Strengthening My Resolve: A Chance Encounter on the Mountain
There’s nothing like an impending 40th birthday to get you thinking about your health and your own mortality.
Recently I’ve been taking stock of life and I’ve made up my mind: I want to be skiing with my grandchildren when I’m 90 years old. It was a goal that became all the more important to me after the recent passing of my uncle, Jim Poyner.
The day he died, Monday March 14, I was up on Flute Bowl. This inbounds area, which is only accessible after hiking, has become part of my daily laps to get the legs burning and the heart pumping.
My uncle had been in the hospital for five weeks. That day, however, it felt like he was with me. I could see him on the crest of the mountain, hunched over, his hands on his knees and a big, confident smile saying, “C’mon Joey, you’ve got this,” just as he did when he coached me in little league baseball.
When my mom called later that day to say he had died, I wasn’t surprised. I felt as though I had already said good-bye in the mountains, in this place that my Uncle Jim loved.
As fate would have it, I was back up on Whistler Mountain the very next day, two laps done on Flute and riding Symphony Chair back up again.
I found myself sitting next to a friendly face on the chairlift.
“Do you mind me asking how old you are?” I said.
He told me he was 78.
I told him my goal was to be skiing with my grandchildren at 90. He told me that his own dad lived until he was 103 and that he was a keen skier too. The trick, he said, is that you just have to keep going every day.
We decided to hike up Flute together.
That’s how I met Albert van Citters.
Albert has been a ski patroller at Whistler Blackcomb for 40 years, first as a paid patroller but for most of that time as a volunteer patroller. He lives in Victoria and thinks nothing of the long commute to Whistler. This is where he loves to ski. He’s seen the massive changes here first-hand as Whistler has transformed into a world-class destination resort. It hasn’t changed for him though. He sees the Whistler I see; he sees its magic and feels its pull to the mountains.
We hiked the 30 or so minutes up Flute together, skis on our shoulders, heads down, one foot in front of the other, and skied down through the trees.
It was 2:45 p.m. when we made it back to Symphony; the lift was closed.
“It’s 1.2 kms that way,” said the lifties, pointing to the road towards Harmony with perhaps a little too much pep for someone delivering that kind of news.
This was the last thing I wanted to do — hiking out after three laps of Flute.
Albert shrugged: “Have a piece of chocolate, let’s go.”
Now, I’ll admit it, I had been working hard to stay in front of Albert the whole way up and down Flute but when it came down to this last unexpected stretch at the end of the day, I was done. I couldn’t keep up. But Albert… well, he just kept on going.
Meeting Albert was an inspirational chance encounter, a reminder of what I want to achieve, how I want to live, and the affirmation that it is all within my grasp — you just have keep going, confident in your belief that you’re heading in the right direction.
In the immediate aftermath of death, here was life in all its glory, inhaling in deep breaths of fresh mountain air, moving forward one step at a time, with a little bit of chocolate to sweeten the way.
I wonder if I’ll be leading my grandkids on the long road out of Symphony one day after missing the last lift up… and telling them about a guy called Albert along the way.