Squamish, 2007

My sister and her husband bought a house this year, and family Christmas got moved there. I was able to finagle enough vacation time to fly out and join them.

Saturday Dec 22/07

I had a late afternoon flight, but when I'd called the night before to arrange having a taxi pick me up, they said that it was a mess at the airport (we'd just had some pretty big winter storms), and they suggested moving my proposed time back half an hour, to noon. I'd gone out to Sutton to visit with friends the night before and got in fairly late, so I set my alarm for 10am, giving me some time to sleep in, eat breakfast, and do last minute packing. The taxi was, as usual when called for a specific time, early, but I was mostly ready to go, and he helped me load my suitcase, backpack and skiis into the car. Had a good conversation with the driver on the way to the airport, he was thinking of moving to Canada to retire (he couldn't afford to declare bankruptcy here, but I warned him that Canada might not be as accepting as he wished if he was in dire financial straights).

Of course, after all the minor panics, I got to the airport and there was no one there, I arrived around 12:15 for my 3:15 flight, and was checked in, baggage whisked off to the bowels of the airport and me at a loose end (no services beyond the security gate except washrooms and a coffee counter) with three hours to kill. I luckily packed a slew of books, so I found a quiet place, behind a stairwell and looking out a window, and settled in to wait for a good time to go through security. Oddly enough I noticed a pair walking outside L->R without baggage, and then R->L burdened down with packs and suitcases, not quite sure what led them to that state. It turned out that the plane taking me up to Montreal was pretty tiny, two by two, and I was in a very odd aisle seat, the middle seat in the back row which was five across. No seat in front of me, and my ski helmet and my backpack, even separated, wouldn't fit in one of the overhead bins, so the flight attendant stuck the latter under the seat of the guy next to me (he seemed pretty nice, a bit cynical about the whole deal, but in a funny way), and I was able to stuff my helmet under my seat, along with my purse, on top of some sort of fabric. No idea. Settled in and enjoyed my leg room, and the flight wasn't too bumpy.

I went through immigration without my bags, I think, following the signs for connecting flights, and feeling vaguely guilty that there was no one in front of me and a 30 person line for people arriving in Montreal. The officer seemed to almost be chiding me for staying so short a time, as well as for not having gifts over the duty free limit. Bah. But he let me in, and an unnoticed tension dissipated as I stepped on Canadian soil. :) Had a bit of a wait for my ski bag, and it appeared where I wasn't expecting it - near the belt my suitcase came on, rather than in the oversize baggage area. Grabbed a cart to navigate through customs and to where I had to drop off the bags again (skiis I had to take upstairs and put them through the regular oversized baggage check). Good thing I had 3 hours, by the time I went through security again, I'd used up almost 2 of them. I had time to grab a quick meal at Tim Hortons, soup and a water, and read some more before it was time to head to my gate. Thankfully, the plane to Vancouver was bigger, though the ride was bumpier. I think I napped a bit, but mostly read and listened to my music.

Landed right on time in Vancouver, and was able to find Marc easily (though had a bit of a shock at how much thinner he is now). We had a bit of a wait for my bags, but I managed to describe my suitcase to him well enough for him to grab it while I waited for my skiis. Cat was waiting outside, she'd found a parking spot near the arrivals, and we loaded my stuff up into the car and Marc drove us into Vancouver proper, to their apartment. It was up on the second floor, but I felt comfortable enough leaving my skiis in the car overnight since we'd just have to transfer them to Sue's car in the morning. Cat went to bed soon after, but I was able to chat with Marc for a bit, and assemble their presents into the gift bags that I'd brought. I took my shower that night, glad to rinse off the grime of too many airports and too many planes. I was on a futon in their office and sent a quick email to Cris letting him know that I was safe in Vancouver, as my cell phone had zero signal, and wouldn't for the rest of the trip. It was after 1am when I got to sleep, we got out of the airport past 11pm, and I was almost incoherently tired.

