This is Whistler, BC: an adrenaline junkie's Disneyland where the only thing that stands between you and your sporting dreams are the size of your balls which, if you have them and you live here, you should probably get checked out. While Whistler is commonly known as the STI capital of Canada, it's also a global mecca for snow sports, mountain biking, and—as we saw on Monday—getting incredibly fucked up on booze and drugs.
Whistler attracts a certain crowd, a significant proportion of which are Australian. It's a combination of the lax visa regulations, the availability of face-melting narcotics, and most importantly the incredible terrain that draws so many Aussies to the place. Given that, I thought it would be a good idea to party with them on Australia Day—the anniversary of the arrival of British ships to the country's shores in 1788. As an Englishman, it was my patriotic duty to participate in the madness, especially considering that so many other countries celebrate the day the British left them to their own devices, not when we showed up.
In practical terms, the only difference I can tell between Australia Day and St. Paddy's Day is the colour of the flags. The Aussies and the Irish are world leaders in getting blackout drunk on their respective national holidays (although it's a stiff competition). I'm scared to imagine what happens in Russia. It may be wrong to stereotype, but on the 26th of January, the Australians definitely play into their reputation as hard-drinking shit-disturbers.
Due to time zone differences, the celebrations this side of the world spanned two drunken and rowdy days. To be honest, my first night was mostly a blur of booze spent in a cloud of extremely potent BC bud. The one thing I remember is that the mandatory soundtrack for Australia Day comes courtesy of Australian radio station Triple J, which has culled a "Hottest 100" collection of the "best" Australian music. Someone named Chet Faker topped the countdown, but artists from niche genres also featured heavily. Hilltop Hoods flew the flag for Aussie hip-hop. The Amity Affliction, a personal favourite, was representing the metal community admirably, even though a few other under-cover metal heads really appreciated it with me. We bonded by opening a mosh pit around the kitchen island.
By Monday morning, Whistler had a scattered atmosphere, and everyone we met was either hungover or still drunk, and not really functioning. We showed up to Longhorns, the go-to bar at the foot of the slopes, at 10:30 AM only to find the fire alarm clanging and the pissed-up Aussies who had been inside evacuated; no one was owning up to having smashed the safety glass, but it was pretty obvious someone had fucked up. These girls had decided that riding was not on the agenda for them, and were busy drinking off their hangovers in the spirit of national pride. In case you're wondering what's up with the shirts the girls are wearing, it's a reference to vegemite, Australia's contribution to international cuisine. It's a spread that looks like industrial lube and tastes like a salty paste made of truckstop pepperoni sticks.
We headed up Blackcomb Mountain, ascending through an expansive sun-drenched mountainscape as we cracked our first beer of the day, which was pretty sweet. Toward the top of the mountain we came across a group of party-dedicated Australians who really weren't fucking about when it came to their plans. Despite the fact they were 6,000 feet above sea level, they were dressed for Byron Bay, and started playing cricket in front of some bemused punters.
Cricket is the sport of choice down under, and the fact that it lasts for days on end means that spectators have an excuse to go on benders as long as the working week. You've got to hand it to the Aussies: Britain shipped all of its criminals there hundreds of years ago and then they developed a society with a lower crime rate than us. You might think there would be inherited bad blood from us deporting people, but considering Australia sounds like its own sunny paradise, I think they were probably happy to leave grey industrial Britain. We'll always get on, partly because our drinking cultures are so similar. North Americans have an obsession with drinking games, but for both the Aussies and the Brits, drinking (and maybe some brawling) is the game, and we love it.
Eventually we met up with all the Australians on the mountain for a liquid lunch on a place called Heckler's Hill. The Aussies were kitted out in kangaroo costumes and wizard beards, draped with Australian flags, and claimed the mountain as theirs. Everyone was hammered and gradually realising that there was nothing anyone could do to move them. There was an anarchic mob mentality developing. Heckler's Hill is so named as it's the perfect platform from which to hurl abuse, beer cans, and snowballs at passing punters, ski-school kids, and this guy:
He wins the award for most fucked-up Australian, but only by a thin margin. I'm pretty sure he'd forgotten his own name, and he spent his afternoon trying to ski topless. It wasn't going well for him, which resulted in full-torso ice burns and and a lot of verbal and physical abuse from his drunken countrymen.
