365 photos [162 - 168]

Tricky week, this one. Seen a lot of cool stuff whilst up the mountain, but never when I've had my camera handy. You'll have to make do with things from around the house until I'm brave/stupid enough to take my extremely expensive, extremely non-waterproof camera skiing with me.


Rent money. There's something quite nice about being back in a country where the queen's head is printed on banknotes. Thanks for that, imperialism.


I got back from work one evening to find a Domino's delivery car parked upside down just outside my house. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to photograph the scene until it had been flipped back over and driven off. I did get some free pizza (with superficial inversion damage) for helping out though.


Mum sent me a postcard to test whether my address would be safe to send Christmas presents to.


Like I said, tricky week.


Waiting for the bus in the snow. I really like how everything appears black-and-white except the bus shelter, Pleasantville style.


Some people like to adorn their skis and snowboards with stickers of their favourite brands or musicians. Me? I'm just proud to be working in a deli.


I feel slightly bad about posting this because I'm sure some people are quite upset about it, but I think it's absolutely hilarious. This article from The Whistler Question - published just a few days ago - announces the installation of a century-old antique canoe in Whistler Public Library. In the article, the canoe is described as being "absolutely gorgeous", "beautifully restored", "such a beautiful and important artifact", an "exciting display", "not just any old canoe" and "perhaps the most significant artifact acquisition the museum has made in many years". The canoe was hung proudly from the ceiling of the library by a series of ropes for the public to enjoy in all its glory. I think you know where I'm going with this. By some wonderful coincidence, my friend Dan happened to be visiting the library at the time of the falling, and he described the noise of historic Peterborough cedar-strip canoe meeting hard ground as being "so loud". Hilarious.

Skigress: Episode two

My first week on the mountain was always going to be interesting. Perched uncomfortably inside a packed gondola cabin on Whistler mountain's opening day, my head was swimming with a cocktail of different emotions. Excitement, apprehension, fear, awe, more excitement. How would I cope with skiing after almost ten years? Would I need to take lessons? Does my travel insurance cover skiing? Was it sensible for me to have accepted a job that specifically required me to be a strong skier? Would I even enjoy skiing?

After twenty minutes of floating upwards through increasingly beautiful alpine scenery, we reached the top. I waddled out of the station and stepped onto Whistler's powdery snow for the first time. I took a second to admire my surroundings, flopped my skis to the ground, clipped my boots into their bindings (it took me several clumsy stamping motions to achieve this, immediately establishing myself as a beginner to everyone around me) and began shuffling towards the crest of the worryingly steep hill, supposedly the easiest one open.

I stood there for a minute or two, watching the flocks of excitable skiers and boarders drop into the run for their first rides of the season. As I watched, I tried to learn from them, but they were all so good. The trouble with skiing this early in the season is that everyone on the mountain is a local, and therefore really bloody good. The tourist newbies don't start appearing until December.

Eventually I got tired of standing around, crossed my fingers (not literally because I was wearing thick snow gloves at the time and didn't have the required dexterity), shifted my weight forward and began sliding downhill. All I can say is this: muscle memory is an amazing thing. After a few seconds of uncontrolled acceleration, my instinct kicked in and I snowplough-turned left to slow back down to a more controlled pace. "More" is the crucial word here, because my first run could be described as anything but controlled in the absolute sense. Despite my body somehow remembering how it all worked, this was still far from a "duck taking to water" scenario. Unless the duck in question had a tenancy to accidentally swim backwards after a particularly aggressive turn resulting in a hard fall with one ski still attached, one ski five metres uphill.

The accidentally skiing backwards incident was probably the most dramatic thing to happen to me on my first day skiing Whistler, so as I stepped back onto the gondola at lunch time, I felt pretty good. Although I had serious control issues on the steeper sections, I had succeeded in not hospitalising myself or others, and I hadn't forgotten how to ski. There was something to work on.

And "working on it" became the central theme of the remainder of the week. On day two, I met up with my housemate and ski wizard, Jun, who taught me how to parallel turn. Previously I'd only been able to snowplough turn, which is a more weak, inefficient and injury prone technique. Only beginners ski in snowplough, so as I began to get the hang of parallel, I felt my rank proudly elevate from "complete novice" to "novice".

Day three was spent practising my parallel turns. As I gained confidence, my speed increased and I bailed less frequently and catastrophically. Runs that seemed challenging just days before became less and less of a problem.

