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I left Whistler yesterday after seven happy months. It’s been a week of many “lasts” - last ski, last shift, last baked potato - and, as expected, I’m feeling very sentimental about the whole thing. Fortunately, I have plenty to distract me from mourning too hard. Tomorrow I leave for Alaska, a trip I'm massively excited and terrified about in equal measure. I won't have internet access for the whole time I'm away, so expect this blog to go very quiet until early July. Take the opportunity to read some old posts or something.


Shoes hang across the entrances to the various neighbourhoods of Whistler. I remember seeing these when I first arrived and seriously considering building a device to harvest them and sell them online for profit. That thought actually crossed my mind. I was that poor.


My last ever baked potato. Baked potatoes from IGA are a cult hit amongst locals and I’ve been eating them all winter. They’re just $2.99 and jammed with so many toppings, I estimate IGA loses at least $25 for each sale. Cheap and painfully filling.


A bear print I came across during my last ever ski. I've seen a few bears recently, but never when I've had my camera handy. This will have to do.


Lovely.


The morning after my leaving party, hungover and mulleted. I've killed it now, but it was quite funny meeting people and watching them struggle to say nice things about it.


I spent my last night in Whistler round Dan's with all my favourite boys and girls. We had a BBQ then stayed up until 4:30am trying to complete a 1000-piece jigsaw, a project we failed because all the fucking sky pieces looked the fucking same. Really nice evening though. I will miss these guys so much.


A cheeky little critter I almost stood on in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

Bye then :)

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One week left and lots of things are all happening at once. Possessions are being packed, sold, given away, mailed, hostels booked, gear acquired, maps drawn, towns researched, documents printed, underpants soiled.


You can't go far in Whistler without being reminded about the Olympics thing. Yes, yes, okay.


Skyping with Bruce. Poor old Brucey recently underwent surgery to remove an abscess that had caused one side of his face to inflate well beyond its normal proportions. The procedure involved removing two teeth which will come as a great loss to Bruce, who takes great pleasure in biting things.


Dead season is here and work is slow. Here's a suspension bridge we built using ten soup ladles.


Lost Lake looking typically lovely. There's something a bit strange about people sunbathing next to a huge pile of snow, but that's Whistler for you.


The lower half of the mountain is now almost completely bald, except for a narrow path of snow that makes it almost possible to ski right to the bottom. The snow is pretty horrendous though, a mixture of slush, mud and rocks. I usually just get the chairlift down.


I was just skiing along, minding my own business, when this absolute titan appears out of nowhere. The entrance was fenced off, a pity because I wouldn't have minded giving it a go.


Chipmunks are just squirrels that have been paid to advertise mint humbugs.

Boardgress: Episode one

I went snowboarding for my first time yesterday. I'd been meaning to try it for ages, but every time I made plans with my boarder friends, they ended up cancelling on me. Yesterday was my last ever day off work before I leave Whistler and my friends cancelled on me again, so I went up by myself.

On my way to the gondola I befriended a snowboarder named Yanek. I was nervous about getting on and off the chairlifts (much harder on a snowboard) and wanted his advice. Yanek went beyond the call of duty and offered to stay with me for the rest of the day to teach me the basics. This was a guy who'd paid good money for a lift ticket, sacrificing a beautiful day to instruct a moron for free. I offered to buy him a beer but it turned out he was only sixteen and doing so would be a criminal offence. Yanek, if you're reading this: you are a bloody legend.

I managed to pick up the basics surprisingly fast. After three laps, I was linking turns on heel and toe edges fairly proficiently, and was having loads of fun doing it. I think being able to ski helped. Everything about snowboarding is different (balancing, turning, slowing down, etc.) but the snow is still the same. You know how it's likely to react when you do certain things, and that definitely helped.

