I remember it like it was yesterday because it was one of the scariest moments of my life.
But it didn’t start that way. It started awesome, another pristine bluebird day on Blackcomb Mountain skiing with my parents and my buddy Mike. This was 1990 and I was in grade 8, back then the question was never “What are you doing on the weekend?”, it was “What mountain?”
Mike flying out of Blackcomb Blowhole circa 1990.
Mike and I liked the big fall-line runs on Blackcomb. “Extreme Skiing” was the big thing in those days and, as impressionable grade 8 kids, Mike and I had dreams of starring in ski movies and one day being able to ski as well as Scot Schmidt or Eric Pehota, or even as well as my dad.
That particular day, after ripping laps off the front side of 7th Heaven all morning, we followed dad and mom (she was averaging 80 ski days a year back then) into the Saudan Colouir* hoping that the glorious early spring sun had been on it long enough to soften the snow.
It hadn’t. My first “extreme jump turn” didn’t stick. That was the scary part, that insta-moment when I realized what was about to happen. Then I fell, tumbled, lost both skis and began to slide, then roll, then cartwheel a solid 1000 vertical feet down Blackcomb’s most iconic run. The hard-packed (icy really) moguls only acted as mini-jumps as I picked up speed on the 42 degree slope.
I was upside down and airborne when I passed my dad and I remember him shouting, “Ride it out son!”
LEFT: Feet’s dad popping out of the Blowhole, 1990. RIGHT: Feet ripping Saudan on a more successful day. 1990.
That was the only choice I had. It seemed kind of slow motion as I slammed down the mountain, but I bet it was only a few dozen seconds of chaos before I finally slid to a stop as the slope grade mellowed. I took a moment to check if I could still breathe and move my legs but I knew I had better stand up as fast as I could, that mom would be super worried.
I sprung to my feet and threw my hands in the air like a champion who had intended to do that all along; just to prove that I could. I watched my dad ski towards me, cranking through the icy moguls in that classic hotdog, legs-glued-together style. Mom arrived later, then Mike, carrying my skis, poles, goggles, everything.
“Dude, that was awesome,” Mike said. My back was bruised and I had jammed my little finger (broke it I think) but I was still a rubbery little kid back then and we were able to finish the ski day, albeit by sticking to mellow groomers. Even though it was the most epic (and scariest) tumble of my life I remember thinking my injuries were almost too-minor because I didn’t get to miss school on Monday.
Now my own son is three years old and on skis of his own. We did our first lap of Blackcomb’s Wizard chair last week and his first day ever was a pow day over at Midstation of the Whistler gondola. He doesn’t turn so well but the boy has excellent balance and loves to just point it and go.
They start young in Whistler.
This past Christmas my parents made sure my little family had all had the gear we needed to get out and rip together. My mom and dad know firsthand the magic of skiing and snowboarding –that there are very few things a family can do together regardless of everyone’s age and still all have so much fun.
I’ve skied with my parents for thirty years now. Some years more than others and sure, there was a time when mom decided she was no longer into runs with mandatory cornice-drop entrances so we’d just meet her lower down the slopes. The alpine picnic lunches never changed though, and we still have just as much fun laughing and people watching from the chairlifts. From tiny kid to bored teenager to impoverished university student to now, I’ve always skied with my family. It’s what we do.
The family that skis together…Après together!
And this February 11th, 2013, the Government of British Columbia is gifting everyone with the first ever Family Day, a recognized holiday seemingly custom-made for skiers, snowboarders and winter-activity lovers of all sorts. I’ll be on the mountain with my son and my wife, maybe this time we’ll ride the lifts high enough up that I can point to the Saudan Couloir and say, “See that one, son? I rolled that top to bottom once. Your grandparents were there. It was awesome.”
Of course, there’s more to life than skiing and snowboarding (so I hear) and Whistler wants to make the first ever BC Family Day special for absolutely everyone so there are a ton of deals and activities planned to help anyone enjoy time with the people they love.
From accommodation to snowshoeing to snowmobiling to zipline to horse-drawn sleigh rides to museum entrances to half-off admissions at the Sports Centre, Whistler is ready for Family Day. Check it all out at Whistler.com and, most importantly, Happy Family Day.
Of course, you don’t need children to enjoy Family Day. It’s a day off work for all British Columbians!
*Insider Secret – What is now known as the “Couloir Extreme” was originally called the “Saudan Couloir”, named after French skier Sylvain Saudan, one of the founding fathers of Extreme skiing. Apparently ol’ Sylvain was not keen on having his name used and the run was renamed in 1994 (or maybe ’95) but real Whistler locals always still refer to that run as “Saudan”.