Whistler Mountain borders British Columbia's Garibaldi Provincial Park and provides access to a glacier-capped, cirque-scooped skiable wilderness. | Photo by Jordan Manley
I pause on an icy ridge just outside the Whistler ski area boundary, soaking up isolation. Below are slopes of tiny skiers. They funnel toward the village, where upscale lodge life awaits. Most ski in stuttering turns, and every so often a figure comes arcing languorously through the rest before falling out of sight.
I am alone. The trail I'm following winds deep into the wilderness. It's a long trudge away from the chair lifts, about an hour of boots whittling my shins until a powdered bowl lies fresh before me. The mountains back here extend egg crate-like to the horizon, the sky above shines, wispy with clouds against a deep digital blue, and the air smells like my spit-dried balaclava—a smell I've longed for since spring.
"The best place in the world to ski is where you're skiing that day."
After drawing a few focused breaths of frigid air, I drop in, carving S curves over the bowl. The snow has a wet-sugar feel. Then I get into a forest, a collection of snow-clumped boughs that seems like some enchanted wood, and I remember what it's like to ski through trees. I'm careful to look for openings, scanning downhill and planning two turns ahead. My body knows each move before it comes. My knees feel like they might snap.
I stop to rest. The only sounds are my crinkling coat and my skis crunching the pack. When I'm totally still, I steep in the quiet that hangs only in the whitened wilderness. It's that late-afternoon hour when a melancholy calm creeps into the fabric of things, and I look up through the trees. The nearest person must be several valleys over. Soggy-cotton clouds spread over the sky, and the deep blue has paled. I could get caught in the weather if I wait around to bask in the seclusion, so I lean into the fall line and head to the village, where I'll warm in the Jacuzzi with a skier who doesn't know what it's like back there. —Jake Abrahamson