Saturday, December 28, 2013



New Year's Eve In Verbier St-Bernard - © VERBIER St-Bernard
My earlier New Year’s ski memories stem from Verbier in Switzerland which in the 80s and 90s was the place to be for savvy skiers on Dec. 31. After riotous skiing followed by après appetizers around town, the party really started around 10 pm in the main square outside the Hotel de Verbier.

Cabane Mont Fort, Verbier, Switzerland

Serendipitously, this was the hotel my husband (then boyfriend) and I always stayed in. We could eat our eight-course decadent dinner safe in the knowledge that our balcony was prime position for the al fresco celebrations. Less fortunate revellers had to hang around the freezing square hours in advance to bag their sought-after spots.

Fergus Hudson in Verbier

Despite the cold, someone always felt the need to strip and shin up a lamp post to herald in the New Year, amid all the lamentably low fireworks and vigorous champagne chugging. Everyone would brandish bubbly, much would be expensively spilt, chalets around the mountains would compete with the most outrageous firework displays and when the last fire-cracker died out, the party would relocate at the extortionate night clubs where line-ups rivalled holiday lift queues.

As a slightly more responsible parent, my next New Year’s nostalgia focused on Canmore and the Party on the Pond. When my kids were very young we joined in the old-fashioned charm of a skating party complete with music, clowns, hot chocolate and fireworks.

Canmore Party on the Pond by Craig Douce
Some years it was absolutely freezing requiring energetic skating and ad hoc ice hockey games to keep warm; other years - like this year - it was warm enough to stand around, chat and mingle with all the locals and tourists who turn up in their thousands over the evening. We combined this event with a house party of friends who brought in the New Year with Auld Lang’s Syne and, of course, champagne.

Now my kids are grown up, I am always on the look out for more dynamic ways to mark Dec 31 together. This year Lake Louise has scheduled one of its Torchlight Descent parties for NYE – perfect! This has been a regular soirée on the Lake Louise events calendar for the past few years. For those who’ve never tried it, the format starts with everyone congregating at mid-mountain Whitehorn Lodge, in ski gear, for riotous après ski hors d’oeuvres, drinks, dancing, entertainers and limbo contests. 

Limbo contest at Lake Louise Torchlight Party & Ski
Dancing to Suds band at Whitehorn Lodge, Lake Louise
Just like the Alpine equivalents, a large proportion of the audience is British although many other nationalities are represented among the tourists and Lake Louise staff who join in the fun. When darkness descends, ski instructors equip everyone with head-lights and lead small groups in wobbly, snakelike processions down the immaculately groomed pistes. It’s an entirely different experience than skiing in daylight and something that everyone should include at some point on their skiing agenda. For part two of the party, many professional partygoers stash a change of clothes in Lake Louise’s Lodge of the Ten Peaks, but others somehow manage the line dancing in their ski boots. Dinner in the Sitzmark Lounge is a bountiful buffet followed by more dancing – using every surface, often including tables and rafters.

Wherever you choose to celebrate year’s end, the mountains are a great place to combine the partying with some sporty skiing to work off all those Christmas calories. New Year’s Day on the slopes can be eerily quiet especially if you get up for first tracks – you feel like the only survivors of a New Year’s explosion. Then, by lunchtime, a few dedicated skiers turn up, some sporting fancy dress, all bearing hangovers evidenced by their subdued demeanours and precarious skiing. Fresh air, followed by a hearty lunch usually gets them over that after-party torpor and the afternoon resumes its jolly holiday atmosphere with lift lines usually noticeably short. 


1)   Ski more – say yes to all trips, make life fit around skiing - after all we have a long shoulder season to catch up on everything else.
2)   Cross country ski regularly as a fitness and stamina booster, plus a way to connect with friends both within the city and in the mountains.
3)   Do more yoga and Pilates for flexibility.
4)   Improve technique – take ski clinics to eradicate bad habits.
5)   Stretch before and after skiing to reduce chance of injury which could curtail your ski season.
6)   Find or design and patent a hat/helmet that doesn’t bring on bad hair days.
7)   Encourage a non-skier to take up the sport.
8)   Tune skis more often.
9)   Teach your kids to ski or snowboard or encourage any kids you know into the sport – it’s a lifelong legacy of fun and healthy outdoor activity which can wean them away from couch potato TV and video games. With skier numbers dwindling, the sport needs regeneration from youth.
10)   Push your skiing on – girls, try women’s only groups for instruction and social networking; men and women, try catskiing or heliskiing, challenge your comfort zone; or just form ad hoc groups with friends for a regular commitment to the sport.
11)  Try a new ski hill.
12)  Experience First Tracks programs and get the mountain to yourself for the first hour.
13) Enjoy some après ski – don’t just ski and run.
14) Take a three or four day getaway rather than the usual hurried day’s skiing.
15)  If you’re a boarder, try skiing; if you’re a skier, try boarding.
16)  Chat to the people sharing your gondola or chairlift – it’s amazing what fun conversations you can have.
17)  Help someone on the piste who’s fallen or lost a ski – you never know when it could be you needing assistance.

Big White

18)  Try and ski more days than ever before.
19)  Build your stamina so you can rip a run from top to bottom with a smile rather than a grimace.
20)  Get in the powder to justify buying those new fat skis.


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