lift line Whistler
Busy powder day lift lines can be a flash point for conflicts

A couple of weeks ago I was standing in the lineup for the Wizard Express — coffee in hand — waiting for the lift to crack so my two friends and I could head up for some powder skiing on Blackcomb. We arrived at around 7:45 a.m. to a roughly half-filled corral, threw our skis down to stake our claim then went and got breakfast. About 10 minutes later we returned to our claim. The corral had filled and was beginning to spill out towards the Blackcomb admin building with now a couple hundred people jonesing for one of the season’s first real powder days. I patiently waited, chatting with my two friends, until I heard a voice say, “You guys three?” I turned around and the stranger had already put his skis down and had started to climb through the barrier. I politely told the man that he should go to the singles line, as we intended to grab our fourth member for our chair from the people who had been waiting here in the cold longer than he had.

The man immediately took offence.

“So, you’re obviously not from here,” he spat in disgust as he picked up his skis and continued down the line.

My friend burst out laughing at the man’s response as I smiled and shook my head at the situation. He returned up the line a few minutes later to inform me that a group of two had let him in the line and he facetiously asked my permission. I replied that it was no longer a concern of mine and that he should probably ask the permission of the people he’s cutting in front of rather than the people who decided to let him in the line.

So who’s the asshole here? Was it me for not letting one person cut in front of 100 others, or was it this stranger for thinking that because he’s local he doesn’t have to wait in line like everyone else?

I’ve been queuing in the Whistler Blackcomb lift lines every season for 10 years now and during that time I’ve lost patience for people who think that they are above others on the hill. During my tenure as a coach for the ski school I’ve booted people out of the ski school priority line when they obviously were not in a lesson and were simply looking for an express ride up. I’ve also booted instructors and their classes out of the same priority line for not obeying the snow school powder day policy of waiting 15 minutes (after the lift opens) on a 15 cm-plus day before loading the Peak Chair with their clients.

Visitors from Europe generally seem to be in awe of the amount of respect shown in our North American lift lines. Over in Europe it’s more or less a free-for-all, cut-or-be-cut scenario, which we thankfully don’t have to deal with, even during our busiest tourist periods. But that respect is violated on a daily basis here in Whistler by a small yet very vocal minority, who believe that they have an entitlement to the powder because they live here/work here/own their second home here.

As a wise Vulcan once said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”

This column was first published in  The Whistler Question on January 6, 2015

UPDATE: Due to the contentious issue of whether skis being left in line to a hold a place is legitimate or not, I’ll clarify that one member of our group of three was standing by the skis, in the lift line, the entire time. The other two returned after about 10 minutes of  lining up elsewhere for coffee and breakfast wraps. They did not cut the breakfast line.