combined reaction of pity and black intrigue that gets me.

You either get blunt pity, which is entirely well-intentioned and appreciated, but totally uncalled for. I, like the majority of people in the city, had zero lasting problems after the quakes other than being a bit jumpier than usual and a having penchant for harbouring spare water bottles whenever possible.

The intrigue comes in with people wanting to know what it’s like being in an earthquake. The closest thing I can compare it to is severe flight turbulence. It’s as much about the moving and shaking of everything you trust to be so safe and solid, as it is about the overriding knowledge that there is absolutely nowhere to run and nothing you can do about it – which is actually a lot scarier than the shaking itself. That, plus the sound of standing between two trains passing in opposite directions. Earthquakes are loud.

But honestly, this is one item you can remove from your bucket list.

There were a few times when I was working weekends in retail after the quakes that city visitors would come in on Saturday talking about how they wanted to experience their first earthquake, only to have their dream come true that night and return the next day itching to get out of Christchurch again.

That said, you sometimes come across people who are about to visit the city. Once, in a store, the lady said she was attending a wedding in Christchurch in a couple of months, and was absolutely terrified about it. I don’t think our insistence that it was absolutely fine did much good.

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A standard CBD street. Most people are surprised at how bad the city is.

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake (and strangely enough, the first time I’ll actually be home for it), and the world still hasn’t quite forgotten about it.

Last week, a lady heard I was from Christchurch and said, “Oh, you had a big earthquake there a year ago right? Maybe two?”

Occasionally, you find someone who has been to the city since the quakes hit. The sadness at the sight of a broken city is just as bad as the pity. But they don’t see what I see. I see the coolest new little city on the planet. Everything is new. City planners and architects have been let loose, and while the destruction is still obvious, the CBD is covered with new growth like Hagley Park in Spring. Buds of buildings and layers of fresh paint are cropping up everywhere with the bright container mall at the epicentre. The people are positive, bars and restaurants are opening at an impressive rate, and families are moving back home in droves.

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The shipping container mall – a bright lil spark in a lot of nothingness.

More than anything else, I’m proud to say I’m from Christchurch. From the mainland. If people have visited New Zealand, many have only ever been to the North Island. They don’t know what they’re missing – earthquakes and all.

 

 

 

 

Choose your poison

There are five rows of cocaine on the counter and six people jammed into the tiny bathroom.

A couple of guys take turns at pissing in the toilet in the corner as another cuts neat little matchsticks of sparkly white powder next to the sink.

I’m standing half-in, half-out of the shower, making casual conversation as each person steps up to snort their line through a rolled up $20.

The fact that I seem to be the only person in Whistler who has never done cocaine is becoming something of a talking point. Almost like when someone announces that they have never watched a Harry Potter film. Almost.

It’s as ubiquitous here as the white stuff falling from the sky and is cause for celebration just as much as a powder day on the mountain.

Nobody really bothers much to try to hide it.

Then there’s the pills and the constant stink of weed. I can’t say exactly what the pills are, and it seems as though those taking them don’t often know either. You’ll get a whiff of a joint while you’re snowboarding down the mountain and take a quick look into the trees to see if anyone has lit up amongst the snowbanks – if not, they’re probably above you on a lift.

Marijuana is technically also illegal, although Canada may be the first country in the world to legalise it across the board. Some people here enjoy their weed like I enjoy my coffee: daily, first thing in the morning, and often as the only reason to get out of bed.

My vices are simple. Excessive levels of red wine, vodka mixed with whatever’s going, the odd cider, and regular shots of fireball to keep my insides all snug and warm with their own little log fire in my belly. My vices make me quite the Whistler nana.

Sorry mum.

 

 

Whistler Wonderland

It falls in curtains. It is relentless. It’s the softest, most delicate phenomenon that sets the world aglitter at the first hint of sunrise and and has the power to turn striking golden sunsets to a pale palette of blues and whites.

I’ve taken to staring out windows. I could do it for hours. I do do it for hours. I watch as it piles a foot deep without even trying, as it builds up on powerlines and in trees until a single, perfect snowflake sets off some unspoken natural balance and causes a mini avalanche to tumble to the ground below.

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Today I watched as my neighbour performed a perfect controlled drift into his carpark. I thought he was going to drive straight into the hedge. I think he may have done it a few times before.

This amount of snow back home would shut the city down. Here, the kids still walk home from school, the buses still run, and the shops offer free hot chocolates.

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Winter is well and truly here.

I thought it would be strange seeing Christmas lights and trees amongst towering walls of snow, but if feels like the most normal thing in the world. I put up a little Christmas tree in my lounge and spent a while staring at it, wondering where it will be next year. I will admit that I’m missing buckets of strawberries and blueberries in December, but the exorbitant price of such treats might just be worth it come Christmas day.

Most days, I wake up early and look out the window. If I can see the ski field (as in, it’s not too murky) and I don’t have any deadlines that day, I’ll go up the mountain. If it’s too murky, if I have work on, or if I just can’t be bothered, I go back to sleep. Sometimes I’ll wake up later and go up for a few runs anyway – the gondola is exactly a 35-minute walk from my doorstep.

