When I was 20, my friend Andrew moved to Whistler. He worked as a waiter, lived in staff housing with two beautiful Australian girls, and had a lot more fun than I did writing papers about Kant in a crappy Halifax apartment. In February of 2002, I visited Andrew. It was my first time in Whistler — or at any big mountain. And it was a revelation.
Having grown up as a snowboarder in Toronto, Ontario ski hills were all I knew. I remember often weighing the relative merits of Talisman and Horseshoe. My parents, children of the prairies, couldn’t teach me any better. For all they knew, Blue Mountain was a mountain.
But Whistler: That was a mountain. The air! The powder! The runs that took longer to descend than ascend! Skiing in Ontario, I realized, was less skiing than practice. I’d been living in what Plato called The Cave.
Fast-forward a decade. I’ve returned to Whistler many times, and visited many other mountains in North America. In August 2010, I moved to London, UK. Earlier this winter, I visited the Alps for the first time, and this week I’ll be sharing my experience. My trip starts in Chamonix, France. From there, I venture east, to Verbier, across the Swiss border, and then to Gstaad, just into the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
I can tell you the ending now, though: The Alps made me realize, like even Whistler couldn’t, that I’d never quite escaped the cave. The Alps offers not only Rockies-style big mountain skiing, but also many other delights that I’ve come to appreciate over the past decade or so: 200-year-old log cabins; pitch-perfect French restaurants; fast women (on skis); cheap, excellent wine. And Gruyère. So much Gruyère.
Perhaps the best part (for me): From London, Chamonix is only an hour’s flight plus an hour’s drive. Call it four hours door-to-door, better than Tremblant. And believe me: It’s better than Tremblant.
These are mountains, and that was a revelation — as you’ll soon see, starting tomorrow.
Image courtesy of Dino Olivieri.