A weekend away from K’emk’emelay* (Vancouver)

Winnie, Andrea, Juliana and… Yoda.

Those aren’t our real names. They are the Starbucks names of our little merry band that went to Whistler last weekend. Our firm hosted a weekend in Whistler to celebrate the end of another busy season. The total head count was 90 people, nearly a quarter of the Vancouver office and representing a large portion of the audit practice. The four of us provide support to the accountants – Andrea and me in administration and the others in HR. We’re invited to the party but a little different. A little older.

Last year, I was not supporting anyone in the audit practice but I have been for the past eight months. This year, I was “eligible” to go and I practically jumped on the chance because the timing was right. I’ve never stayed overnight in Whistler for a “ski trip”. This is my final year of “partying” as I know it. I was done a final exam a week earlier. NPY could use the wyn-free weekend to study for his upcoming exam (or not). I was soon ending two weeks of vacation coverage for a colleague which was nothing short of stressful. And I needed a getaway at that particular point.

We set out on Friday after work and admired the dark, sparkling waters of the Howe Sound. (It will look so much better and blue in summer!) The usual pitstop was made in Squamish where I’ve heard there is a very good sushi restaurant but since I did not confirm which one it was ahead of time, we went to Wendy’s which was low-key and forgoing the pizza and booze party in a hotel room that evening. It was the right decision afterall although I wasn’t sure at the time.

In Whistler, I’d love to stay in the Westin foremost, then the Fairmont. The Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa we were booked in was nothing to complain about, as it turned out. The room had two double beds but two sinks and a long hall creating more space. Given my uneasiness with being locked up in a bathroom to brush my teeth, I was using the exterior sink almost exclusively.

We were greeted with a Whistler weekend “survival kit” and we were so touched that we gave it a good paparazzi treatment. It wasn’t just bulk treats tossed into the bag. Someone had taken the time to write a personalized note in the cardholders of our Starbucks cards!

 

We chilled the bottle of wine and unwinded from the day and the drive before getting ready to go out. It’s Whistler so no one is dressed to the nines. I wore what I wore to work (which was selected with the evening in mind) and shed my cardigan.

The music was good at Buffalo Bills. It was mostly mainstream stuff that I’m happy to dance to (not so happy to hear ad nauseum on the radio in the car). And I recalled that Buffalo Bills was the place our hotel recommended last time and we went to for the Whistler stagette I went to last year… what a difference going out in Whistler in the winter makes!

I would learn on the weekend how much my experiences going out shape my expectations. (And you know what they say about expectations….)  Friday night was quite brilliant and I attribute it to the crowd, the mix of people there.

We made a lot of new “friends” for the evening. I met Claude at the bar who gave me a free pass to Universal Studios where he works. Then I met Brian on the dance floor and learned he’s a CxO at a bank close to where I work. A cute Polish guy with a Polish name I can’t remember invited me to have a drink at the bar. He’s in Whistler from New York. There was but one person who conferred unwanted attention – a guy from DC. He was in stark contrast to the other guys and it was painfully obvious to us girls.

One of the girls wasn’t pleased with the male attention. “Can’t they see I’m wearing a ring?!” Actually, I don’t think you can see that in the dark. And I’m a little more non-plussed about it. No one is making surprise and prolonged contact with you from behind. If I could profile the guys: mid-twenties and older, often in the finance industry (and then you throw into the mix my financial services firm!), at Whistler and/or the club alone, very enthusiastic about skiing/snowboarding, and not looking for anything.

Four new friends joined us leaving the bar after it closed and we hung out waiting to order and then waiting for a whole pizza to be made. I was feeling virtuous from working off the Wendy’s dinner with dancing and could abstain. We enjoyed the pizza and company in a comfortable circle of armchairs at the hotel before sending them off to their own hotels.

It’s impressive we got out of bed after just five hours of sleep. I didn’t want to miss my chance to zipline with two other first-timers and we were beyond the free cancellation time! Juliana wavered between coming with us or not because she’s afraid of heights and ultimately it was just the three of us. She had watched some videos and when she asked if we had, I started to worry that I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into! But also knowing that children and one colleague we assume to be conservative had done it, it can’t be too bad!

Our tour group consisted of nine people and with two guides and a driver, we ascended Whistler to the A-frame where we got into our gear. On the way, we drove by the Whistler Sliding Centre, a venue for the 2010 Olympic games. It was covered but you could try to peer inside as you drive by. We turned onto an old access road and it was snow covered and the van had poor suspension and it was bumpy and swaying like an old wooden rollercoaster. That’s what happens when Andrea enthusiastically calls dibs on the backseat and we follow her!

We opted to do the Bear Tour of the two tours offered by Ziptrek Ecotours that last 2.5-3.0 hours. The other option was Eagle which has a “monster 20-storey drop” and costs $20 more. We had nothing to compare ziplining to so chose Bear. Both tours have five ziplines.

The first line was short and low. It was to give you a taste and feel and learn where to put your hands. After initial wariness about stepping off into nothing and relying on the harness and zipline to catch you and uncertainty about the speed, I was not overly impressed with the first line! But it got progressively higher and longer and I was impressed again. On the really long lines, we were advised to tuck into a compact cannonball shape or risk being stuck out in the middle. While it would extend the time the tour takes, it might be miserable, uncomfortable and cold hanging out in the open waiting to be retrieved.

