365 photos [225 - 231]

I've been living in Whistler for over three months now, about 1% of my total life. It's been a good percent.


Icicles: beautiful skull-magnets waiting to dislodge from their dwellings at the first sign of human activity below.


It snowed an awful lot this week, but the buses ran as normal. I could make some comment about England and snow and public transport, but I think that's been done enough already.


The IGA parking lot mid-snow storm, quite a big difference from before.


Kaori and I spent one snowy afternoon building a ramp and kicker in our front garden. Here she is catching some fat air.


When I worked at McDonald's, I could never understand why Junior Chickens and McDoubles were so damn popular. "Why not just order a McChicken or a Double Cheeseburger instead? They're basically the same thing" I would curse as another sixty appeared on my screen. Well, it turns out the reason they're so popular is because they're so cheap: $3.11 (£2) for the pair. A lunch (if you can call it that (I do)) this affordable in Whistler is completely unheard of. Sorry arteries, but my wallet has to come first.


My first attempt at a 180. As you can see, it went pretty well. The "laying on the ground with one ski missing" thing could probably use some work, but otherwise, a good start.


I just finished Cloud Atlas, an amazing novel recommended to me by a guy I met in the line for breakfast at my hostel in San Francisco. To call it "the best book I've ever read" would only demonstrate how embarrassingly few books I've read, but I'm going to do it anyway. Cloud Atlas is the best book I've ever read.

"Don't be afraid to go north"

Sat on the almost-empty bus from Vancouver to Whistler three months ago, I got talking to the man in the seat behind me. He was a resident of Pemberton - a village just north of Whistler - and had been for many years. I was nervous about what Whistler had in store for me (I was jobless and penniless at the time, you'll remember) and asked if he had any advice for a young foreigner hoping to spend his first season there. He offered me two pearls:
  1. Always wear a helmet.
  2. Don't be afraid to go north.
I've stuck to the first piece of advice very faithfully. Fortunate really, because I've landed on my head more times than I can count. That's just a figure of speech; I could count the times if I wanted to, precisely because I was wearing a helmet.

The second piece I've ignored. The furthest I've ventured from Whistler village since October was Squampton, and that was 45 minutes south. I've kept it in the back of my mind, though, and ever since the collapse of Coachella, the idea of doing some epic Canadian roadtrip before I fly to New Zealand has really gained momentum. Don't be afraid to go north, Simon. North.

In the end I decided on Alaska.

Anchorage (the capital city of Alaska EDIT: nope, that's Juneau) is about 2100 miles from Whistler, and, according to Google Maps, a solid 46 hour drive. That's probably slightly further north than the man in the seat behind me had in mind. Civilisation thins out the further north you go, so unless I can find a travelmate (anyone?), the trip has the potential to be quite solitary, though I'm still certain to meet people along the way.

As far as transport is concerned, I'd originally considered renting a car, but the costs involved (and the fact that the last time I drove was into the test centre) rendered the idea infeasible. Instead, I will take a series of buses north, and a ferry south.

Nothing about Alaska is certain or fixed at the moment. I haven't booked anything and won't until much closer to the time. "The time" is another uncertainty, given I don't have a fixed date for leaving Canada nor arriving in New Zealand. It's all very vague, but it's going to happen.

Skigress: Episode five

"ANOTHER SKIGRESS?!" I hear you shriek as loud as your vocal chords will allow. "But the last episode was only three days ago! Are you off your fucking rocker?!" Hey! That's quite enough of that. This blog is supposed to be family friendly. I said I'd update whenever I had something to talk about and today I do, okay? Now, if you'll permit me, I'm going to start the post. Some people.

Yesterday I went powder skiing for the first time. If you don't know what powder skiing is, it's basically regular skiing but in deep, fluffy snow instead of compact, grippy snow. The distinction is probably clearest with the help of some pictures I don't own the copyright to.


There's an entire skiing subculture centred around powder skiing and the hunt for the freshest, deepest, most pristine powder. "Powderheads", as they are known, are more than happy to part with thousands of dollars for a couple of hours on the good stuff. About time I learned what all the fuss was about, then.

So early yesterday morning, after a twenty centimetre snow dump atop the day before's fifteen, I skied to Harmony for that very purpose. Harmony is an area in the high alpine of Whistler famed for its abundance of powder. It's serviced by one of three lifts (Harmony, Symphony and Peak) that routinely opens late on days with fresh snowfall to allow time for avalanche control, so arriving as early as I did was a bit of a gamble, but a gamble that ended up paying off. I only had to wait twenty minutes before being loaded onto one of the first chairs of the day. When I reached the top, I traversed harmony ridge until I found a suitably untouched meadow of deep powder downhill to my left, which I steered into.

