Wednesday, December 24, 2014

White Christmas

Me on Mineshaft at Lake Louise
Where’s the best place to spend Christmas? In the mountains, of course, and for me that means skiing at Lake Louise, Sunshine and Mt Norquay - all of which have great snow this season already. These are the Big 3 Rocky resorts, a stone’s throw from Canmore and Banff - both picture-postcard mountain towns. In fact, you don’t need Christmas cards here – you are living them!

This is where I have spent the past 15 Christmases with my family and a gang of ski mad friends. Even now, with my sons scattered across North America, we congregate in Canmore in early December for a month of mountain mingling, mayhem and magical memories.

Fergus Hudson aged 2
Before 1999 when I first discovered the Big 3, I spent all my adult Christmases skiing, stuffing the car with skis, babies, gifts and gear and schlepping to Switzerland for a cuckoo-clock Christmas and vibrant Verbier New Year.

So what started this outdoor obsession? Turn back the calendar to a signature ski trip in Seefeld, Austria in 
1972 when I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of mountains and downhill delights that I vowed never to miss a winter season. Miraculously, so far I’ve been able to stick to that and I am currently on my 43rd consecutive ski season! I wish all New Year’s Resolutions were so easy to keep. 
Rupert Hudson aged 4 in Verbier
The other thing that really resonated with me way back in 1973 was the lucky, leisurely, luxurious lifestyle of the British seasonal workers running the travel companies in Seefeld. I can still remember what our rep and our ski instructor looked like and how they exuded such zest for life! So, sure enough, after my journalism apprenticeship in GB, I boarded an overnight train to Switzerland, turned up at Crans-Montana at 8 am in the morning in early December 1983 and started job hunting. By the end of that day I had my first ski resort job, studio apartment, and most importantly, season ski pass.  And it was a plum job – working for an upmarket ski camp for international kids. I worked 8am-12 and then 4pm-8 giving me four hours off every day to ski and evenings free too! And I had a day and a half off per week for even more fabulous skiing.

Those of you who know me personally know I hardly ever go anywhere without my schoolday sweetheart, Simon and he was with me back then, as well as Tim Nightingale, a university friend. Tim couldn’t find a job so, after a while gravitated to Italy instead but Simon nabbed an assistant chef job after a couple of weeks. We were set for a great season (and a lifetime of Simon being our chief cook)!

That winter led to another in France where I worked in a posh boutique from 3-7pm each day so had even more ski time and evenings free, too. And Simon worked as a rep for a chalet company. That season in La Plagne was when Simon and I really got into powder skiing, following our fearless friend Richard down the Face de Charvet when we visited him in Val d’Isere.

Simon in Ski Club of Great Britain
gear with Rupert aged 4
For the next six years, running a clothing design business in England, we still skied six whole weeks every winter with Simon trouble-shooting for chalet companies and later repping for the Ski Club of Great Britain in various resorts around Europe. In the 80s I managed to fit in two whole seasons working as a rep for Crystal Holidays firstly in Verbier and later in Meribel. Having discovered the heavenly and hospitable Hotel de Verbier we gravitated back there once we had kids and it became our regular holiday haunt at Christmas and Easter from the early 90s until we moved to Canada in 1999.

We were meant to stay in Canada for just three years, but that evolved into ten as we came to love our Canmore condo and the surrounding mountains like home. With so many ski resorts in Alberta and neighbouring British Columbia, we are able to ski safari around Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley and Kicking Horse, our nearest Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and tack on side trips to PanoramaCastle MountainMarmot Basin. When we feel like a mega road trip, we head to Revelstoke, Sun Peaks, Silver Star, Big White and, once, to Whistler

Fergus Hudson racing in Verbier aged 3
Since around 2005 I have been a freelance journalist, specializing in ski writing for a whole host of Canadian publications. Despite moving down to South Carolina five years ago (because of Simon’s university career), I have continued to be both a prolific ski writer - and probably the most prolific skier in SC - notching up 40-plus days per season. Golf just doesn’t do it for me!

The side benefit of living 'Down South' has been the proximity to Colorado and Utah where I’ve had lots of great trips and this year I’ll also be going to Jackson Hole, a bucket-list bonanza. And living in the USA prompted me to branch out to work for US publications such as the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and LA Times.

At the top of one of our favourite black runs, the North American
at Mt Norquay, by the recently re-opened tea house
But my heart remains in Canada so here we are again for another wonderful wintry Christmas in Canmore with masses of early season snow, a great group of fervent friends who forgive us for moving away, and lots of story ideas to research for all my articles – and, of course, the Working in a Winter Wonderland book that Simon and I are writing together.

I’ll be going back to posting excerpts from the book next week - great interviews with key people in the ski industry - but I thought for my Dec 25 blog I would tell you a little more about me and my idea of the perfect Christmas.

Wishing you all a wonderful White Christmas and Happy New Year with lots of skiing on your resolution list!

Happy Christmas from Santa and his Elves at Lake Louise

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