Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Canadian Safari Dec 10

Lake Louise in Snovember - by Chris Moseley
While most people book a ski holiday to one resort and stay put for a long weekend or a whole week, there is also a move towards taking longer Ski Safaris. Driving around from resort to resort, reacting to snow conditions or recommendations from the ski bum apres bar can be a lot of fun - but it does need some advance preparations. This year I knew the early snow was great in Western Canada - last month was re-named Snovember at Lake Louise - so I felt safe in mapping out a pre-planned Alberta and BC itinerary for my decadent December road trip. By the way, have I ever told you before that the two weeks before Christmas are great for Canadian skiing? Everyone is so focussed on holiday events and Christmas shopping - and the thought that the season is so long with plenty of time for them to get out there later - that the slopes are really quiet, no lift lines, but a great, enthusiastic begin-of-the-season holiday atmosphere everywhere. 
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, BC, Canada
First stop Kicking Horse for official Opening Weekend Dec 11 - in reality, opening happened several weekends earlier due to immense early snow. Staying right by the gondola at Glacier Mountaineer Lodge, I plan to be among the first on the lift but I know there will be plenty of jostling jocks who will get up even earlier than me. This resort is rugged, radical and radiantly beautiful with towering peaks framing a maze of bowls, ridges and chutes accessed by high-altitude, sometimes vertiginous pathways - don't look down! But it is also geared to the fun family scenario with a learning area from the Catamount Chair leading to luscious leisurely blues and greens as well as interesting intermediate terrain in the incredibly cruisy Crystal Bowl. Great when my legs are tired!

Eagle's Eye, Kicking Horse
For decadent dining, day and evening, Eagle's Eye Restaurant perched at 7700 ft, is straight out of a James Bond movie with unbeatable views (actually voted 'Best View from a Barstool' by Ski Canada mag). The food is imaginative and sublime and drinks are as fancy as the decor. Lovely for a special treat or just to celebrate a perfect powder day.

Heaven's Door Yurt, Kicking Horse

For a more everyday but still elevated experience, there's the hip Heavens Door Yurt at mid mountain which is cute and cosy, a charismatic coffee stop or lunch munch. This is at the base of Stairway to Heaven which accesses fabulous Feuz Bowl. Chutes lead into the wide bowl which later meanders along boulder-strewn pathways back to the lift system. Love it!

Chugging along the aptly-named Powder Highway, my next destination is pretty Panorama, a delightful, well planned family resort with varied skiing, amazing ski in/out accom, heavenly heli skiing, huge outdoor hot pools overlooking the slopes and masses of atmospheric après ski activities. A few years ago, I did the chilli cook-out evening event - I felt like the Snow Queen as we wound through bleached forests in a horse-drawn sleigh. 

Back in the 2000s I remember sending in some emergency last minute Calgary Sun ski articles from Panorama's T Bar (the venue, not the lift) on Christmas Eve, surrounded by increasingly merry revelers. At the time it was the only place with Wi-Fi. Taynton Bowl is my fave ski area, great powder in glades which open out lower down with a long run-out to the lifts. Great glades on the front, too. And then it's time for the hot pools which are big enough to swim in (if you have that kind of energy left!)

View over Kimberley slopes from my window at Trickle Creek
Beckoned by the quiet slopes, the quaint Bavarian town and some English ex-pat reprobates who live there, Kimberley is next on my list. Whenever I ski here I feel like a local, in on all the slope secrets. It may be lower profile than some of the bigger Canadian resorts but the snow can be phenomenal with powder lasting longer due to less visitor volume. If you go, get a snow host to show you all the hidden gems. Before my friends moved there, that's what I used to do and found some cool places that way, including the Old Bauernhaus.

Fabulous fondues at Old Bauernhaus - by Louise Hudson
It probably won't be built yet but the Sun Pit is great later in the season. A snow host originally showed me the short forest hike to get there. Constructed by locals out of snow and ice, it's a great hangout for 'adult' picnics. Looking forward to revisiting some of my fave plunges in the Black Forest Glades this time. A few claims to fame: at an altitude of 1120 metres, Kimberley is the highest city in Canada and has the largest standing cuckoo clock in North America! It's in Der Platzl and will also yodel for a quarter. 