Oh: if you hadn't already guessed, Whistler loves cocaine. It's the town's drug of choice after weed, and this was pretty obvious on Heckler's Hill.
Vancouver, only a few hours away by car, is home to one of the largest ports in North America, and recently Mexican Cartels like La Familia have been making their presence known in the city. The drug is brought from South America, through the docks, and makes its way up the Sea to Sky highway, to the nostrils of Whistler's party scene. In Whistler, it seems every day is a powder day.
Patrol showed up as the sun was setting, bringing the warning that the police were on standby in a helicopter in the valley. Fortunately for them, the Aussies had drunk and snorted everything in sight, and so were turning their attention to sourcing more booze and coke in the village. Strapping into skis or a snowboard when you're 10 cans deep and can't feel your own face is a difficult task, but people were making a sterling effort. Actually riding was harder still, though, and people were just wrecking themselves all over the place. If you've ever ridden in the Alps, it was similar to the run down after La Folie Douce (an insane après bar chain), but with more drugs involved.
Once everyone had made it down the slopes, we returned to Longhorns, who've really got the ski-town formula for success down: give the mostly male patrons what they want. Turns out, what they want is cold beer and attractive women. How they get away with this shameless hiring policy I will never know, but funnily enough I've never heard anyone complain.
On our way to another bar, we heard perhaps the greatest Aussie quote of the day. It was aimed at a group of middle aged tourists: "CARTWHEEL WITH US, ANY CUNT CAN CARTWHEEL!" Bless those Aussies, they managed to convince this guy to give it a go. It was nice to see, even if his mates didn't look particularly impressed.
For the majority of the population, Whistler is quite a divided town. Wealthy tourists come and go for brief periods of time, while those who live here permanently inhabit the suburbs and generally only interact with the rich travellers through work. This cartwheel was a lovely moment when the two Whistler worlds met in childlike excitement, and it was all the work of one wasted Aussie girl.
We spent the rest of the night in a hazy blur of beer, guitars, and Australian accents. I had done my utmost to stay fairly sober throughout the day, but by the time the live music started, I'd distinctly failed. I guess if you can't beat them, join them. The first band was a local outfit called Neverland Nights, fronted by a man who looked like a hybrid of Fred Durst and the guitarist from Bowling For Soup. The second, also local, were named Wolf Party, and they turned the atmosphere up several notches with their tight ska sound.
No matter where I am in the world, there's always a little voice in the back of my head saying, "You're having fun, but you could be in Whistler." I know I'm not the only one who knows this feeling, which is why so many Australians choose to spend the days of their youths here. I caught up with Whistler-born and -raised skier Simon D'artois, who just won Gold in SuperPipe at the X Games, to hear his view on his home town:
"It's an amazing place to live, and a beautiful place to grow up. You don't have to deal with a lot of the stuff day-to-day stuff that even living in Vancouver brings. We just try to live simply, enjoy the mountain, and we're all here because of what Whistler has to offer, whether you are a winter person or a summer person. Most of all we just enjoy each other's company."
It seems pretty apt, and it also applies to Australia Day. Everyone partied like they didn't have a care in the world, and that's because on the whole, people here don't. Whistler is much like a snow globe: the people inside exist in their own little bubble, isolated from the surrounding noise. It's a paradise that draws people into the mountains, and proves that life doesn't have to be an endless parade of traffic jams and mind-numbing cubicle jobs. Life is beautiful for many people here, in its inherent simplicity and its awe-inspiring surroundings. The town's Australians weren't celebrating only their own country on Monday; they were celebrating the fact that they live in Whistler, too.