Thursday, January 2, 2014

Canadian Ski Safari

Louise in new Rossignol ski jacket at Lake Louise
Winterstart World Cup (credit: Simon Hudson)
As my regular readers know, I have been on a Canadian ski safari since Dec 7. This has taken me from Winterstart World Cup women’s downhill action at Lake Louise to every type of ski hill from ‘Mom and Pop’, to ski-in/out resort, to pristine National Park enclaves. Here’s a quick summary of my experiences (and more indepth articles to follow over the next few weeks):

Mid-mountain at Marmot Basin
Marmot Basin, AB – Based from the utterly beautiful and luxurious Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, I spent four glorious days getting my ski legs back, on perfectly manicured slopes with hardly anyone else around. Blissful! Although the top lift wasn't open so early in the season, I got masses of vertical, lots of pristine corduroy and really warm temps for the time of year. Jasper township was as quaint and interesting as ever with even more eclectic cafes and restaurants, shops and a wildlife museum – although if you hang around outdoors for any length of time you’ll see your own wildlife without glass partitions. I got to see the same Mama moose twice just inches away from the base ski lift at Marmot. Each time I was in the car and she was trying to cross the road obviously a well-worn route for her. Amazing! This is a town which is so individual that McDonalds had to pack up and leave. 

Instructor, Jan Langmann teaching knee angulation
at Castle Mountain
Castle Mountain, AB – I loved the wind-sifted powder in gulleys and glades here, especially Ghostrider (which inspired many jokes about Nicholas Cage between my sons). The snow at Castle can be unimaginably light and so easy to ski – powder technique is much easier on the legs than carving and mogul methods, especially if you are doing back-to-back ski days like me. Also, there are dozens of cute cabins and chalets to wend your way through on the way back down to the Huckleberry lift – reminding me of French chalets in Courchevel or Meribel. The T-Bar is a quintessential après ski bar complete with wooden walls, ski paraphernalia décor, old avalanche warning signs, retro ski gear and a jovial, boozy atmosphere. With such a tiny resort, everyone there is a dedicated skier or rider, all animated after a great day’s skiing in a remote location. After filling comfort food, I loved being able to just walk across the carpark to the comfy bunk rooms at the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge & Hostel –  the whole experience made me feel young again.

Fothergill Family at Fernie
Fernie, BC – After one bluebird day of groomers, I got two blissful powder days at Fernie. First day I was able to find powder literally everywhere including the pistes. It was bucketing down all day, covering groomers, bumps and glades and filling in my tracks as I skied them. Day two, I met up with some knowledgeable locals – the Fothergill family who have a weekend retreat in Fernie. They guided my group to hidden stashes of untracked pow in out-of-the-way glades such as Surprise, Puff and Cougar. Great steep pitches, perfectly spaced trees, deep snow – and no other people to fight for it. My fave coffee stop at Fernie is the Lost Boys Café with its gourmet menu and gorgeous view – a vital pause after the long cold ride on the Timber Chair. Actually had a bit of energy after skiing to venture down to Fernie town one night and discovered Loaf, a trendy new restaurant and patisserie. For a significant price tag, you can order equally rich burgers of the day – it was veal that evening – with great satsuma-sprinkled salads and thrice-cooked fries! Corner Pocket Brasserie on the hill was another great eatery. 

Lindsey Vonn at Lake Louise (credit: Louise Hudson)
Lake Louise, AB– Having spent a fabulous weekend here on arrival (reporting on the World Cup for Dan Egan’s Edging the Extreme radio show and meeting Lindsey Vonn!) it was great to come back to really mild temps and a wonderful holiday atmosphere all over the Christmas and New Year period. The lodges and slopes resounded with happy voices, seasonal music and snowy scenes right out of Christmas cards. Lifties and staff were full of zeal and season’s greetings. I particularly like Temple Lodge on the badly-named “backside” of Lake Louise, with its revamped coffee bar and cozy rustic ambiance. It is perfectly positioned to warm up after exhilarating runs on Larch groomers and forays into the bumps on Lynx. It’s also en route from the back chutes off the Summit Poma and the bowls off Paradise Chair. Long after snowfalls, I was still able to find powder by hiking along the ridge above Paradise and dipping down into Mine Shaft and East Bowl Trees. There was good snow on the front side, too, especially in the Up Chutes, gladed areas reached by traversing skier’s left from the “Six Pack” (Top of the World 6-man chairlift). And Outer Limits off the Poma is always a really long, varied and fun ski down at the end of the day. As usual there was fabulous après ski in the Powderkeg Lounge, with its comfortable sofas, party ambiance, everyone lingering over cocktails and platters of cheesy nachos or decadent pizza slices, no-one wanting to end the exhilarating day. I am skiing here tomorrow, too, having a girls' day out with a couple of old friends. And I'll be back to Louise again in March for two weeks of mid-season skiing.

