A web-footed West Coaster ponders snow, slush, and sickening spins on black ice
I’ve lived in Vancouver for thirteen years and naively believed I’d left winter driving behind. It waited for me one December weekend at the crux of Yoho, Kootenay and Banff National Parks. Winter road report: packed, slippery in sections with occasional panic patches.
Toqued and goretexed, Jen and I bravely slushed into Revelstoke after a couple of hours of front-wheel driving along the Trans-Canada. While I concentrated on keeping the Mazda inside two furrows on the road, Jen ~ fresh from a stint in internet marketing ~ remarked how the endless flakes of alien snow looked like a screen saver flying into the windshield.
“When does snowmobile season start?” I asked a Chevron attendant, noting the parade of Ski-doo-toting pickup trucks gassing up at the pumps. “Honey,” the attendant drawled as she handed me a tourist map, “It’s been snowmobile season for two months“.
Jen and I decided to save Roger’s Pass for the morning and checked into a $24.95 a night room at the Monashee Lodge. Our options for a Saturday night were to join the hairy-chested snowmobilers chugging cans of Canadian in the lodge’s lobby hot tub, crash the mill workers’ Christmas dance at the Rec Centre (“they’d be glad for a couple of ladies,” pointed out the Chevron social director), or a couple of rounds of amateur pool at the Regent Inn.
I left Guelph Ontario for three reasons: the snow the cold and the ice. I’d had enough of pulling on layers-upon-layers of clothes for a five-minute walk to the corner store. I was no longer willing to drive for five hours to stand in a double chair lift line for a pimple of a ski hill, and I was done with the sudden lurches and sickening spins on black ice.
I imagined a mossy, emerald place of ocean and mountains with sandy beaches in the summer and moistened forests in the winter. A place where 4,000 metre mountains of snow wait respectfully twenty minutes away should I deign to visit them.
A cyclist by choice, I’ve enjoyed a relatively car- and snow-free existence on this side of the country. I attribute my carlessness very directly to surviving three crashes and one near miss. I’ve been in three separate Mazdas ~ GLCs, all of them ~ that were back-ended, front-quartered and head-oned beyond repair.
If you’ve ever been in a car accident you know there is a moment before impact where you do not know if you will die or survive. Adrenaline-charged time inverts itself; it slows down enough to be able to wonder if death could come at the end of this thought. Driving terrifies me ~ in the snow, doubly so.
A move to the West Coast marked a snow-reduced, death-defying direction. Emboldened, I learned to ride a motorcycle, downhilled north shore single track, and biked solo in Southeast Asia. Sure, I dropped the 450lb Honda CB400 a couple of times and destroyed my knee on Grouse’s Peugot MTB trail, but these set-backs did not bring me close to that thought-quick view of death I’d glimpsed on the other side of a steering wheel.
The next day we gratefully drafted a beacon-red truck trailer through the wind-blown whiteness of the Selkirk range. “I’m afraid…” I confided to Jen somewhere past the gas stations of Golden. “I’m afraid I’m going to die in a car.” She’s driving now, confidently as an Ottawa and Edmonton-raised driver would. At 80 km/hour, she’s nonplussed abut the cakey layers of snow under her tires as we descend into the sanded curves of the Kicking Horse River and arrive to a Lake Louise astonished by its own depth and breadth of feathery snow. A foot of it covers the cars in the ski hill parking lot and my first few steps out of the car are miserably reminiscent of a lifetime of cold, hateful snow.
“Fucking winter,” I curse as I pull ski equipment out of Jen’s hatchback, “fucking snow”.
The snowy roads still terrorize me and prove that I have indeed become a web-footed West Coaster. For some reason I continue to cross snow-covered mountain ranges and provincial boundaries to prove ~ in some obscure way ~ that it’s all just recreation to me.Published in Adventure West Magazine, February 2005.