What was it like? Amazing! The whole experience was completely silent, no crunching or scraping. Fluff lapped at my waist. The sensation of travelling so fast without solid ground beneath my feet felt as close to flying as I can imagine. Straight lining was easy, but turning was a huge challenge. Powder skiing requires a completely different technique from regular skiing where you're always told to avoid leaning backwards. Powder demands that you constantly lean backwards to stay afloat, which I really struggled with. I bailed on almost every turn I made. Of course, bailing was almost as fun as skiing, like swimming in an ocean of cotton wool.

There was one point where the terrain suddenly got really steep, and when I fell, I didn't stop falling. I was tumbling head over heels, skis still attached, surfing the mini avalanche I had unintentionally created. This went on for perhaps fifty metres and I was laughing the whole way down. The thought that I might be heading towards a tree hit me milliseconds before the tree did. Immediately I tasted blood. The irrational side of me panicked, while the rational side set about determining which part of my completely numb face had been injured. I dabbed my lip/nose against my yellow ski jacket, revealing nothing, then removed my goggles to inspect my reflection, also revealing nothing. Nothing too serious, I reasoned, and started laughing again. I untangled myself from the tree and made it down the rest of the powdery hill without another such incident.

Great fun.

365 photos [218 - 224]

We're back on schedule, boys!


Blackcomb mountain, with ski runs carved into its surface like my cat carves bleeding lines into my skin.


If there's one skill I've really honed during my time in Whistler, it's estimating the weight of sliced meat. A customer will ask me for 200 grams of organic turkey breast and half the time I'll hit the bullseye on my first attempt, the other half I'll be at most 20 grams off. It would be a great party trick if only I attended more parties with large quantities of sliced meat and a retail-standard electronic scale.


When there's enough snow on the road, I'm able to ski directly from the bus stop to my front door without ruining my skis on the tarmac. It's wonderful.


I forget exactly when I was promoted from Simon to Classic Simon.


Sitting on Jersey Cream, a lift I'll typically ride six or seven times on any given Thursday as part of my mountain job. I know all the lifties by name.


A photograph I took especially for my friend Owen Johnston, whom I love dearly.


Aaaaaand we're back to the figurines.

Skigress: Episode four

It's been bloody ages since the last episode of Skigress. I can't be bothered with prose today so you're getting bullet points.
  • I've been skiing a fair amount, usually three or four times a week. There was a period over Christmas where I hardly skied at all because I was ill and the slopes were packed with rich American vacationers, but since then I've got back into a solid rhythm. Work begins at 1pm every day so each morning has ski potential. Typically, I'll catch the gondola at 9am, shred until about 11:30am, then defrost in McDonald's with a McDouble, a tea (usually one size larger than I paid for, staff loyalty there), and my Kindle. A lovely start to a working day.
  • I got over the "falling over for no discernible reason" problem I described last time. I think I know what the issue was, but it's far too dull to describe here.
  • Though it's hard to notice because of its gradual nature, my skiing has undoubtedly improved since my last update. Nowadays, I hardly ever wipe out unless something dramatic happens like a bird flies in my face. I completely dominate all blue and green runs. The majority of black runs I've attempted have been manageable, except for the really moguly ones. I've hardly been off-piste but plan to try that more often in the weeks and months to come.
  • I can switch to backwards skiing very easily and I can make basic turns in reverse with relative control. Switching back to forwards skiing is trickier, but I'm working on it.
  • I've started experimenting with jumps. Whistler Blackcomb is home to five different parks containing features of various difficulties ranging from Beginner to Stupid. I've restricted my efforts to the "easy" stuff in Cougar Park on Whistler. I find jumps terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Despite a couple of rough landings, I'm learning fast and my transitions between jumps are getting smoother and smoother. Today I hit all eight jumps in a single line at a good pace without screwing up once. The next step is the 180: a concept as impossible-sounding as learning to walk on my head, but one I'm determined to nail. It's great having something tangible like that to work towards.
  • My volunteer job at the race centre is going really well. I plan to write about it (à la my award winning piece about life on Martha's Vineyard) at some point soon.
  • I still love skiing, it's bloody awesome.
Sorry about how fragmented and obviously rushed this episode was. See you next time!

