By Liam O’Mahony
In the early 2000s, I lived in Seattle, where snow is rare but winter adventures are a five-hour drive to the resorts of Whistler, British Columbia. This trip evolved into a Presidents Day weekend tradition for nine lifelong Emerald City friends who embraced me, the outsider from Western New York, among their ranks.
On my first excursion “up the hill,” I reached the customs booth at the Washington State border and froze when I was summoned to pull over. I had a few red flags – I was solo, forgot the name of our condo and had no ski gear in my car, just a duffel bag.
With security tightened five months after 9/11, I was nervous and worried. After additional questioning and my assurance it was my maiden voyage, I was allowed to proceed into Canada. On ensuing trips, we stopped in Vancouver for a night. If Toronto is the New York City of Canada, Vancouver is San Francisco, with great restaurants, shopping and serene maritime scenery.
The landscape of British Columbia is a sight to savor with its majestic snowy terrain and inspiring coastline. As you head 90 minutes north of the urban glamour on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, a beautiful, challenging and winding drive, you prepare to enter the winter playground of Whistler, the “Aspen of the Canadian Rockies.”
To the surprise of my friends, I navigated my car without snow chains on that icy night of flurries and confusion and found them once I regained a cell signal.
I was an absolute novice on the slopes. My friends were accomplished skiers and did not understand how someone from Buffalo had never skied or snowboarded. I admitted it was puzzling, but I had dabbled more in skating and pond hockey.
With all of its parts, I thought skiing would be overwhelming, so I rented a snowboard as I felt I could adapt quicker due to a little skateboarding experience growing up.
I started in the green areas to acclimate to the balancing mechanics and movements and find my groove. When preteens zoomed past me doing figure eights and backward pirouettes, I wondered how they performed tricks and jumps at such a high speed. I pulled over to get out of their way as their backdraft nearly sent me into a downward spiral.
Gliding down the mountain was exhilarating and liberating. After a few hours, I gained enough confidence to hold my own on the intermediate runs. When I stayed vertical and accelerated with a stable posture, I felt invincible – until later when I felt the rookie pains in my calves from the constant bending to steer the board. My tailbone was also sore from a few high-speed spills on icy areas.
At dusk, we soaked our battered, frozen limbs in hot tubs and stared at the dark, winter sky and the proud, unforgiving mountains. Following our recovery hour, we ventured out to the variety of restaurants, shops and clubs, encountering Europeans and Australians enjoying their vacations.
Our getaways were incredibly fun, carefree times. It was a great experience to learn to snowboard, and I will always remember the refreshing air on the mountain. We will always have Whistler, where worries evaporated on the slopes all day long and the boisterous banter and camaraderie never ceased throughout the nights in the village.
Career promotions sent friends to Michigan, New York City and San Diego, while the rest remained in the Pacific Northwest and I returned to Western New York.
I have not been on a board since 2004, but I plan to give it another shot soon in Saranac Lake.
Liam O’Mahony lives in Williamsville and occasionally reminisces about life in the Pacific Northwest.