By David Leach with photography by Andrew Doran
Forget the sushi bars and snow-bunny-packed slopes in Whistler, B.C.
Strap on some snowshoes, and hip-hop to a mountaintop
in Canada’s winter playground.
We have been snowshoeing for only an
hour when Guillaume Otis drops to one knee and traces a line
in the frozen crust. This mark, explains our 31-year-old alpine
guide, represents the path of an avalanche. And that one, he says,
is the "deposit zone," where, should we get caught, our unlucky
bodies might be - to use the bloodless euphemism - deposited.
"Especially in the spring," he says, "we’re dealing with massive
melted-snow avalanches." In mid-May, we’re standing in a clearing
in the subalpine forest, a 1½-hour drive northwest of Whistler,
B.C. The Coast Mountains are still topped with Dream Whip swirls
of deep white. "All that snow wants to come down," he adds.
Otis buries his avalanche beacon, and with mine switched to
“receive” mode, I learn how to follow the “getting warmer”
beeps until I zero in on the signal. Photographer Andrew
Doran, who shoots heli-skiing trips every winter, is an old hand
at alpine safety. I am the mountain greenhorn of our trio. In an
emergency, neither of my companions wants me fumbling
over my beacon like a monkey with a cellphone.
|Click map to enlarge|
They aren’t trying to spook me. Otis triple-checked the avalanche
forecast. After 10 years as an accredited guide, he can read
the snowpack like a paperback novel. The chances of getting
caught by a big one in this area, he says, are a million to one —
but there is always a potential risk. He simply wants us to play
safe and to tutor me in the subtleties of alpine travel. I remind
myself that I’m here to discover the wild side of Whistler. Despite
the warnings about potentially fatal “deposits,” it is too late to
make a noble withdrawal from my trip into avalanche country.