Date: 24 December 2016
Location: A long, long bus ride across British Columbia from Whistler to Jasper.
Three days before Christmas: It would be difficult to imagine a more luxurious day. It's luxurious in the way that falling into crisply ironed 1000 threadcount cotton sheets is; the way a third flat white at a long breakfast is (“Oh, go on then — now tell me that story–“); like snapping awake an hour before your alarm and realising that it's a Sunday anyway and then snuggling back down into a nest of warmth is.
Today the snow is coming down like feathers in a pillow fight. We're snug in white robes in a pristine suite at the Fairmont Chateau, Whistler. My mum has gone all out to ensure that her wedding is everything. My siblings and I joke (with just a little dryness) that no wedding of ours could ever compete. That's it, we're all eloping on beach islands. She gets married, looking 'like a Disney princess' in the little gazebo on top of the hotel as the snow makes way for blue skies. My sister and I ruin the photos with an impromptu snowball fight. Afterwards is cocktails then dinner in a crystal room nestled in blue-lit five foot snow outside. Someone opens champagne with a sabre. Told you: lux.
Two days before Christmas: It's a Whistler ski day.
My intense hangover lurks quietly over breakfast and then strikes, violently, around about the time I finally collect my rental skis from the hot rental shop that's packed with insulated bodies. My precious custom-moulded ski boots feel like bear traps on my feet. My stomach lurches every time we pass any fragrant food stuff. Everyone seems to be talking so loudly and it scratches my inner ears. I fall deathly silent on the ski lift.
I ski with — and this is so weird to type — my mum's new husband (shall we call him 'Teddy', like a Canadian bear?), his brother and the brother's son (nickname pending). Our first run is a green little cruiser but every bump of slightly heavy slow and each speeding snowboarder sets my teeth on edge and every muscle sings on high alert. Each turn hurts. I'm really scared. I'm reminded of the first time I ever skied and marvelled how anyone could ever dub this complex, gear-heavy, freezing and painful pastime 'fun' and wondered at the elegance of parallel turns. That was a distant memory buried beneath days' worth of exploring big mountains with the boys, breathlessly hiking ridges, dropping into sherbety bowls and yelping through the green darkness of powder soft secret tree runs. I suspect I look as wretched as I feel because someone suggests taking the Peak2Peak over to Whistler and grabbing lunch — and a cold beer — at the Roundhouse. The suggestion is one I gratefully accept. After fries and a Corona I feel a lot better and the runs in the latter half of the day come a little more naturally. I still have a lot of work to do before I'm dropping into or off anything; it's both physical and mental homework.
We meet my mum and brother at Merlin's, the pub at the bottom of Blackcomb's Wizard Express lift, and get into some craft BC beer. When the live band cranks up the volume and entreats everyone to get on the table for 'Sweet Caroline' my brother looks at me, baffled.
“It's 4pm!” This is the sort of behaviour he's most accustomed to seeing at Cheeky Monkey's in Byron Bay during Schoolies week or at Revs in Melbourne at 2am on a Saturday night.
“It's aprés!” I laugh.
“You've never…? Oh wow.” My brother has never skied before — never seen it snow until yesterday — and, it dawns upon me, he is blissfully unfamiliar with the culture and jargon that surrounds it it. I joyfully explain the beautiful phenomenon which is aprés ski: drinks and music, in your ski gear, at the bottom of the lifts as they close. Suddenly, in that moment, I'm so utterly overwhelmed by a rush of pure happiness that I fight the urge to cry. I blame hormones. The buttery snowfall and the white everywhere, the Canadian accents, my family around all getting along, staggering about in my beautiful ski boots, they are perhaps also to blame.
Much later, the day ends with a hot tub in the snow, surrounded by trees heavy with festive fairy lights. Then I snuggle up in the slinky sheets of this beautiful hotel.
The day before Christmas: Before the sun comes up we pile into a bus with Dieter our SunDogs driver, kilos of ski gear and Christmas presents, beers and Fireball whiskey, and lunches packed by the Fairmont Hotel. Our road trip gang comprises me, my brother, my sister, my elderly Dutch-Canadian grandad, my best friend Bunky and her boyfriend Powerjam, newly acquired 'cousin' (with nickname pending) and his girlfriend. In a separate car are my mum, her husband, his brother and the brother's wife.
A few hours after nightfall we arrive in Jasper. It's almost Christmas.