365 photos [211 - 217]

Seven photos of seven things with seven captions.


I can't get enough of these almost-black-and-white photos. This one was taken on the flat section at the end of Crabapple  on Whistler.


This skip-sized TV appeared on Monday, almost halving the size of our living room.


An unremarkable picture of Whistler valley, right? Not quite. Zoom in on the cloudy region and witness "Peak 2 Peak", the physics-defying gondola connecting the two adjacent mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb. Not the best photo in the world I realise, but you get the idea. Pretty mindblowing stuff.


They finally gave me a proper name badge for my vollie job. Ipswich: consider yourself represented.


Skiing too close to the snow cannons can be like skiing through a cloud of razor blades.


I almost bought tickets to Coachella but didn't. My friends, once keen on the idea, ended up ditching me one by one until I was the sole remaining attendee. I didn't want to go alone so ditched the idea and sulked about it all morning. Incidentally, Coachella wasn't the first American music festival I narrowly missed out on attending this last year. In October, I very almost ended up going to ACL festival in Texas, having been offered free tickets (and a free press pass) by Coldplay's bassist's cousin, but that's a (ridiculous) story for another time.


There's a story behind this mess. I'd been drinking with some buddies after work and was riding the bus home when, tipsily, I remembered I was one photo down for my weekly photo thing. When I disembarked, I fumbled with my camera and managed to capture the bus disappearing down the hill, spilling red light in its wake.

Extension.

In November, I asked you, the readers, whether or not I should extend my trip by another year or so. Well, I'm delighted to announce that over sixteen of you voted and the results have been counted. Of the almost eighteen people who voted, most think I should spend longer in both New Zealand and Australia. This is ideal because that's how I would have voted (I did, in fact) and the outcome I would have pursued anyway regardless of the actual result. Perfect.

I still haven't decided what to do about 365 photos. On the one hand, it is quite a tedious project that I wouldn't mind shelving when June 12th comes around. On the other hand, looking back, it does provide a pretty impressive visual record of my trip so far. Any thoughts? God, this blog is interactive.

365 photos [204 - 210]

Late again. Sorry.


A really nice shot of Jersey Cream on Blackcomb.


Believe it or not, this isn't some wacky novelty sign you might buy in Hawkin's Bazaar, but a real sign to address the real problem of people pissing all over the GMC Race Centre hut. It's largely ignored.


Blackcomb (left) and Whistler (right) overlooking the IGA parking lot.


The buses in Whistler run on hydrogen which means they're emission-free and sound exactly like Ghosts from Halo. It's handy because it makes distinguishing them from other traffic really easy while waiting at the bus stop. Slightly embarrassing when you mistake the driver for an Elite and throw a plasma grenade on his face as soon as the doors hiss open though.


One of the many, many fences I have to erect every Thursday morning for my vollie job at the race centre.


Completely lost.


I never used to drink tea until a pretty girl from DAVIDsTEA gave me a free cup after I constructed her a particularly awesome jacket potato at work. Now I'm completely addicted. How have I survived 22 years without tea?!

365 photos [190 - 203]

Happy New Year everyone!

You might have noticed I've got a bit behind with this daily photo business. Today I'm fixing that by combining two batches of photos into a single, mega-update. I've had to restrict the captions to one or two sentences each because, frankly, I can't justify spending much longer annotating my life for a blog that so few people read. Besides, each picture is already worth a thousand words (a loophole frowned upon by my dissertation supervisor).


Peak 2 Peak from below.


The view of Whistler peak from outside the Roundhouse Lodge.


The Christmas karaoke party hosted by my landlady, an international affair with guests in attendance from nearly ten different counties.


The same party photographed after midnight, meaning I can treat it as a separate daily photo entity. What are you gonna do about it?


This photo was taken at 85 mph.


"The T-shirt drape": a potentially Darwin-award winning technique I developed to darken my room the night the light switch got jammed on.


A really nice shot of Alpine Meadows overlooked by thousands of dusty trees.


Christmas Day on Whistler mountain.


My miniature Christmas pudding and custard mailed to me from home, a taste of England.


The Whistler-Blackcomb events volunteers 2011-2012. I'm the guy in red.


The Peak 2 Peak gondola station on Whistler mountain, an unthinkably powerful machine.


The Thursday morning race centre crew on our merry way to work on Blackcomb mountain.


My house, significantly whiter than it was 77 days ago.


New Year's Eve fuel.