So here's what I liked about snowboarding:
  • It's super fun.
  • You only have to worry about one thing. When you're skiing, you're in control of four items - one attached to each limb - that move independently of one another. With practice, you learn to coordinate their movements in a productive way, but the fear of doing the splits of crossing your skis never truly goes away. When you're snowboarding, it's literally impossible to do the splits. That's nice.
  • You can't lose your stuff. Unlike skiing, you're completely fixed into place so when you wipe out, there aren't a million (okay, four) different things scattered across the mountain to collect.
  • The boots are so comfortable. Then again, wearing almost anything on your feet (stilettos, plate armour, pineapples, etc.) is guaranteed to be more comfortable than ski boots.
  • You feel cool. As much as I love skiing, snowboarding is unquestionably cooler. That's just the way it is.

And here's what I didn't like:
  • Using chairlifts. As aforementioned, chairlifts are a little scarier for snowboarders. You have to remove the back binding which means getting on is fine, but getting off is a total bitch. I'm sure it gets easier with practice, but I stacked on three out of four attempts. 
  • Flat terrain. Whenever you reach a flat section on skis, you have two options. You can use your poles to push yourself along, or you can "skate". On a snowboard the only option is flapping around like a fish on dry land. Eventually you give up and shuffle along awkwardly with one binding still attached, or just remove both and hike. A pain in the arse. Speaking of which...
  • Falling over. This is the big one. When you're learning to snowboard, you fall over so much. So much more than when you're learning to ski, and so much more painfully because instead of landing sideways, you either land on your face or on the back of your head. I was learning on slush (it's May) but I'm convinced I would have been hospitalised had the snow been any harder.
In summary, learning to snowboard is like being fed delicious chocolate cake by a man who interrupts every few mouthfuls with a solid jab to the lower jaw.

Skigress: Episode seven

Oh dear.

So much has happened since the last proper skigress update ages ago, so much it would be pointless trying to summarise it all now. That's a shame because the last three months of skiing (March in particular, the snowiest on record) have been the most interesting and adventurous of all. I've experienced things people (future me included) would definitely have enjoyed reading about, if only I'd bothered to document them as they occurred. Skigress was a project with good intentions that ended up being a bit shit, and I only have myself to blame for that.

But I won't end on such a negative note. I'll end with a photo that reminds me of everything I love about skiing. It was taken by my friend Dave the day we hiked Flute Bowl back in March. It shows Gerry on the crest of the bowl, about to drop in. Symphony Amphitheatre extends 1,000 acres into the distance, a great forest of frozen trees. The only other people visible are ant-like at the base of Flute, their tracks behind them like giant brush strokes. The feeling of absolute freedom I get from this photo is what skiing is all about.


Alaska what's going on

Less than two weeks until I set off for Alaska. Let me tell you about my plans.

PHASE 1: Canada
Duration: 2 weeks
Distance: 2,500 km
Transport: Buses
Accommodation: Hostels/buses/campsites

Phase 1 covers the majority of the Canadian portion of my trip, passing through three different provinces: British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon. I intend to buy a Greyhound Discovery Pass which entitles me to unlimited travel on any of their fine buses for 15 days. I will milk this pass dry, favouring overnight buses where possible to avoid paying for accommodation. The great thing about being able to hop on any bus freely is that my route can change as drastically as I please, but the one I have in mind visits Kamloops, Banff, Calgary, Edmonton, Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson before arriving in Whitehorse, where phase 2 begins.

PHASE 2: Alaska
Duration: 10 days
Distance: 1,500 km
Transport: Hitchhiking
Accommodation: Wherever

Phase 2 scares and excites me the most. The network of Greyhound buses stops at Whitehorse and public transport swiftly collapses thereafter. A handful of small, private bus companies operate shuttle services between specific pairs of cities, but fares are high because of low demand and stupid distances. Instead of spending a fortune trying to patch together an itinerary this way, I've decided to grow a pair and just hitchhike the distance instead. I will sleep wherever I can, ideally in campsites but quite likely beside roads and in abandoned buildings too. As far as routing is concerned, I'm going to see how things go. My tentative plan includes visits to Dawson City, Tok, Sarah Palin's house, Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Anchorage, where phase 3 kicks in.

