Archive | February, 2011

Whistler, couchsurfing and the kindness of strangers

21 Feb

So initially when I started looking into the whole year in Canada business an awful lot of people were telling me about this Whistler place. I mean I’d heard of it, I seem to remember there was an OC style show about it a couple of years ago, it ran on RTÉ2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistler_(TV_series) …terrible stuff, but it did make me aware of the mountain’s existence. Oh yeah and the winter olympics were there, I suppose that was big. Anyways I was fairly sure I’d pop up and down a few times and get a little bit of skiing in. I certainly did not anticipate it becoming an obsession! Lately every other minute I’m in Vancouver I find my mind sliding off on a train of thought to Whistler.. How will we get there this weekend? Where will we stay? Which days will we go? Where will we ski? Who’s gonna be there?

It’s a very wonderful place. I’ve been skiing a bit in Austria and Italy and both were awesome but Whistler is on an entirely different level. There is just so much choice! So many lifts, runs, random places to escape off to, and so much snow! We’ve been told this winter has been especially good and I certainly won’t disagree. Even the busiest runs treat you to gorgeous powder, and for the more skilled and daring out there you’ve got all kinds of exciting off piste discoveries to make. So far we’ve been a little more adventurous with each trip, edging our way beyond run boundaries, trying to find little jumps and attempting to navigate moguls, technique could definitely stand to get better but then how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Sometimes we make it down ok, other times there are hilarious falls, but the snow is so deep it’s like being thrown onto a pillow. You just laugh, bounce back up and start down again. Just typing this is making me excited for the next trip!

Whistler adds a new level of awesomeness to being in Vancouver really. As well as all the other things being here has to recommend it you are close enough to the mountains that ‘Want to go skiing tomorrow?’ isn’t a ridiculous question. Being a UBC student helps too. The normal cost of a Whistler season pass varies betwen $1100 and $2100 depending on when you buy it. We got ours at just under $500. At the time it seemed like such a massive investment, now it seems like the biggest bargain ever invented. Still heading up there every weekend to get the value out of that pass was looking like it was going to cost us all the arms and legs we needed for skiing so we started trying to find ways to work around the main costs- accommodation and getting there, and I reckon it’s brought some of the best Canadian fun so far. First of all it led us to the insanely ingenious concept of couchsurfing (see couchsurfing.org). For those of you who haven’t heard of it before the basic idea of couchsurfing is that hosts advertise their couch on the website as a free place for travellers to stay and surfers get in touch to see if they can come crash. Simple but brilliant, we had heard about it before coming over but it was accommodation desperation that inspired us to actually sign up and throw ourselves in. So far we’ve landed 4 couches and in all cases the craic was mighty! Instead of staying in a hostel where you have to rely on the advice of other visitors about where to ski, what time to go out, what days are best and which clubs have free cover you immediately get landed with a pack of folks who have lived there for months and are up for taking you out and getting  merry together. Whistler’s a particularly good spot for couchsurfing since there’s such a huge population of young people who are there to have as much fun as possible while doing just enough work to get by or none at all if they have the savings. So pretty much everyone you meet will always be keen for some kind of antics. Thus far we’ve had some ridiculous, hilarious nights with our couchsurfing hosts and been treated so amazingly well

I’m sure there will be those that read this and think that the couchsurfing idea sounds like absolute madness, dangerous madness. Certainly I’ve been met with a raised eyebrow or two when explaining my recent sleeping arrangements. ‘But what if you end up staying with total psychos?’ or ‘what if they steal all your stuff?’. Well I guess my response is that the host takes on the same risks and more with us really. I mean we haven’t been going alone, there have been 3 or four of us each time, so it’s not like we have left ourselves vulnerable to being lured by ourselves into some predator’s lair, we may be girls but there’s definite safety in numbers. And this person is allowing us into their home (even telling us how to get back in by ourselves in case we should get lost) so if anyone has potential to steal stuff it’s the surfer. But people who have concerns like this are really missing the point. You are supposed to trust the person you stay with is a decent sort. The website lets people leave positive references for each other so you aren’t exactly going on nothing when you stay anyway but a large part of the loveliness is just taking for granted that bad things won’t happen when you put your faith in another human being that you don’t know. Life is better when you believe that most of the people you meet will be good, there are more opportunities for adventure. Couchsurfing is all about having adventures with strangers. It’s a way for locals and visitors to mix and share in all the brilliant things a place has to offer. The couch surfer gets to experience it the way residents do, avoiding tourist traps and generally benefiting from local knowledge, while the host gets to see their home through the eyes of an enthusiastic visitor. The kinds of people you meet through the website are invariably open and friendly given the nature of the exercise, but other than that you aren’t guaranteed to have anything in common, you get the chance to meet people you would never encounter in the ordinary exercise of your life.

In the same vein of  moneysaving and networking outside our usual social sphere we have also been hitching back and forth from Vancouver (in groups of course, no solo hitching and i mean we are carrying skis so if it came to it we’d be well equipped to defend ourselves). It means a free ride, which in times of ski expense is handy but it’s also another chance to meet somebody new and I like to think that generally we brighten up their journey by providing them with some company and chat. Between hitching and couchsurfing the last few months have really shown us  how much good can come from the kindness of strangers and that isn’t something we take for granted. Right now we are without cars, couches or many resources, but you can’t expect to gain as we have lately from other people’s generosity without giving something back. In the short term karma returns can be with small random acts of kindness, giving things away for free, volunteering at events, helping somebody pick things up after their bag bursts in the middle of the road. But hosting couches and giving lifts will definitely be on the agenda when I have the necessary elements for either. Letting people you don’t know into your life is risky. But at the moment I feel like you stand to lose a lot more by shutting people out than by giving them a chance. You never know who will hop into the back of your car.