by Leslie Woit from Fall 2012 issue
Getting there is half the fun. Is it? Is it really? Pinched in the gnarled vise grip of a Canadian winter, dodgy whiteouts and black ice, trapped in a confined metal compartment packed to the gills with sharp skis wedged between seats, cold plastic ski boots in ribs, “loved” ones squashed between the debris—and (the ultimate irony) a cooler full of frozen things on your lap.
Is the great road trip to ski-land really fun?
Those of us who couldn’t afford therapy still remember the family piling into the ’68 Impala in the days before the invention of ski racks, seat belts or, heaven forbid, the iPad. That was a dark and stormy night-slash-decade: windows iced from outside in, the Irish setter barfing from the inside out, Mum with her red wool snuggies, a booming economy—and Dad’s Rothmans in correspondingly plentiful supply. Headed for the ski hills, we were on The Road—like Cormac McCarthy with means.
As the lilting mono-AM sounds of Tijuana-a-go-go wafted down Hwy 10 on the way to Beaver Valley in the Ontario Alps, we knew we were privileged to be going skiing—we weren’t complaining. (Hang on, yes we were, we were kids—delete that.) That’s the thing about families: you don’t have a choice. But with your road trip buddies, you do.
Cue the university friends, the young marrieds on group trips, the buddies from work looking for adventure. The girls’ weekend, the boys’ weekend. Canada is made for driving—wide roads, long distances and just a few lights to pause or at least slow down at along the way. Ah, freedom. The road pops, the shared stories, the rental condo waiting at the end of the night. The blue lights of the law ($245 dollars for 160 kph, if memory serves), a bit of hydroplaning up the Sea to Sky, perhaps a sashay through a metre of slush over Rogers Pass in a Ford Escort rental. There are the annoying ones who want to get up early and go, and the crazies prepared to drive blinking into the night…. The final straw, of course, is once you’ve found the town, signs to the actual address itself are invariably deviously hidden behind snowdrifts, parked vans or long ago flattened by the plow driver.
Which brings us to map reading. If my friend Minty, who shall remain nameless, is reading this, apologies once again for the extra three hours I tacked on top of that eight-hour journey—it was Africa. Indeed, driving in sand is a lot like snow. Anyway, whether it’s Livingstone or Lethbridge, self-navigation is going the way of the dodo, replaced by GPS systems that don’t get a signal and smartphones that lose their charge in extreme cold. Still, best not to get aggravated by that; let’s choose a tune from the 89 million loaded into the iPod. That’ll be a treat.
From Black Sabbath revival to Karen Carpenter’s greatest hits, other people’s music warrants the death sentence. One trip, from Telluride to Denver, Arnie had the idea that each of the five of us would buy a CD for the ride; good idea until his choice was Leonard Cohen and we wanted to kill him and ourselves. On a different trip, we watched Lauren sitting alone in the frigid car long after arriving in front of the chalet—she had Fifty Shades of Grey on tape to keep her warm. I’m also the first to admit that I’m a card-carrying member of the volume police. At least I’m paying attention, unlike our very own Ski Canada editor who sped away and forgot his wife in a three-car, four-family evening rally beyond Ellicottville, N.Y. For more than an hour. On St. Valentine’s Day. His bad.
He blamed his shocking behaviour, in a surge of self-preservation, on others. Group dynamic is a powerful phenomenon: He who holds the map leads. Then gets blamed when everyone ends up 15 metres below the lift.
Still, as we drive up, down or over to ski country for the weekend, the week or even the day, let’s spare a thought for the less fortunate—they’re stuck in airport security wondering what a Taser really feels like.