I’m riding better than I ever have and am starting to learn how to do little jumps. I know I’m not trying hard enough or going high enough because I haven’t yet had any big falls.

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I’m as obsessed with the snow today as I have ever been. On sunny, warm days, people will tell you what a lovely day it is, and that you simply must go outside and enjoy it. No – this, this, is a lovely day.

Nobody spends hours staring out the window at sunshine.

The truth about freelancing

A year ago, I was in a middle management position in a good company with seven staff under me on my own team. I managed a third of the company’s clients on the editorial side, wrote for arguably the single most prestigious of the company’s accounts, and had a huge amount of creative control over all of it.

But I hated it. Every second. I loved the work and the people, but to explain without too much detail, the place was described by a coworker as a tree that looked evergreen and healthy on top – but with dead roots underground. Like a crumbling, rotted fence held together with a fresh coat of paint. To me, I thought of it as like the person who tells you that Santa isn’t real. While this harsh reality is an unwelcome lesson, it is a necessary one, and I will always be somewhat bitter about learning it, despite knowing what it has done for me.

I quit twice.

The first time they talked me around, even though I had a fantastic job lined up elsewhere. The second time I walked out with nothing to go to, but left feeling happier and lighter than I had in a year.

Within a few months, I was doing freelance work for a couple of contacts I had made during my time in the rotten tree. It was initially just a way to tide me over until I found something more permanent, until it became my new permanent.

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Some rather accurate graffiti I found here in Whistler

Freelancing has allowed me to move to what I consider the best place in the world. It lets me pick my own hours, my own projects, and my own workplace. The last half dozen people I have explained my job to have only half-jokingly asked if they could do it, too. Some friends have asked about freelancing in earnest, and another has just recently joined the ranks of the several I now know who are at it as well.

It’s a funny thing, freelancing. There is the constant fear of not getting enough work in the ebb and flow of projects that can disappear at a moment’s notice or crash over you out of nowhere. That fear only goes away when you’re afraid that you’ve accepted too much. You lose your holiday pay, your public holidays, your sick pay, your awful instant company coffee and your Christmas parties.

You suddenly have to learn how to argue that you’re worth an hourly rate that you choose. You suddenly have to figure out tax.

You never feel like you’ve done quite enough for the day, no matter how much you do. You always feel like you’re going to wake up to an email calling you out for being a fraud.

“Respondents also admitted to eating more food, spending more on office expenses, being unable to relax at home after work and struggling to muster enough self-motivation to do a decent job.” – ABS report on working from home

You deal with the constant belief from friends, strangers, and well-intentioned by-standers that you don’t actually do any work at all. You deal with the disbelief that anyone could successfully work for themselves at 25 (baby boomers, I’m looking at you).

You work in your pjamas and take a day off on a Thursday just because you feel like it, only to have to catch up on a Saturday. The excitement of a Friday at 5pm no longer means much to you.

You work past midnight – then sleep past noon.

You wonder if you will ever be able to go back to a normal job. You doubt it.

Make a Whis

I once heard a theory suggesting that time feels like it passes more quickly as you get older because you run out of milestones to mark it by.

When you’re little, you’ve constantly got new things to experience and learn, and therefore have points scattered about like footsteps on the sand to mark your progress. You can look back and see how far you’ve come and remember how much time it took you to get there.

Once you’ve finished your education and got a job, you quickly run out of markers. Suddenly time drips by and oozes through the cracks under doors like the clocks in a Dali painting.

Somehow, a month has passed since I’ve been in Whistler, and I’m checking the doors for leaks.

I’ve set myself up with the basic trappings of a normal-ish life. I have a one-bedroom apartment for the winter. I own a couch, a tennis racquet, a picnic blanket and baking supplies.

I’ve learned that Whistler was named after the sound of the mountain – not the whistling of the wind, but the whistling of the innumerable marmots that call it home. I’ve even met a marmot.

The original whistler, a marmot
The original whistler, a marmot

I spent three weeks waiting for my first bear sighting then saw four within three days. I’ve discovered that cornflour is cornstarch, porridge is oatmeal, and decent coffee has no name because it simply doesn’t exist.

I’m covered in half faded bruises from paintballing, scrapes from climbing over an old train wreck, aches from continuous exercise and am even missing a chunk from my shin from losing a fight with a couch.

Surreal day exploring an old train wreck
Surreal day exploring an old train wreck

Sleep feels like a waste of time when there’s so many things to do. Many of my sentences begin with “I should” and end with planning some adventure here in the village, somewhere in British Columbia, or somewhere further afield. I have a friend who has lived here for five years and is still discovering new hiking tracks and adventures. I have another friend who has worked as a ski and snowboard instructor for a decade and has still not ridden all the named trails on the mountains – let alone the unnamed ones.

I’m getting used to the way of life here in a way that’s making time squeeze past without me noticing it anymore. I’m getting used to the tipping systems, the labyrinthine layout of the village, the possibility of bears knocking on my door for food scraps, the Canadian obsession with plaid, and the inevitable giggles and/or confusion that follow whenever I use words with e’s in them.

Though I still doubt I’ll ever get used to the squirrels.