Day four was Blackcomb mountain's official opening day. I divided my time equally between both mountains (with the help of Peak 2 Peak, oh my god) and I attempted my first blue run. My first purposeful blue run, that is. On day two I'd accidentally strayed onto one and had a horrible time. It happened because my orange-tinted ski goggles couldn't distinguish between the green and blue colours on the sign. Note that blue runs are generally a bit harder in North America than in Europe, because here they don't have the red classification between blue (intermediate) and black (advanced) runs.

I spent day five back on Whistler, exploring a range of different runs, mostly blue. It was the first day of skiing where I didn't fall over once and my confidence really benefited from this. I also felt noticeably less tired by the end of the session, a sign of my technique and fitness improving.

This concludes Skigress for today. In future updates, I won't go into as much detail as I have here, but felt it was important for the first week. I should probably also mention that I've had SUCH an awesome time this week and feel very lucky to have another 22 ahead of me.

Thanks for reading!

Extension?

I've been thinking recently about the possibility of extending my trip, most likely by an additional six to twelve months in either Australia or New Zealand or both. While you drain the tea from your chin and keyboard, let me try to explain some of the advantages of a possible extension:
  • It would mean I could spend more quality time in a part of the world I was never truly content with visiting for just a couple of weeks, as previously planned.
  • Let's face it, the money I earn in Canada probably isn't going to get me round the rest of the world, as previously planned. A financial boost (especially in Australia, where wages are very high) might be useful to properly enjoy the remainder of my trip across Asia and Europe. 
  • I'm having the time of my life travelling, so why stop now?
On the other hand, there are a few disadvantages:
  • I'd be away from my friends and family for longer.
  • I wouldn't be back in England in time for the Olympics. My dad has tickets and I was quite looking forward to going.
  • Some friends I was intending to visit around the world won't still be in their respective countries by the time I finally pass through. For example, Mike will have left China and the Serbians will have left Serbia.
  • It would completely ruin the whole "One Year Away" and "365 photos" things.
So with all that considered, should I extend my trip? I don't know, so I've opened the question up to public vote, the result of which I promise to honour*. You can vote to the right of this post, underneath the blog archive.

Now's your chance to influence my trip in a genuine, positive way. Been to one of the countries and loved it? Vote! Visited neither country but heard something nice said about one of them? Vote! Not clear on the difference between Australia and Austria? Wondering why Old Zealand isn't being considered? Still vote! That's how democracy works.

* I reserve the right to manipulate the results of the poll to produce an outcome I'm happy with.

365 photos [155 - 161]

It's been an awesome week. Sadly, I'm far too busy to spend any time writing about it. Equally, I don't want to delay publishing because that would just create a daunting backlog of photos. I'm not proud of this post, but it gets the job done. Better photos, Skigress and a piece of exciting news to follow.


I collected my season pass on Sunday. This little rectangle would normally cost $2000, but I got it for free by volunteering on the mountain. Ker-CHING! I admit the photo is laughably bad. Bad both because it's unflattering, and because I'm not doing anything awesome like holding a live dog up to the camera as one of my workmates did in a recent silly ski pass photo contest.


It snowed heavily this week prompting one driver to attach a massive red snowplough to his vehicle and drive around like he owned the place.


The base of Whister looking ripe for skiing. For comparison, please refer to: last week, last month.


I bought a pair of ski boots on Wednesday for $360. Here they are in their natural environment.


I'm going to be straight with you: this photo is just a filler.


Whistler mountain opened on Friday and I went skiing for the first time in nine years. It was fantastic. I didn't dare take my camera up with me, so you can have a picture of my road instead.


A bit of déjà vu to finish off...

My ex-alarm clock. I was scheduled to work at 7:30am 12:45pm on Thursday Saturday which meant I had to be awake at 6:45am 11:30am. I set my alarm accordingly and went to sleep. It woke me up at the correct time but I was drowsy and played that dangerous game where you go back to sleep and hope to god your body realises it really ought to wake up again soon. I woke up over an hour later at 7:48am 12:50pm. I swore a lot, put on some wrinkled clothes I found on the floor and literally sprinted got the bus to work where my boss shouted at me and made me buy a proper alarm clock suggested that working until 7am at McDonald's before a 12:45pm shift at IGA is an example of poor time management.

365 photos [148 - 154]

Week four was a transition week. I quit one job, began working another, and made formal arrangements for a third. I also finished compiling the various bits of ski gear necessary to hit the mountain (metaphorically) as soon as it opens to the public, supposedly later this week. It's an exciting time.


