The ski trail at the peak of Blackcomb Mountain is named, “Showcase,” but the only thing being showcased presently is a snowstorm. I imagine the view is spectacular on a clear day. My imagination is all I have because the visibility up here is zero. If I wasn’t an experienced skier, I would probably be shaking in my boots, literally, but as it happens, only the bitter cold is making me tremble.
It’s not out of the ordinary to find oneself bracing against raging winds sweeping over Whistler’s backside. At close to 7,500 feet above sea level, these winds pound at your snow jacket and every layer underneath, searching for a way to get at your skin. They whip ice pellets into your goggles, hoping to blind you. By now my pink neck warmer is frozen due to my endless supply of snot. Pulling it up over my face is the only way to keep my lips from falling off. My fingertips and toes went numb ages ago. No fancy gloves or ski boots are thick enough to keep them warm. No amount of money is going to buy me warmth in this weather. And even under these conditions, I’m grinning from ear to ear. There is no other place I’d rather be, and the person standing next to me is the reason.
My girlfriend Jess is smiling too. I can see it in the way her cheeks perk up on her face behind her neck-turned-mouth warmer. In this moment we both recognize how lucky we are. We spent the previous year scratching and clawing enough money to get here. Flights from San Diego, the cottage in Whistler village, the car we rented in Seattle, gas for the road trip. None of this comes cheap.
It’s February 2012, and we have been dating for a year and a half. Being up on Blackcomb brings me to another time in my life. I skied Showcase as a teenager over a decade ago. Back then my life was a ball of teen angst. My memories of Whistler the first time around was as much about girls as they were about skiing. As a Chinese American whose parents prioritized school, I spent all of my time doing homework or a host of after school activities like piano and tennis. This left me with a closeted desire for fun and, in particular, girls.
I graduated high school without so much as a peck on the lips. By then I was desperate for a girlfriend. Fast forward seven years, and I have remained a love-starved young man who dreams way too much. I am unhappy and shackled to my room in my parents’ home. I watch life passing me by, especially when it comes to love, and sadly, I am aware of it. I rarely go out or do anything exciting because I am often alone. My friends are barflies, so my social outings rarely land me auspicious encounters with the opposite sex. But then, as these things often go, life dumps a bit of good fortune in my lap. I meet Jess at what I view as the worst bar in town. She is a transplant from Wisconsin, and knowing no one in San Diego, she has decided to go out and meet people.
We follow the routine steps to love. We date, we kiss, we make love, and then, when we are comfortable, we begin planning trips together. A small trip to San Francisco goes well. Six months into our relationship, we decide to save up for Whistler. We reduce our spending for a year. For two craft-beer loving foodies like ourselves, this is a soul-testing proposition.
So up top on Showcase, I am a happy man. I reflect on the decade that has passed since my first visit to the summit. It’s then, as I stare at the thick white fog blanketing the slope before me, that things become clear to me. Life is about experiences, and without them you have no life. Traveling is the magnification of these experiences. They are pinnacle moments, like skiing in a snowstorm atop Canada’s best ski resort. Much of what makes them special, however, is the journey you take to get to that moment. Skiing in such intolerable conditions for recreation is only part of the magic. My true happiness lies in Jess, braving the storm with me.
It’s the climb that makes a memory a meaningful one, but without that view from the top, we can’t fully appreciate the point of the ascent. Blackcomb rewarded me with a profound lesson of love, one that spanned ten years. I hope the next lesson doesn’t take so long.
About Author: Like most Chinese Americans in Southern California, I grew up in suburbia with a dream to be a doctor. Fortunately, science didn’t agree with me, but writing did. These days I’m getting back to writing after a hiatus and trying my hand at a novel.
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