Halfway up the peak chair on a long weekend at Whistler I heard gossip about snowmen appearing along the Sea to Sky. “Hitchhikers,” the girl to my left had called them, “people waiting so long for a lift they freeze that way”. Her neon friend on the far side offered “maybe they were made by an avalanche, and decorated by animals!”. I cut in and asked them if this was like an urban legend, and they replied that it was more of a running joke. Just as we were bringing up the safety bar the guy to my right—he’d been silent the whole ride up—leaned in and said “I heard it’s always after accidents.. and however many there are, that’s how many died”. I watched the ice in his beard crack as he laughed, and he was still laughing as he skied off into the fog.
I was on the way home from that trip when I witnessed two such snowmen being built. Heavy snowfalls had made a mess of the roads, my bus had been an hour late, and when it finally picked me up we crawled through the valley for barely an hour before coming to a dead stop. I looked ahead to see brake lights stretching out in front of us, and then our driver, who stood up and explained “Road’s closed. Make your calls and sit tight, cause we’re gonna be here for a while”. Resounding moans. “Driver, can you make it colder in here?”, “Anyone have any food?” “But I’m going to miss my flight!” “Can you make it hotter?”. Fogged windows, noisy children and the incipient smell of humanity. It didn’t take long for the claustrophobia to kick in, so I got up and offered the driver my sandwich in exchange for a free pass outside.
I headed toward the city with naive hopes of making it there on foot. I walked past people rummaging in trunks and sleeping in seats, following the shoulder until I could see the red and white of emergency lights on the cliffs. It looked like it had been a head-on collision, and a woman on the back of an ambulance appeared to be the only survivor; she just sat there pale, staring blankly in my direction while a paramedic tended to the scrapes on her forehead.
I heard excited voices then, belonging to a pair of small children in snowsuits. They giggled as they compacted snowballs and rolled them, working together to hoist each into stacks of three. With these they made two sculptures as tall as themselves, adorning them with twigs that stuck out from the drifts and rocks that they dug up from beneath. I looked back at the woman, and she seemed to be watching them too. I wondered at their joy—but shivered in the cold as I returned my gaze to the wreckage and saw the tarp outlines of two tiny bodies, disappearing under a thin blanket of snow.