Icefields Parkway – simply stunning!

We had lived in Banff nearly 9 months before we made it up to Jasper. We had free Glacier Adventure tickets on our Banff Ambassador passes so we had to wait for the long Winter to end before we could make use of them as the Glacier is closed during the Winter. We set off in rain and low cloud and after getting on the Icefields Parkway just after Lake Louise the rain turned to heavy snow and we were only able to get small glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the clouds. Very disappointing.Had a pit stop for petrol and shared a Poutine at Saskatchewan River Crossing which is a complex consisting of a restaurant, diner, gas station, large souvenir shop and motel near the mighty Saskatchewan  River. Tip: Don’t buy gas from here as it is very expensive. We carried on up the road and stopped at Sunwapta Pass to admire the sprawling valley below as the clouds started to clear.Arrived at the Icefields Centre at around 2pm and the Glacier Adventure complex was awash with tourists. We presented our Banff Ambassador passes at the ticket desk and were told the next available tour was at 4:30pm so we had a look around and then went to have a snooze in the back or the car on our new self inflating mattress. At 4:30 we were ushered onto a Brewster bus and driven by a driver with very bad jokes, 5 minutes up to the Ice Explorer bus depot. There, we got off the Brewster bus and onto a huge, specifically designed Ice Explorer bus with wheels taller than me! As it slowly meandered up the road to the Glacier, we passed through a ‘wheel washer’ which was just a big puddle that washes any mud off the wheels before going down a VERY steep hill onto the Glacier. The bus only goes about 30km an hour at top speed.Once on the Glacier there was a small area that your could walk around on that was clearly marked out with signs but a lot of the tourists (mostly Asians) were going over the barriers and climbing up onto the ice to take photos. The poor drivers had to keep telling them to get back to the safe area. I think we were quite lucky really, had we gone up onto the Glacier earlier we would have been rained on and not seen much but as it happened the rain cleared and the sun came out when we were there in the late afternoon. The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six principal ‘toes’ of the Columbia Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies. The glacier currently recedes at a rate of about 5 metres per year. 

We jumped back on the bus and headed back along the Parkway for a couple of kilometres to the Glacier Skywalk. This is a large U shaped lookout platform towering over the side of a glacial valley. The great thing about it it that it has glass floors so you can look down to the valley floor below. I found it a tad eerie as I don’t particularly like heights. It’s made of thick glass and a type of iron that changes colour over time to blend into the landscape. Along the path to the platform is information about the landscape and wildlife in the area.

After our Glacier Adventure we headed back up the Parkway where we stopped briefly at a roadside waterfall before heading to the town of Jasper. In Jasper we stopped for dinner and a look around the small and very quiet tourist town then made our way to the Hi Jasper where we had a bunk for the night. 

On the drive up, about 20 metres before the hostel we came across 2 black bears, just having a sniff and look at the car in front of us. It was pretty cool but I’m glad I was in the safely of the car. 

The following morning we left Jasper after having breakfast at a roadside diner and fortunately the weather had cleared so we were able to get amazing views of the Rockies all the way back to Banff.

Stopped briefly and had a stroll around the rocks at Horseshoe lake then again for a wander around Athabasca Falls which was nice but there were far too many people there. Also stopped at Sunwapta falls where we saw some rock climbers setting up some sort of Canyon crossing device. Had a few more brief photo and toilet stops along the way and we were just amazed at the sheer scale of the different mountains that stood along the roadside. I’m not surprised this stretch of road is on all the ‘worlds best drives’ lists, it’s just stunning. Massive peaks, glaciers, plaited rivers, semi frozen lakes, thick forest and glacial valleys make for interesting driving.We came across a ‘bear jam’ just before leaving Jasper National Park and had to avoid cars passing 2 coaches parked on the side of the road watching a large Grizzly Bear feeding on roadside flowers. We didn’t stop but I managed to get a shot of him.Out last stop of the weekend was a place I had wanted to visit for ages. It’s in all the tour brochures and posters and is one of the big tourist attractions in the area.

Peyto Lake Is a glacial fed Lake that lies just off the Parkway. After a 10-15 minute walk though Alpine vegetation you reach a viewing platform overlooking the lake and valley. It’s an amazing view and the colour of the lake rivals any in the Rockies. Plus it’s shaped like a wolf which is cool. It was definitely a highlight of the weekend for me.

The Icefields Parkway is an amazing drive, if you ever go to the Rockies, hire a car instead of going on a bus. There are so many places we missed but you would miss so much more being stuck on a bus. Definitely a weekend to remember in my world travels.

The night the sky put on an incredible show….

‘An aurora, sometimes referred to as a polar lights or northern lights, is a natural light display in the sky, predominantly seen in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions’
I have see the Aurora Australis only once before as a kid near Tunnel Beach in Dunedin, NZ. I don’t remember it well except I thought it was aliens.

Here in Banff I get alerts from Aurora Watch but the times I have been outside I haven’t seen a thing. Most people go out the Lake Minnewanka and need a special camera to see them with the naked eye.