Free hot chocolate at Sunshine Village over the holidays
Sunshine Village, AB - Rarely sunny in winter but who cares, it’s almost always snowing which is what skiing is all about. Straddling Alberta and BC, Sunshine has three very different mountains with endless opportunities for skiing/riding progression and challenge. It means different things to different types of skiers. Some speed down the undulating groomers all day, favouring Strawberry, Standish, Wawa and Wolverine. Others explore further into the glades on Angel, the black bumps on Standish, the fall-line, lift-line challenge under the Continental Divide chairlift or the double black steeps and traverses under Tee Pee Town. Goat’s Eye Mountain is a world unto itself with runs for every standard from the blue cruisy Sunshine Coast to the black powder and bumps runs under the chair. For dare-devils, there’s Delirium Dive and Wild Wild West, expert areas which require a bit of a hike as well as beacons, shovels and probes. 

Santa on a snow bike at Sunshine Village on Xmas Day
I only skied there two days on this trip but I know it very well of old and so I made an effort to take every lift and most runs in order to re-experience the whole panoply of terrain and aspects. As usual, the all-natural snow, farmed from a unique system of wind fences, was predominantly soft with only a few obstacles to circumnavigate on wind-razed spots. Although not a jumper or rail rider myself, I noted three small terrain park areas already up and running this December, a prelude to the mega park which they will build later in the season. And, at day’s end, it was great to whizz down the fun ski-out to the carpark in perfect condition. Much quieter at Sunshine over the holidays than I had expected, another bonus for a ski-aholic!

Banff Alpine Racers at Mt Norquay
Louise with Ken Read
Mt Norquay, AB – A casual, laid back hill, easy to cover and straightforward from the GPS point of view. For me it holds great memories of my kids learning to ski and race with the Nancy Greene program and it’s also fun to bump into Crazy Canuck, Ken Read who is often there for a recreational ski or overseeing his son’s racing progress. There was great snow, despite the time of year, on the North American expert mountain. The lodge was quiet, just locals around and very few tourists in the run up to Christmas. It’s a great place to go during high season, easy to park especially as people come and go all day on 2 hour passes leaving gaps right near the front for late-comers. Liftlines are usually low-volume and there is always perfectly manicured manmade snow on all the groomers. The resort is protected from wind by dense forest in between trails and its advantageous aspect. An ideal Norquay format for experienced skiers is to ski runs off Cascade, Spirit and then Mystic as an energetic warm up and opportunity to finesse carving. Next, do a couple of descents in Bruno's Gulley, Black Magic or Ka Poof bumps in preparation for tougher black and double diamonds later. Take a break at the Cascade Lodge for cappuccinos or lattes, bagged lunches or posher nosh in the Lone Pine Restaurant upstairs and then go over to the “Big Chair” which is situated separately from the other chairlifts - just beyond the popular 8-lane tube park - for some serious skiing on steeper incline, longer vertical and ungroomed terrain. Tough on thighs, great for fitness and always a challenge in the glades, bowls and gullies.

Courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Kicking Horse, BC: The final leg of my trip is Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in British Columbia. Here I will be celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday as well as having 3 ski-in/out nights right on the mountain at the Glacier Mountaineer Lodge. Although a fully-kitted out family resort with plenty of greens and blues for beginners and intermediates, the Horse for me is a serious skier’s hill. Replete with black and double black diamonds, it has vertiginous ridges and chutes which remind me of the derring-do type skiing of my youth in France and Switzerland - but all in bounds and carefully patrolled. 

Snow is in the forecast so cross your fingers for powder!

Note to Readers: Please feel free to send me your ski stories and pictures from the 2013/14 season - I will post the best ones! You can email me on:

More Stories: Check out my published articles at:
Calgary Herald Ski Property Article:

Calgary Herald Passholders Article:

And don't forget to buy a copy of Vol 42 Issue 3, Ski Canada Magazine to read more about Banff Lake Louise ski area in my "British Invasion" article. I know I keep harping on about it, but it is a great read (the whole mag, not just my contribution) and we need to keep glossy print professional publications like this alive - as well as blogs of course!!

Sympathy: With Michael Schumacher's accident in the news, I am sure you will join me in wishing him a swift recovery. Whenever someone famous has a ski injury it highlights the intrinsic dangers of all sports, not just skiing. Coincidentally, I shared a coffee table with another previously-injured athlete, Dave Irwin just yesterday. Dave - Crazy Canuck, World Cup and Olympic Hall-of-Famer - suffered a brain injury back in 2001. After an amazing recovery, he lives in the Alberta Rockies, skiing regularly at Sunshine and often seen drinking coffee in my favourite Canmore cafe, the Rocky Mountain Bagel Co
Louise sharing a joke with Dave Irwin

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