Sunday Dec 23/07

I woke up when I heard Marc puttering around the galley kitchen outside my room door, and quickly repacked everything I'd taken out, and Sue managed to arrive just as I finished up. She and I packed her car with my stuff and the presents for Squamish from Marc and Cat, and transferred my skiis to her car, then dropped them in the foyer of her friends house where she had to pick something up (said friend was away, but Sue often stayed over night with them and had her key). We drove the short distance to the restaurant where we'd be having brunch, Lotus, on Main St., and waited for Marc and Cat to show up. The decor was really neat, a high black ceiling with exposed piper and gold (I think) walls, with twisted bare tree sculptures separating the booths. A free standing chimney held a fire place one table over. The food was quite good, I had huevos rancheros, but they weren't presented quite like I was expecting, it was more like a quesadilla. Nice loose tea as well, to get me going. We lingered a bit over breakfast, and Sue spotted someone she knew as we were leaving, but it was time for Marc and Cat to hit the road to the interior, as they had a 4-5 hour drive ahead of them, and it was raining. Sue wasn't too happy about the hour drive to Squamish either, but at least the traffic wasn't too bad, and she was used to the route as she works in Vancouver. I was surprised to see standing water along a lot of the road, since they've been working on expanding it in anticipation of the next winter Olympics.

We arrived in Squamish, with a bit more snow on the ground than in Vancouver, at around 1pm, just time for me to unpack my stuff into their office/guest room before our parents arrived. I wasn't too happy to see that the dog Misha arrived with them, as the townhouse was mostly carpeted and Misha is a shedding machine. Luckily, since I'd run out of allergy pills and put them on my wish list, Dad had some to give me and I didn't get too miserable. Sue made salmon for us for dinner, and a huge salad that surprisingly almost got finished. Jake poured us all big glasses of a syrah. After dinner I wrapped up some of the gifts I had brought and put them under the tree - Sue was trying to enforce a more green wrapping strategy, so she had fabric to make bags from and gift bags that could be reused. I did a fairly poor job of hand stitching a cylindrical bag for Sue's gift, and threw Jake's into a gift bag. Got an early night, setting the tone for the trip, in bed at 10:30.

Monday Dec 24/07

The night before, Jake had suggested going skiing today, despite a plan already in place for all of us to go on the 26th. Sue had to work, so she took their car, while Dad let us borrow his truck, and Jake drove us the further hour north to Whistler, skiis in the back. We stopped first at the 7-11 so that I could grab a lift ticket, as they were about $10 cheaper there than at the resort, still was $69 though. I was a bit surprised to see that the road expansion project was signed to end just before getting to the ski mountain, I predict all sorts of traffic jams where the road narrows back to one lane each way. We parked in the garage at Whistler Creekside, though Jake took out a side mirror on another truck's roof rack, and that felt like an unlucky start to the day. He'd also skidded around the turn into the resort, it was slippier than expected. He waited for me to hit the bathroom, and then we carried our skiis to the Creekside gondola. Got off that, put our skiis on and go on another lift, the Big Red Express, to take us up further, and Jake pointed out the Roundhouse Lodge where we'd meet for lunch at 1. It was about 10:30 then, I think, and we split up to go our separate ways. He's a stronger skiier than I am, and it was my first outing of the season, so I went straight to the green runs. I explored a few different lifts and the territory around there, and met up with Jake right on time. I should have stopped one run earlier, the last one was iffy. We had to wander a bit with our trays of baked potato (him) and soup (me) but eventually found two seats at a table near an outside door. The temp was perfect, the sun was shining, and the snow was perfect, we were both really happy. We split up again with plans to meet at 3 at the bottom of the gondola, near the parking structure. I miscalculated how long it was going to take to ski all the way down (my lift to lift when skiing only down to mid mountain was taking about 20 mins, the run to the bottom was over 30 mins). I'd worked my way up to Blue runs by the end of the day, but my legs were definitely ready to quit by then. I skiied down through some bands of cloud/mist, but visibility never really got that bad. As an aside, it took me a good few minutes with the trail map to figure out exactly where we were, that place is huge, with over 8000 hectares open for skiing when we were there. We were both a bit chilly, so we put our skiis back in the truck, changed into regular boots, and came back out of the parking structure to grab a hot drink at Starbucks. I had a cup of sugar masquerading as chai and settled in for the drive home. The sunset was gorgeous, brilliant reds and pinks in the sky and the mountain slopes reflecting it where they were coated in snow, slowly fading to black.

Jake had been calling Sue at work throughout the day to taunt her with the perfect conditions on the mountain, but she forgave him, and so did Dad for the mirror. I had grilled chicken for supper, with lime juice as an interesting touch, and I made a martinet cocktail since Sue had stocked up her liquor cabinet for us.

I had to wrap Mom and Dad's gifts still, so I looked up a link on how to do Japanese wraps using fabric, furoshiki and used that on their presents. They came out okay, though it would have helped with the second one to have a bigger piece of fabric to start from. I had an early night again, tired out from a full day in the fresh mountain air.