Kimberley Capers by Louise Hudson
Fernie Alpine Resort
Sister resort to cosy Kimberley, fabulous Fernie is a must on any British Columbia itinerary. Staying at the luxurious Lizard Creek Lodge, right on the slopes, means getting out in the snow bright and early and the comforting convenience of being able to come back to the hotel whenever I want. Fernie's skiing definitely requires rest stops! From its series of five bowls, it's so vast with steep chutes, ridges, glades, roller-coaster canyons and short, pole-propelled hikes to ungroomed terrain littering the sides of most trails. It's where my kids first learned to powder ski - there was so much snow, they had no choice, even on the pistes! Love the Anaconda Glades, Currie Powder and Snake Ridge. And discovered the semi concealed Cougar Glades a while back - a short pole through the woods off the White Pass chair. Great cache of late powder to be found there. 

Fernie's Griz Bar
And looking forward to savouring scenes from a daring downhill day, over a glass of wine or two in The Griz, one of the raunchiest ski bars around - rather reminiscent of my rowdier youth in Verbier's Pub Montfort.  

Back in Alberta, and I'm home at last - the home of my heart, that is. This is where I lived from 1999 to 2009 and where my sons grew up skiing every weekend and holiday during the five-month plus ski season. The Big 3 were our wonderful winter playground and when I am away I still feel nostalgically bound to this beautiful backdrop by an unbreakable bungee cord! 
Sunshine Village by Paul Zizka
Can't wait to be following the sun - as the website advises - around Sunshine Village. Their insightful Insider Tips, which I've just noticed this season, suggest starting out on WaWa, Standish or Strawberry to get the best of early morning rays and moving up to the higher areas of the Continental Divide or Goat's Eye later on. Great idea on a quiet day, although on a busier day, it's best to ignore the cold and do it all in reverse, getting off the gondola at Goat's Eye and moving up to the areas off the Angel, Divide, WaWa and Standish chairs in the afternoon.  
Delirium Dive at Sunshine Village
Photo by Richard Hallmann

Not sure if Delirium Dive - only for the daring, by the way - will be open while I'm there. But it is a phenomenal experience to go on one of Sunshine's organized tours in this steep, backcountry bowl. An instructor gauges your ability to cope beforehand and you get avalanche beacon instruction as well as handy tips. 

My fave on piste powder areas are the intricate boulder and tree-lined chutes under the newly renovated - and heated - Teepee Town chairlift. And what luxury to have heated seats and a cover this season! I love playing in the pow on Standish, too, (especially the Garbage Chutes) and weaving between the trees below the Angel chair. 

Good snow can be found everywhere, though, so I make it a habit to take every lift at least once during each day there and ski every aspect of the resort. 

Java Lift cafe at Sunshine Mountain Lodge
Java Lift is a convenient mid-morning coffee stop, providing fuel to last until a later lunch at Trapper's or Chimney Corner in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. All three are right by the Standish Lift enabling a quick return to the action. This is where my Calgary friend bumped into Alec Baldwin and casually chatted over coffee when he was there for the Celebrity Invitational one January - and didn't get me a photo!

Sunshine Village mega outdoor hot tub, right on the slopes overlooking the chairlifts - Photo by Adam Locke
Hidden Ridge Resort, Banff
For the first time, I'm staying at secluded Hidden Ridge Resort which is set above Banff town centre on Tunnel Mountain Road with glorious views over Banff National Park. Self-catering suites, so it will be fun to buy food in town and pretend to live there for a few days. 

The North American Expert only mountain at Mt Norquay
The smallest of The Big 3Mt Norquay is also the oldest, celebrating its 90th birthday this season. Not too old to give birth to a new run though - a blue on Mystic called the Wiegele 50 after Mike and Bonnie Wiegele, founders of the Banff Quickies and Banff Alpine Racers, who train there. With 85 percent snowmaking capacity, it is home to many ski teams, kids' learning programs, families and terrain park teens. But Mt Norquay also has an incredible expert-only mountain - topped by a vintage tea house, now renamed The Cliffhouse Bistro. The North American is a bonanza of blacks, ungroomed, and often blanketed in natural snow with hardly any takers. 
Cascade Lodge at Mt Norquay, Banff
Another way to avoid crowds, especially at weekends, is to pole over to the base of Mystic Chair and head into Bruno's Gully for pow and playful bumps. 