When we were at the second line, we looked overhead to see a line that extended from behind the trees to our left, across the widest part of the valley and  not ending until beyond the trees to our right. It was so much higher and so much longer than any of the lines on our tour and I wanted to ride on just that one!

The fifth and final line was short and by then we were comfortable enough to try something different. The guides dubbed it the “freestyle line” and we were instructed how to flip ourselves upside down (hold harness at your abdomen, kick up feet, throw head back, clamp harness with feet to stay inverted, spread your arms… enjoy!) and flip up again (just drop your legs towards the ground). The three of us attempted going upside down. Andrea jumped up to zipline first. I must say that I was concentrating on the various steps such that I wasn’t even inverted very long and didn’t take in the view! Yoda didn’t kick up her feet enough and her back stayed parallel to the ground while she waved her arms and legs – the guides named that the “Inverted Beetle” maneuver!

It turns out that ziplining might be right up my alley with my interest in floating/flying aerial activities evidenced by trying out aerial yoga and (I’ll get back to it/classes) silks. The zipline is smooth and with the freedom on the harness, I wanted to pose! To artistically extend my arms!

 

I would go ziplining again. It wasn’t the poorest value. (Unlike, say, bungee jumping.) Two separate people said zipling in Costa Rica is insane. So I would do it again in a different (and awesome) locale. Also, from a weekend of hearing Andrea and Yoda talk about skydiving (the former did it in Hawaii last fall), it’s back on my radar. Bungee jumping never was but it makes absolute sense with my predilection for flying I would want to jump out of an airplane!

Since the pub was on the way back to the hotel and we were back in the Village at 3 p.m., we checked out the firm’s event starting at 3 at Longhorn Saloon that boasts of having the best Après Party in the Village. The firm reserved the elevated section where the pool table is located. It was the first time we saw our colleagues and felt like a work trip/retreat! It was funny how we didn’t have a day of skiing but something about being in the cold really boosted my appetite. So many nachos and so much poutine. At least, then, I refrained from the yam fries! And dinner was scheduled for just four hours later.

Dinner was an elegant affair. We closed down the hotel restaurant, Cinnamon Bear Bar & Grille, for the dinner. The menu was a three-course meal with two choices for each of appetizer and main and no choices for dessert. I cursed a little at the choice. Junk food at the pub was incentive to pick the lighter choices but I could justify my choices like the follows: beet and goat cheese salad is lighter but who really prefers that to a smoked black cod chowder with a salmon melt; and I do like to order salmon but fennel in the side and citrus-based sauce was not to my liking so I ordered the “meat and potatoes” short rib entrée. The dessert was a chocolate pistachio semifreddo. I’ve broken my Lent resolution to give up chocolate two times so far and with no choice for dessert….

It was a lovely dinner with colleagues that stretched out for three hours. There are so many people at the firm that I recognize but never talked to. It was fun to ascribe a personality to those people!

On Saturday, more of our group had arrived in Whistler and more of us were out at the club. It was arranged for us to go to Garfinkel’s, where I went seven years ago when I visited in the summer with NPY and my sister. Once again, the music was mostly mainstream but mixed by an EDM-oriented DJ. We could easily find people from the firm and danced with different groups in turn. I didn’t like the crowd other than that very much. It felt younger and more party-oriented. Definitely not as friendly and no new friends were made. I was reminded how there is no such thing as two really good nights in a row and we left half an hour before closing.

The next morning, I woke up at 8:30 because we hadn’t slept late. I luxuriated in the hotel bed for a long interval and only went to the gym at the latest time possible. Yay – I got in a 45-minute run. Boo – I didn’t leave enough time to go for a dip in the outdoor hot tub. The girls woke up and didn’t see me in bed and thought I was hogging the bathroom the entire time!!

We checked out and then head towards a restaurant on the other end of the village specializing in crepes and which had great reviews. But the prices were stupid, like at least $18 for any kind of savory crepe. So we walked back through the Village and ended up at La Brasserie des Artistes because they served breakfast, back close to the hotel.

After starting off the weekend with junk food on Friday, there was chatter about eating lighter, choosing lighter options. Andrea ordered “Clean Living”, consisting of yogurt and granola. Juliana and Yoda each ordered “The Lighter Side”, half a traditional breakfast and had no meat. I ordered the “Wanderlust Breakfast” which had the two eggs but all of the sides were fruits and vegetables. Light breakfast accomplished!

After lunch, I could have gone for Cows for ice cream but we were already past it and we went to the Starbucks on the Village Stroll like we did the day before – our Starbucks. On Sunday, we got a sofa that seated three and sat across from Andrea. It was a better idea than getting and slurping down ice cream outdoors. In a coffee shop, it was chill and we debriefed a little. Notably, everyone was so positive about the weekend. I also noticed after the fact how it says something – we are colleagues with a lot of people we know in common but we didn’t gossip and backstab at all. Then it was time to drive back.

Driving away, we could see the slopes and runs of Whistler and Blackcomb in all their glory and I felt like kicking myself for not going skiing! We came all of that way to not ski! At the same time, I wanted to go ziplining with newbies once the opportunity presented itself. If I go again next year, damn straight I’m going skiing!

As we were nearing Vancouver, it was a nice feeling to go back. I really felt kind of blessed to return to a scenic city and it has such easy access to wondferul Whistler. How Vancouverite is that?!

* With all of the proper accents: K’emk’emláý which is the Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh) name for Vancouver

On this day..