Tuesday Dec 25/07

I'd been warned that presents would be delayed until after the church going contingent got back, so Jake and I occupied ourselves with reaching in the tops of our stockings and extracting the by now traditional scratch and win tickets. I won $2 on two of them, and set them aside to figure out how to redeem them, as I'd be skiing the next day and then off home early the day after. Mum, Dad, and Sue got back at around 11am, and we took turns handing out presents. Then Sue made pancakes for brunch, and after we finished that, we went out, all but Jake, to look at the eagles in the snow. Huge wet flakes had been coming down all morning, and most of us were excited to know that the mountains were getting even more, but the forecast was generally clear for the next day. :) My sister lives about five minutes from the Brackendale where the eagles hang out along the river. Sue had received two pairs of binoculars by mistake, and broke out one pair and shared them around so we could get better views across the river. I think I saw about 12 altogether, the binoculars made it possible to see lots of details, but it was easy to spot the birds as brown and white lumps in the bare trees. One flew along the river and landed on a gravel bar, it was gorgeous to see it in flight. A few were perched on driftwood on the river bank, they were the easiest to see. Snow kept falling the whole time we were there, it was pretty magical. But chilly, so we had to leave and head back to the house.

I made myself and Jake a pair of Periodista cocktails to help use up the bar supplies, and we were all tortured with the scent of the huge turkey roasting. Jake made an awesome stuffing, and redid the colourful potatoes from a couple of days ago. I was happy to sip my cocktail, read, and watch the others cooking. :) Another early night in anticipation of a slightly earlier start to skiing the next day.

Wednesday Dec 26/07

I'd asked to be woken up at 7:30, but it was 7:45 when a knock came on my door, and that started me off a bit cranky. We were slated to leave at 8:30 but I wasn't ready to go until 8:45. Luckily Jake was patient, loading all our gear on the car's ski rack and in the trunk as we sorted out last minute things. Mum was left on her own with the dog as we headed back up to Whistler, this time with the intent of skiing on the Blackcomb part of the resort. Jake went straight to the last parking lot, mostly empty, and we took a shuttle bus (skis in holders outside), to the base, passed packed parking lots. Still, for how insanely busy it was at the bottom, once we got up, everyone was so spread out we rarely ever had to wait at a lift. Sue had to go get her picture taken for her pass, and I had to find a washroom, in the second building I tried. We all finally got on a car on the Blackcomb Excalibur gondola, riding it up past the prime parking lot where the lift made a bit of a turn and continued upward. We put our skiis on and got on another lift, the Excelerator, and at the top of that one, we skiied down a bit so that Jake could show us the chalet where he wanted to meet, Glacier Creek I think, and then he and Sue took off for the next lift going straight up, and Dad and I took another lift that went toward some Blue runs, the Jersey Cream. We stuck together most of the morning, but split up near the last run before lunch and agreed to meet at the arrnaged spot with Sue and Jake at 1. One one of my single trips up the chair lift, I got talking with a woman skiing with her daughter, and was amused to find that her kids were allocated across the states just like Cris's siblings (Boston, NYC, SF). We also talked about brining turkeys, it was neat to have such a long, not too cold, lift ride to have a full conversation. I got to the lunch meet up first, as my knee was really wearing out and I needed to stop at 12:30. Sue and Jake found me, and then Dad came in last. I think I stuck with soup again this time, it had served me well the last ski day. I needed a full hour to sit and rest, but eventually was ready to go with them. It was a tiny bit colder this time, though not with the 40kph winds that Jake and I had the other day. I also ended up skiing down through mist a bit.

Sue stuck with me and Dad this time, heading over to 7th Heaven to ski the wide open blues there. It was utterly fucking gorgeous up there, the sun was shining, the sky was bright blue, the snow was pure white, with the conifers sticking up through the drifts. There was one point where, looking toward Whistler, the line of sun and shadow was running down the slopes, and I really wished I'd brought a camera with me. I only did one blue with them before splitting off to do a green and meet them at the bottom. I was slow, and thought they'd left without me, not realising that the pair in red and black on the black run under the lift was Sue and Dad. I got on the lift to see if they were at the top, and recognised them as I went over. I called down to see if Dad was okay, he said "I am now" and I said I'd wait at the top, as the lift was supposed to close at 2:30. Dad had a cut on his nose, he'd caught an edge while following Sue down the mogul littered run and even was going down backwards for a bit. His calf was also sore, and I think he wanted a break then, but Sue and I skiied another run and then we headed down toward the gondola for a download instead of skiing all the way ourselves - that last run was really hard for me, my knee was getting really weak, the snow was heavy and there were bad icy patches where other skiiers had scraped everything off. The flat light and heavy cloud enclosing the run made it really hard to see as well, and even with the download, we were the last to arrive at the Irish pub that was our meeting place. Dad and Jake had pints of beer, Sue had a hot chocolate, while I just revelled in sitting still. :) We were under a heat lamp on the outside patio, watching the crowds funnelling down the mountain as the lifts closed.

