Airports make me both excited and anxious. The allure of distant lands is tempered by how much can go wrong. So many documents to lose. So many stern, uniformed and occasionally armed persons of limited humour. Sniffer dogs with a dislike for finance brokers. And that was before the Covid era where every step is fraught with the possibility of detention, isolation, fines or other deprivations. This has been my recurring nightmare since arriving in Canada. What has yet to go wrong, and will I get home? More on that later.

Whistler is a pretty little village about 2 hours out of Vancouver. Reminds me a bit of Byron Bay or Noosa with the beaches and surf replaced with mountains and snow. The good people of Whistler, or probably the owners of the ski fields, have long ago moved away from the one trick pony that is the ski season. I’m told that mountain biking in summer is just as popular which is evidenced by the number of dual-purpose ski and bike hire outlets. Seems to be a model of demand drive diversification well suited to the local geography. I don’t think it hurts that snow sport and cycling enthusiasts share a similar demographic which appears well understood by local accommodation operators.

I stayed at a large internationally branded hotel of, how shall I put this, up market reputation. Unfortunately, elements of the experience suggested a textbook case of management never spending a night in their rooms. A kitchen so poorly ventilated that by the end of my stay I was on first name terms with the fire alarm dude. I’m guessing that by providing very very limited cooking equipment the proprietors never envisaged someone actually cooking in the extravagantly promoted self contained suite. We finally solved the problem by having the restaurant provide some decent cutlery and the staff installing a pedestal fan which worked well in dissipating the cooking fumes.

Of course, free reliable Wi Fi is a given in this day and age. Pity this essential guest service at the big H was at best dodgy and at worst non-existent. On the few occasions that I decided to visit the front desk and complain I realised that I had joined a queue of similarly disgruntled guests. The hotels response was to provide the number of an IT company who might be able to help. This seems to me to be akin to giving a guest a plumber’s number if the toilet doesn’t flush or the hot water doesn’t work. Not a good look.

It does strike me that on some occasions places of breathtaking natural beauty seem to be at risk of product blindness. There’s almost an inverse dynamic at play where accommodation providers believe that sub standard experiences are somehow counter balanced by the sheer magnificent of the location. I suspect this might have worked back in the day but not in today’s world.

On the positive side, and these are the important features, great housekeeping, a very comfy bed, wide variety of pillows and a hot and reliable shower. Mostly really helpful staff and very cold beer in the bar. Oh, and the hotel was dog friendly and yes, that added a very cool vibe to reception when guests were checking in. I find great happiness in seeing a beautiful Labrador on it’s hind legs and paws on the concierge desk while it’s owners are checking in. I think the only one’s looking happier were the staff and the kids who patted the dog.

Anyway, having familiarized myself with my lodgings I set off to hire some skis. The Aussie in the hotel ski shop took me aside, explained in hushed tones that they were the dearest in town, and gave me directions to a little out of the way hire business. Half the price and good gear. My Aussie friend was not doing the boss any favours but he sure made my day !

The ensuing 2 weeks were spent in a combination of snow induced bliss, old fat guy exhaustion and, I am ashamed to confess, a couple of world class hangovers. If you have ever indulged in a few too many reds in a very warm and cozy bar and then stepped out into -8 weather I am sure you will sympathise. All the while the same thought ticked away in the back of my head. Will I get home ?

As luck would have it, Whistler has many Covid testing stations designed specifically for the international traveller. You book online, pay a pretty exorbitant fee, and turn up at your designated time. The test result is available within 15 minutes. I booked early and said a silent prayer to whatever deity controls Covid results. Turns out the prayer worked, and it was all smooth sailing back to Oz. Our national carrier does a nice job and at least they are not going broke every 5 minutes and cancelling flights to places we have credits for. While the name suggests this is the first dance I suspect not !

On the flight home, during which much of this was written, I experienced an interesting emotion the likes of which I’ve not encountered before. Exhilaration, relief, sadness, ……….. not sure #. What I do know is that travel is one of the greatest experiences we can have. Restricting the opportunity to have that experience seems to have changed to way I think about getting away. The joy of going somewhere different and experiencing other countries seems to have come into really sharp focus in the Covid era and I suspect we will take a long time to get back to taking travel for granted. Maybe that’s a good thing.

# I tell a lie. I have felt these emotions before. It was when the managing director found out I’d bought a motor bike. All of the above plus fear. A lot of fear !

Mike Phipps | Director | Mike Phipps Finance

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