I started my new job at IGA on Sunday. I really like it. It's better than McDonald's in almost every way. It's far more relaxed, the hours are nicer, I'm paid 50¢ more per hour, the free food is tastier and less life-shortening, and I don't have to keep telling people I work at McDonald's. One small gripe I have is with the uniform. There is something about the material used in the trousers that generates huge voltages of static electricity when rubbed together, for example when walking. This means that every few minutes I do a special deal whereby each bag of sliced meat comes free with a powerful electrical charge administered directly into the customer's hand. I've actually had comments about this.


Ilanaaq the Inuksuk one snowy night.


I formally accepted my volunteering job with Whistler Blackcomb on Tuesday. To do this, I had to arrive at "The Cabin" with certain bits of paperwork. "The Cabin" is the name of an administration building I assumed would be somewhere at the base of Blackcomb, but which turned out to be several hundred metres up the (slippery) mountain, usually accessible from the chairlift that wasn't working. A bit of an adventure in work shoes!


I arrived at work on Wednesday with my mind elsewhere. I dumped all my stuff in my locker and clicked the padlock shut. I realised my mistake immediately. I stood up, frisked my pockets and felt nothing. Fuck. I kicked my locker hard in frustration.

As you can see, this wasn't the first time I've locked my key inside a locker during this trip. The first time was in Washington DC shortly after arriving at the hostel. On that occasion, I had to go downstairs with my tail between my legs and ask the attractive receptionist for a bolt cutter to retrieve my stuff. That was only marginally less embarrassing than having to confront my new boss this week with the same idiotic request. Who will I humiliate myself in front of next? Place your bets now.


Thursday was one of my last shifts at McDonald's, having handed in my notice the day before. About halfway through the shift, someone ordered a grilled chicken snack wrap. I assembled the various ingredients before grabbing a portion of grilled chicken from the heated tray. I looked down at the grilled chicken. The grilled chicken was Africa.


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to my landlady I was looking to buy a pair of skis. She suggested I spoke to her son, Yosuke, who owns a ski shop in town. I met up with Yosuke who, somewhere along the line, mentioned he was having problems with the store's website. His previous "web guy" had left the business and subsequently got into a car crash and almost died. He's still in recovery having been in a coma for several weeks and is generally being unhelpful when it comes to responding to emails/physical stimuli. Anyway, we ended up striking an amazing deal whereby I agree to help maintain the website in return for some free skis and poles. I collected them on Friday. The poles (worth $50) are brand new while the skis (worth $1300!!!!) are used but still in great condition. I don't know much about skis but I've been told by several independent sources they are one sweet pair. I'm a lucky boy!


It hardly snowed at all this week but the base of Whistler mountain certainly looks whiter than it did three weeks ago.

365 photos [141- 147]

Shoulder season, the quiet bit between summer and winter, is officially over. Young people from all across the world (read: Australia) are flocking into town to search for jobs as the snow clouds float further and further down the mountain, whitening everything in their path. Rumours are spreading that the mountain might even open several weeks early, as it has done in previous years when snowfall has permitted it, which is really awesome.


On Sunday I played Age of Empires online with a couple of mates from uni. Mike lives in Hong Kong and James in France so timing was a pretty big issue. We ended up playing at 8am my time, 11pm Mike's time. The picture shows Mike breaching my town wall after an epic stand-off just outside which flattened my entire army of jaguar warriors. At this point I gave up all hope and began executing the usual "sore loser routine" of scattering villagers into the forest to needlessly prolong my inevitable defeat.


The beautiful Green Lake on a Monday afternoon.


Monday night was Halloween and my first night shift at McDonalds. It was absolutely mental. Each bar closure prompted a fresh wave of costume-wearing drunks to descend upon the restaurant, hungry for burgers and fighting in equal measure. By 4am - the end of my shift - I was literally hallucinating from exhaustion. To make things (considerably) worse, the buses didn't start running again until 6am. I refused to pay for a taxi on the grounds it would cost a significant fraction of my earnings for that night, so I decided to walk it instead. I stuck to the highway to maximise my chance of hitching a ride, but after 4am the only vehicles on the road seemed to be police cars and taxis, neither of which are known to give free rides. After about fifty minutes of walking, someone was finally awesome enough to scoop me up and deposit me to my home in Alpine Meadows where I slipped into bed and out of consciousness.