The drive back was quick, more in the dark though, as we left the mountain later this time. Lots of turkey leftovers for dinner, very yummy still. I got to inaugarate their bathtub for a bath that evening, soaking out aches and pains from the day. I'd fallen a couple of times, catching my edges on the deep snow, but only had one unexplainable scratch beyond boot caused bruises. After that I dried off my skiis and repacked my ski jacket, pants, and accessories around them in the bag for padding. Dried off the boots and packed fragile things in them, and put them in the bottom of the suitcase, and packed the clothes in the top compartment. Said my goodbyes and read until it was time to drift off, again early, as we were going to leave at 5:30am the next day.

Thursday Dec 27/07

I'd set my palm pilot for an alarm, but Jake was knocking on my door at 5am anyway, so I was up. I scarfed down a quick breakfast and was ready to go in half an hour. Jake drove, with me in the front seat, and Sue eating her cereal in the back. It was kind of neat getting into Vancouver so early, with dawn just starting around 7am. We dropped Sue off first, and then Jake brought me to the airport. I wasn't 100% sure if I should be at the US or Canada check in counters, and ducked out of the Canada line to try and double check. By the time, mere seconds later, that I was sure, the line had gotten even longer, it had well overflowed the roped off area and extended down to the executive check in and doubled back on itself. It took me 5 minutes to inch through to where I'd started. Then I realised that it was the "drop off your checked baggage" line, and I needed to get my boarding pass from the kiosk first. Luckily the woman behind me was willing to let me duck out, do that, and duck back in. We chatted a bit, she was going to Toronto for NYE. I had to bring my suitcase and skiis to two different belts, as expected. Security wasn't bad, at least, and I was at my gate with not too much time to wait, which was good, as it was another of those tiny gate areas with nothing in it.

I was on the aisle, with only one person between me and the window, a young woman who was silent the whole way. I took some Emergen-C with my second glass of water, and purchased food for lunch on board. I watched the movie this time, Ratatouille, and enjoyed it but for the swarming rat scenes. I had two hours to navigate through Pearson to my flight to Boston, and was a bit nervous following the connecting flight signs again. Bit of a wait for my skiis, but they showed up eventually. I had to carry them for sure through the customs and immigration line, and they checked my tags against the bags before I could leave the belt area. I didn't have cash for a cart this time, so hauled things myself. I ended up in the very short immigration line that was on the other side of the partition from the one that snaked on and on the last time I visited Toronto. The immigration agent really confused me, as he insisted that I wasn't a resident of the USA and that the purpose of my trip was business - but he didn't make me fill out a visitor visa form, so I'm not sure what was going on in his head. I just smiled and nodded, and scurried through when he let me go. I had to drop my bags at two different places again, and then go through security yet again, but made it to my gate in time to turn around and find a place to eat. The Starbucks was charging $3 for a nanaimo bar, but the woman in front asked and was direct to a Tim Horton's so I followed her and got my nanaimo bar for 99c. :) I also grabbed a scone and some tea on the justification that it was about supper time, in some time zone I was either going to or coming from. The flight to Boston was quiet, not full at all, and I had a row to myself, which was lucky as my mp3 player was dead and my in seat entertainment system was kaput, so I plugged my headphones into the one next to me and was fine. Didn't sleep the whole way from Squamish, just read and was alert. Had yet another wait for my bags in Boston, and my skiis came out on the regular luggage belt. I was interested to see that they could negotiate the turns okay, but grabbed them. I dug out my xmas money and got a cab home, again a nice guy, who actually lives in Belmont as well, and we chatted a bit. I think I was home by 10, just time enough to unpack a bit and get things ready to head to work the next day. I came back to a bit of a heat wave, apparently they'd had two rain storms since the two snow storms, and most of the ice and some of the snow was gone.

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