PHASE 3: The sea
Duration: 5 days
Distance: 2,000 km
Transport: Ferry
Accommodation: Ferry

Phase 3 comprises one continuous ferry ride down the coast with three stop-offs along the way at different ports. Most passengers sleep wherever they like since private cabins cost extra. I love the idea of pitching up on the deck, which apparently is common practice during the warm(er) summer months. The ferry docks in Bellingham early on June 23th and my flight to New Zealand takes off from Vancouver the following day. Should be alright.

You can view the whole 6,000 km (3,700 mile) route here, where blue markers = phase 1, yellow markers = phase 2 and red markers = phase 3.



I'm planning to pack as lightly as possible to avoid causing damage to my spine. This means making sacrifices in departments like personal hygiene and technology. I won't bring my laptop, which means no internet access - and consequently no blogging - for the month I'm away. I plan to keep a travel journal (one made out of paper!) which I might eventually get round to transcribing on here. The daily photos will continue, but only after I arrive in New Zealand.

Wish me luck!

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I've got less than two weeks left in this lovely town. The beautiful weather mocks my intention to leave on a daily basis and I've had moments where I've come THIS CLOSE (doesn't really work over the internet) to changing my mind and staying for the summer. I keep telling myself Alaska and New Zealand will be worth it. Time will tell...


Spring in bloom.


Rows of mountain bikes have ousted the skis outside rental stores. The bike park on Whistler Mountain opens on Friday, a remarkable feat of snow removal given it only closed to skiers three weeks ago.


It's usually still light when I leave work at 9pm.


I spent Wednesday morning glued to my computer (not literally!!!!!) listening to Radio 1, where a remix composed by my talented friend Lawrence and his talented friend Evan - together known as Tired Arms - was due to be broadcast live. I can't imagine how Lawrence felt because the suspense between songs almost killed me. Finally, with just twenty minutes left before the end of the show, the song was played. You can enjoy the glorious moment here.


The boyz on our way to Vancouver. Dan had to pick up his girlfriend from the airport so me and Kris tagged along for laughs. It was only my second time leaving the Whistler bubble since October and I admit to feeling slightly culture shocked. Crowds and crack addicts (crowds of them) are two things you don't really get in Whistler.


I skied Blackcomb on Friday. While there's still ample snow up top, the lower mountain is becoming more and more patchy. I remember skiing down this section numerous times during winter and the trees weren't even visible.


Fitzsimmons Express becomes a bike lift during the summer months. Don't ask me how that works because I have no idea. Interesting photo comparison with October, November and late November though.

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Whistler is in the middle of its biannual metamorphosis between busy winter and summer seasons. The entire cast is expected to change, with winter workers leaving, summer workers arriving, and everyone else being shuffled around like cards to accommodate the flux. Every night is someone's leaving party. Those staying are moving house en masse as leases expire, housemates disappear and priorities change. Proximity to the gondola is no longer important while access to lakes and hiking trails are. Buses are thinning out as the snow previously blanketing the network of bike paths melts. The village charity shop - the Re-Use-It Centre - has been forced to stop accepting donations while they process the huge volume of junk leavers have unloaded on them to avoid paying excess baggage fees on thier flights home. Busy busy busy!


I can't get over how bloody awesome my new house is. It's like something from MTV Cribs. To think I was living in this structure just eight months ago shows how far I've come. Admittedly the rent in America was about six times cheaper, but that's not the point.


Being so close to the village means post-work gatherings usually happen at my house now instead of the pub, another money saver.


Good placement I thought.


Chilling on the balcony overlooking Whistler Cay, my new hood.


Solar Trees, one of my favourite places to ski on Blackcomb. Tree skiing is great fun but can be quite unforgiving. It's as much about having massive balls as it is about technical ability. Throwing in that extra turn instead of just going for it often results in colliding with the very tree you were so worried about colliding with.


I went skiing with Jeandre (who knows my mate Keith from home, but that's a story for another time) on Friday and we were treated to about 20cm of fresh powder and almost nobody to share it with. The snow was a bit weird (zoom in on my backpack) but it was totally awesome nonetheless. Hard to believe it's May and we're still getting 20cm dumps.


The view of Blackcomb mountain just outside my house one lovely spring day. The snowboarders leaving the frame and the bikers arriving is a nice metaphor for the wider situation.