Last night was different! I’m so glad I was awake to witness this incredible sight. 

At first it was just a green tinge behind Mount Rundle. I was frustrated as I was sure if I went to Minnewanka I’d see more but as Fergus was in Calgary at a gig I was unable to get out there.So I stayed and took some photos using my Northern Lights Photo Taker App and as the time went on the lights got brighter and I could see a definite line right across the sky getting brighter and brighter every minite. I could actually see them moving like ghostly swirls right above me! One bright line across the sky turned into a series of lines and swirls that changed all the time.  It’s really hard to describe, you just have to watch in wonder. This amazing show by Mother Nature certainly makes you feel small and insignificant. 

Something I will remember for the rest of my life.

Tattoo Time again!

I have tattoos, I have quite a growing collection of tattoos now. I started with a small dolphin on my shoulder in 2000 and have since turned that into a half back piece with Cherry Blossom, A Bird of Paradise, a Louis flower, water and wind. I also have the quote ‘when one door closes a another one opens’ so very true.

I have the coordinates of all the places I have lived on my back also, I had this done in Las Vegas on my 30th birthday and lastly I have a large Anchor on my leg to represent my life of travel and me seemingly not being happy anchored down anywhere….yet. 

So I decided to get what they call here in town a ‘Banff Stamp’. Which is basically a tattoo of a mountain, Assumingly very popular in there parts of obvious reasons.

I found a simple design I liked and had it tweaked a bit and opted for it to be placed on my inner, upper arm. A little scary as it’s my first ‘puplic ink’, all the rest is covered 90% of the time. 

I went to JP at Perfect Image in Banff and paid $170 (+tip) for my mountain range and I absolutely love it, it will always remind me of this wonderful part of the world and the memories I have made here.

50 days, 5 resorts and a million laughs…

This is the first time since we started traveling that I have felt really down. I feel like something is missing, something special has ended and there is a void in the pit of my stomach. The ski season is over.​I always knew I would have a wee cry and be upset when the ski season ended and to be honest I was getting a bit sick of skiing and only made the effort to go up if the weather was good whereas at the beginning of the season I would go, rain, hail or shine but I am feeling very sad that I can no longer jump on the bus and head up the mountain for a few hours before work or spend the morning skiing and the afternoon at Trappers having a few drinks or watching a band.2016/17 was such a great season and doing this was the best thing I have ever done and something I have wanted to do all my life. Sunshine Village is a very special place, the staff, many we know personally have made it such a great place to be. From the instructor who taught Fergus to ski to our mate Mitch from rentals, they have all made it a season to remember.Goat’s Eye, Standish, Angel, Wawa, Divide, Teepee and Strawberry are words we used often and everyone knew where you were talking about. In the future these words will always evoke a good memory when they are randomly and most probably very infrequently used. We had our own language up there, one everyone understood.I’m so glad Fergus has enjoyed it too. Back at the start of November he had never even been to a ski resort and I remember laughing at him trying to walk in ski boots for the first time, roll on 7 months and he is nearly as fast as me and is flying over big jumps and down black runs with ease. I’m glad I have been able to introduce the sport I love to the man I love.Slush Cup 89 was the best way to end a cracker season, the sun was out, the tunes were pumping and Trappers was packed full of revellers all wanting to cheers to a great season. It definitely went out with a bang!So today I packed up my boots, wiped down my skis, put them into storage and cleaned out my rucksack of things skiing related and stored them away in a memory box.

Yes, it is sad but we still have another Canadian ski season ahead of us, an amazing Summer full of travel and adventure and we have met some lifelong friends skiing this season at Sunshine.Sunshine village will always have a special place in my heart.
 

PANORAMA 

In March, the house packed up and went to Panorama ski resort in BC for a couple of nights. Before I start, let me tell you about our travel buddies/flatmates.

  • Carris – English, beautiful girlfriend of Sean and travel guru.
  • Sean – English, boyfriend of Carris and a mean cook/baker.
  • Kurt – Australian, older brother of Zeke and the maker of the amazing video below.
  • Zeke – Australian, Kurt’s not so little brother and the loudest in the house.
  • Tate – Canadian, amazing at almost every Winter sport and longtime Banff resident.

Through being Banff locals we got lift tickets for $69 a day and accommodation on the mountain for $9 a room! Awesome!

Day 1
Fergus, Tate, Kurt, Zeke and I left early in the day on the Wednesday but found out early on our trip would be longer due to the  93 being closed for avalanche control. We stopped in Lake Louise for a sausage roll before continuing up the Trans Canada through Yoho National Park to Golden. 

 On the way we stopped at The Natural Bridge, a rock formation that spans the Kicking Horse river just past Field. The boys meandered down the path in deep snow and along the side of the icy river to go into the cave under the bridge, it looked wonderful in there but I didn’t want to fall into the feeezing river so Fergus and I stayed on the bridge above.We continued on, beers in hand, music blaring, through the gorge to Golden and on to the 95 to Invermere. Stopped for some Timbits before climbing up the hill to PanoramaAfter checking into the Pine Inn we unpacked and headed down to the store on the old town gondola to get supplies (beer and Yagermister). 