Love the Lone Pine Lodge - all pine and old pics, live music and great bar upstairs with very local feel. Everyone just chucks their gear under the stairs for the day, gathers for family and friend groups for coffee, lunch and après ski. Reminiscent of my Calgary days when we were at Norquay every weekend for our kids' Nancy Green League program. 

Hot pool cavern at The Fox Hotel & Suites, Banff
The Fox Hotel & Suites, Banff Avenue, Banff
I've stayed at The Fox Hotel & Suites once before but I was on a women-only trip for just one night with masses of organized activities so didn't get time to appreciate my luxury suite. It made a lasting impression, though, and I've always wanted to go back with my hubby to re-visit the rustic and romantic suites and surprising subterranean hot pool cavern. It's right on Banff Avenue, too, so a lovely location for experiencing Banff's gnarly nightlife. Also has hotel shuttle to Sunshine Village, Mt Norquay and Lake Louise so no driving!

Lindsey Vonn at Lake Louise 
Loved by everyone (including Lindsey Vonn who shouted out "I love this place!" when she notched up her second win of the World Cup Circuit there last weekend),  Lake Louise is literally one of the most beautiful, soul-soaring ski resorts in the world. Mountains and trees, covered with snow scintillating in sunlight, are always gorgeous and uplifting, of course, but there is something about Lake Louise's configuration of unscathed, densely treed mountains, mere scattering of low-rise rustic buildings, and boundless backdrop of blue-iced glacier-fed lake that stuns every visitor - and photo opp heaven!

Whitehorn Lodge Ice Bar at Lake Louise
Looking forward to wicked Whitehorn lunches with cheesy fondu and a glass of bubbly. Hope it's cold enough to construct the panoramic patio ice bar - so like Europe! Another European legacy is the fun torchlight descent, dinner and dancing event scheduled this season for Xmas Day, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Night. I've done this before one Xmas Eve with hubby and kids and we all loved it. Following après ski drinks and snacks with live music and crazy competitions at Whitehorn, we followed an instructor down a normally routine route made oddly precarious by the night shadows cast by our headlamps - and maybe the booze! 
View over the Chateau, lake and glaciers from the slopes of Lake Louise
My fave Lake Louise ski runs are mostly on the back where the local's loop starts at the Summit Poma, goes over the back to the backcountry-like Brownshirt area, back down to the Paradise Chair and cross-country through trees and clearings back to the Poma. But I also love the bumps under Paradise or the hike from the top of the chair, along the ridge to Mineshaft and through the glades back down to Temple Lodge - just the perfect warming, wooden cabin-style restaurant you hope to come across when you become weary in the wintry wilderness. On the front side, Eagle Trees are always fun and Outer Limits from the top of the Poma is a great - but gruelling - last long run of the day back down to the laid-back luxury of Lodge of the Ten Peaks - for Apothic and appies in the Powderkeg Lounge. 

The Post Hotel & Spa, Lake Louise
Wine Cellar dining at The Post Hotel & Spa

I've been longing to lodge at The Post Hotel & Spa in Lake Louise Village for many years. Previously popped into the pub one summer but never actually stayed overnight - until this trip, that is. Known for its European gentility - care of its Euro hosts - it looks like a very refined Alpine ski lodge. Packed my posh après gear in case I have to dress for dinner in the wine cellar. 

Rooftop hot tubs with sublime glacier views at Deer Lodge Hotel, Lake Louise
Another decadent dinner is planned at Deer Lodge, just up the road on the way to the actual Lake Louise. I stayed there once before in summer so I know how sensational the views are from the rooftop hot tub. But this time I am looking forward to trying the Rocky Mountain cuisine. 

If you fancy a bit of pampering on the piste this winter, check out my latest Ski Luxury article in the Dallas Morning News at:

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