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Living the North Shore dream

Everybody talks about it, but nobody actually does it. North Shore residents take pride in telling those from elsewhere that we live in a place where you can ski and golf in the same day, yet I've never met anyone that has actually done it.

Everybody talks about it, but nobody actually does it.

North Shore residents take pride in telling those from elsewhere that we live in a place where you can ski and golf in the same day, yet I've never met anyone that has actually done it.

Tee Time to the rescue.

It was late March and I had been kicking the idea around for a while. I ran it past colleague Larry Verigin at the News and his eyes lit up; we had a winner. To get the full North Shore effect, we chose Grouse Mountain for skiing and Northlands for golf.

The day began when we met at the Grouse Mountain parking lot at 8:30 a.m. Packing skis and golf clubs meant separate cars, but as we were staying on The Shore it wouldn't be too hard on the gas tank.

I think most people take the local mountains for granted but, as visitors to the recent Winter Olympics reminded us, having three world-class alpine facilities literally in our backyard is extraordinary.

On the ride up, I pondered the big lump of rock that looms behind our everyday existence. Grouse Mountain has been in the ski hill business for more than 80 years. Before the Lions Gate Bridge, before the jet engine, before television. In September of 1929, Winston Churchill dined in the original Grouse Chalet with his son Randolph and his brother Jack as they made a tour of the fading British Empire.

History has been made here. In 1949, Grouse installed the world's first double chair lift, running from the top of Skyline Drive to the bottom of the Cut. In 1965, North America's largest aerial tram system, the old Skyride, was built.

That spirit of innovation still lives. They've upgraded and added newer, faster lifts, developed the Y2Play season's pass program, which puts skiing within reach of almost everyone, and iced the cake with the Eye of the Wind power generator, which will soon supply 25 per cent of the mountain's electrical needs.

Although snow woes plagued the local hills this winter, a late blast of winter was dropping flurries on us when we got to the top. After gearing up, we took the slacker's route to the Cut, pausing for a moment to look down on this amazing city. It was spring skiing conditions with runs machine-groomed and ready. The only thing that could have made it better would have been sunshine, but that too is the story of the North Shore. After a few runs on the Peak and down Blueberry Bowl, it was time to start the transition.

Our tee time at Northlands was just after noon.

I was also shooting a video of our day for the North Shore News website and Verigin, pulling duty as Best Boy, had an idea. He brought along a tennis racket and some tennis balls. We stopped at the tennis courts at the bottom of Nancy Greene Way and I spent some quality time chasing balls around in my ski boots, goofing for the camera.

We got to Northlands in time to grab a late breakfast at the Northlands Grill. The sign on the road to Mount Seymour advertised a "Skier's breakfast." It was calling our names. Over animal fat and coffee, we were joined by Jack Miller of North Vancouver's National Car Sales. He had purchased a new set of Cobra irons and was dying to try them out.

If you've never played Northlands, you must. Designed by Western Canadian course architecture legend Les Furber, it's a microcosm of North Shore terrain: thick, brooding forests, precipitous slopes, dense undergrowth and water. The exceptionally mild winter has left the course in terrific shape and it will be a great year for play.

The front half of the course performs a seemingly impossible trick -- after climbing uphill for most of the nine, you end up back where you started.

Over the years, constant upgrades have made Northlands even better to play. Much of the jungle lining the fairways has been cleared to make finding your ball a lot easier, bunkers have been overhauled and drainage improved.

In the past year, drainage has been added to the sixth and ninth holes, bunkers on the back nine have been renovated and the right side of the seventh fairway has been filled in to increase playability.

We scrambled our way around the front nine and came out smiling. It was raining a little, off and on, but playing surfaces and greens were in great shape.

As we worked our way around the back half of the course, the weather improved a little and the greens got faster. Judging putts is more art than science, and with shifting surface humidity, it's trickier still.

Though mostly benign, the final nine holes include a couple of doozies. The par-five 15th has brought many golfers to tears. A long landing area tightens at an environmental hazard that bisects the fairway some 300 yards from the tee box. On the other side, it's all uphill to a green surrounded by bunkers. It's just Les Furber messing with your head, but he's so good at it. That afternoon, there was much weeping as we skulked off to the par-three 16th.

In the environmental hazard on the par-five 17th, a deer wandered out and gave us the eye before settling down to munch on emerging shoots and leaves. This too is part of our milieu on the North Shore as we share the verges of the wild places with other creatures. With our games in the shape you would expect after several months' layoff and no practice, we still managed to string a few decent shots together as we made our way to the final green. Looking down from the tee box, it struck me that golf and skiing are similar in some respects. Both are individual pursuits best shared with friends; both involve picking your line as you work your way around and down wide playing surfaces; and success at both depends on how well you execute your plan.

In the Grill afterwards, Miller told us that he used to live near Les Furber in Canmore, Alberta. Thoughts of a retaliatory strike on his house faded as the post-game chicken wings, nachos and beer arrived.

For Miller, it was all about having a chance to get out of the office and try his new irons. For Verigin and me, it was about bringing the North Shore dream to life. It was a day we will never forget.