That speed bump is a ’97 Suzuki Sidekick, lightly covered in snow. The engine’s still good, and has just 120,000 km on it. But after spending 17 years in Whistler winters, with all the salt laid down on the often icy roads… well, I’m sure some days the poor thing feels like a speed bump, and if you hit one of them too fast, small bits of rusty body are likely to fall off her.
Still, she’s a trooper. So when I climb inside after clearing several centimeters of snow, I give a little pat on the steering wheel, murmuring, “you’ve been good to me, baby.”
She was, essentially, a gift from my Australian brother-in-law, who’d originally bought her upon returning to Whistler with my sister, where they’ve bought a home and have been raising a couple of kids in one of the world’s most fabulous ski resorts. Of course, the kids don’t ski. He plays more hockey than hunts powder (yes, an Aussie on ice skates) and my sister appears to have lost interest lately. Ah well, that’s the way of some locals in a ski area. She’d put in 15 winters driving, then another in storage when the family upsized to a Honda Pilot. When my own car got rear-ended on the Trans-Canada highway a couple years ago, and written off, the Suzuki was offered up as a replacement.
She has been good to me.
There’s a bit of snow falling as I drive to the day skier lots. That, and thinking of my Aussie brother-in-law, gets me to thinking of some Aussie friends of mine, some of whom have never even seen snow. I often think about how best to describe the experience of driving in snow to my friends who’re snow virgins. The fluffy flakes falling, then parting to dance around and over the windshield as you drive through them. The way especially dry snow makes wavy, undulating patterns on the asphalt in the wake of the car ahead of you. How much I love the feeling of a car when driving on a snow-covered highway, how slick the road feels under tire, how the proper application of accelerator and patience and a light touch on the steering wheel can take advantage of the fact that none of the four wheels are rolling in the direction the car is actually moving, and still keep the car travelling safely on the roadway.
I love few things about driving more than the visual and physical sensations provided by a snowbound highway. But, the highway has been plowed, and the combination of traffic and barely-below-freezing temps means my tires are in perfect, grippy contact with the asphalt. I’ll have to wait until I get up on the mountain to enjoy a good slide-slip.
My thoughts turn back to my Queensland friends, in the depths of their summer, with temperatures in the low 40s, centigrade. (That’s above 100F, my American friends.) Right now, of course, they’re whingeing about the heat. But in six months, when the thermometer occasionally creeps a degree or two south of freezing, they’ll turn their complaints to the “Arctic weather”. This always makes me laugh.
It is fairly well impossible, anywhere in Queensland, to experience truly Arctic temperatures. Certainly not outdoors. And even commercial walk-in freezers max out at -10 degrees celsius. Whistler is, on average, one of the warmest major ski resorts in Canada, but there’s a stretch every season where the thermometer will dip below -20 for a few days or so. That’s too cold to snow, btw. So I’m quite glad it doesn’t happen very often here. Well, that, and it’s actually freakin’ Arctic!
I’m sure my friends who live in the far north, above the Arctic Circle, where much of the winter is spent a cold below -40C, have a good laugh every time I say that. Cold … it’s such a relative thing.
By the way, -40F and -40C are the same temperature. And -40, no matter which scale you measure it on, is — in fact — freakin’ Arctic.
British Columbia, Canada, 2014