These signs are dotted around Whistler to remind the public that cyclists should yield to pedestrians, and that everyone should yield to bears. I don't know about you, but I don't need a sign to tell me to yield to bears because my natural instinct upon seeing one ahead is not to barge past it. "Scuse me mate."


I wonder how many people are seriously injured every year taking photos like this.


Friday was the first day of the Whistler Blackcomb jobs fair. Jobs with Whistler Blackcomb - the company that owns the resort - are popular because they all come with a free season pass (value: $1729 + tax). I arrived early to apply for a volunteering position which, while unpaid, would still entitle me to the pass. Dishearteningly, a crowd of approximately sixty billion had also arrived early for the exact same reason. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up getting the job! I'll be working once a week at the race centre on Blackcomb mountain, helping the events team set up fences, maintain the course, say "3.. 2.. 1.. GO!!!" and other similar duties. The slight catch is that I might have slightly exaggerated my previous skiing experience in the interview, so I need to seriously shape up before the test (alas, there is a test) on December 5th. Should be okay though...


A massive dried squid, just one of the crazy food items my housemate received in a recent care package from Japan.

Skigress: Episode one

I've decided to introduce a new fortnightly feature to this blog called "Skigress", which is an extremely clever combination of the two words "ski" and "progress". The idea will be to track my progress from beginner to Olympian over the course of the ski season, which runs from late-November until whenever the snow melts, usually April some time. During this time, I intend to ski three or four times a week, so by the end of it I should either be really good, or really paralysed from the waist down. I'll talk about different techniques I've learned, different runs I've attempted and different people I've collided with. In today's special first edition of Skigress, I'll talk about my past experience of skiing.

"Oh god oh god oh god oh god"
My first exposure to the world of skiing was during my primary school years when my parents bought an expensive new computer which had SkiFree preloaded on it. The point of SkiFree was simple: to make it down an endless slope without hitting any rocks or trees or snowboarders. When you reached the end of the course, you were given a score before being inexplicably chased down by a grey monster who appeared out of nowhere. Play continued for as long as you could evade him, which wasn't usually very long because the second you slipped up, he would capitalise on your mistake and gobble you up whole. If, by some miracle, you managed to hold him off for sufficiently long, a second identical grey monster appeared from the other direction at which point you were really screwed. I was happy to discover SkiFree has amassed something of a cult following.

Saas-Fee
My second, slightly more tangible experience of skiing was during a 2001 family holiday to Saas-Fee in Switzerland. I was only eleven at the time so my memory is a little patchy, but I do recall it being brilliant fun. One memory that sticks out is falling off the ski lift with my cousin, Alex, and pissing around in the snow as we waited to be rescued by our ski instructor. Another is the memory of my other cousin, Emma, absolutely bombing it down a packed green run having forgotten how to slow down or steer, somehow avoiding devastating collisions with everyone she passed like a comet in a playground.

Engelberg, pre-head injury
I don't remember much about my next skiing trip either, but for a different reason. It took place during another family holiday to Engelberg, Switzerland in 2003. Towards the end of the holiday was my fourteenth birthday, an occasion I marked by steering directly into the course of another skier at high speed, rebounding hard off her shoulder and smashing my unprotected skull against the concrete-like snow. I remember neither the crash itself nor the rest of the run, which apparently I managed to complete just fine.

Engelberg, post-head injury
My next memory was drinking coke from a glass bottle opposite my dad in a cafe on the top of the mountain, crying a bit. It was such a bizarre feeling. He was asking me basic maths questions to test my mental ability, which I was fully able to comprehend, but had no idea how to answer. I tried and tried, but it was as though the section of my brain that dealt with arithmetic had shut down in protest. I just couldn't remember how it worked. Fortunately, the lost knowledge returned in time for me to complete a mathematics degree eight years later as originally planned.

Cheeky aquatic salute
I haven't touched a pair of skis once since Engelberg, unless by some technicality you count waterskiing, which I was lucky enough to try this summer in Long Lake. I'd love to imagine skiing and waterskiing require some of the same skills, because I was actually quite good at waterskiing. I "got up" on my third attempt and managed to stay up for a good couple of minutes. A very poor performance in certain other contexts, but apparently quite impressive for a first-time waterskier. Again, it was brilliant fun and I'd thoroughly recommend giving it a go if you're ever presented with the opportunity.

So that's pretty much the extent of my skiing experience to date. Skigress will return at some unspecified point in the future after the mountain has opened and I've had a chance to attach fibreglass planks to my feet and use them to slide downhill repeatedly. See you then!