Suituated in BC’s Purcell mountains, Panorama has nearly 3000 acres of terrain, 6 chairlifts and Canada’s largest slopeside hot pools as well as shops, cafes and bars.After a few drinks in our rooms we headed for the T-bar, a bar within crawling distance to our lodge! Had a few beers and played some pool (I kicked everyone’s arse!) and chatted. After a while Carris and Sean turned up (Carris had to work in the morning) and we enjoyed a hilarious game of musical bingo which I was rubbish at and by the end I didn’t know if the game was still on every time a song came on! After that we hit up the dance floor and showed off our dance moves, it was so fun. 

Later on it turned a bit fuzzy, I know I had 3 shoeys (drinking beer out of someone’s shoe) and it was a pretty late and messy night…….

Day 2

After a lovely breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches cooked in our room on a camping stove by Carris and Sean we warily made our way up to the chairlift a mere 10 metres from the lodge.

Headed right up the very top via 2 chairlifts and started our day.  Started on a mogully black run where there was a lot of stopping, falling over, laughing and general hungover shenanegins. Lost Kurt and Zeke after the second run and found out later they had retired back to the room. It was very icy over the whole mountain which made it hard work but it was sunny so we were rewarded with amazing views of the valley and surrounding mountain ranges. 

Relaxed on the deck chairs up the top at the Summit hut and had coffee. It was a lazy day but most of us skied right up until near closing time. Later in the afternoon we hit the hot pools. The one large and two smaller pools ranging from 35-40 degrees were so relaxing after a day on the slopes despite loud children splashing about and the boys throwing balls and squirting water at each other, it was rather nice. Boys will be boys!There is a free shuttle bus that takes people to and from Invermere nearby so jumped on that and headed down the mountain to town to get dinner. It was a long journey on a windy road, we were tired and some were a bit green round the gills. The bus driver kindly recommended a place called The New Station Pub to us which ended up being very nice. It is right on Lake Invermere and we saw a lovely sunset over the lake and mountains.Had a big dinner as many of us hadn’t eaten lunch. I had the Chicken Souvlaki which was yum! Had a few drinks and walked up to town to look around while waiting for the bus. Not much to see in Invermere. We were even stopped by local security asking why we were loitering around at 10:30 pm in town! We all look like friendly folk, I think….

Day 3

Headed back up the mountain again in the morning, another lovely day but the mountain was still icy up the top. Did a few runs up the top before sticking lower down where the snow was slightly softer. Had lunch and beers (it was St Patrick’s day so Guinness all round) down at the main building and chilled out for a bit in the sun.Did a few more runs up the top and through the park before calling it a day. The terrain was great and the mountain has long, wide tree runs and wasn’t busy at all, it was just a pity the snow wasn’t great but for $69 who can complain really.

Packed up the cars and headed on our way home. Stopped at Radium Hot Springs for a dip before carrying on through the gorge on the 93 to Castle Junction. The road had been closed for avalanche control as I mentioned earlier and we could see why as we travelled through there. There were reminants of avalanches all along the road. Up on the mountains you could see where the snow had fallen and on the road where it had been cleared. It was an amazing piece of roadway and driving over the passes and through the valleys really makes you appreciate the scale and beauty of the Canadian Rockies. I really hope to do the drive again in the Summer as there were so many viewpoints and things to do along the way we didn’t stop at. A weekend I will always remember, thanks guys!

Here is a GoPro video Kurt made of our trip.Muppets go to Panorama

FAM days

As a person working in Banff in the tourist industry, we are really lucky to be treated to a lot of familiarisation tours.

Tour operators and the ski hills give us heavily discounted or free days out from time to time so we can experience their product and subsequently sell or refer tourists to it.

This month I went on 2 FAM tours to Mount Norquay and Lake Louise. 

Norquay

The closest skifield to Banff, Norquay is only a 10 minute drive and you can even see the runs from town. It’s the oldest resort in the Rockies and is really popular with the Banff locals. There is a 91 year old man who still regularly skis there.

The day started at the Mount Royal hotel car park. Only 4 of us jumped in a van and headed up the hill. Normally the tours have at least 20 people so it was nice to have a smaller group. The 3 Polish people that accompanied me all work as housekeepers and a resort in town.  They were all new to skiing so after our free coffee, muffin and chat about Norquay with the snow school director, they headed out for their lessons.

I headed out by myself to explore the mountain. It was a little eerie as it was so quiet (it was snowing heavily) so on most of my runs I didn’t see a single person. I did a few runs on Mystic, Cascade and Spirit chairs and the snow was great in the morning, about 10cm of fresh powder. The runs are a lot steeper than Sunshine but most are long and wide so they are enjoyable. I really wanted to do the North American chair, that one has the best view over Banff and has black and double blacks but it had only opened earlier that week so the snow coverage wasn’t great. I was advised to give it a miss. Next time…Skiing finished at 3:30 and I then had beer and nachos with the 3 Polish people, their ski instructor and the ski school director in the main lodge. It was a good day and for $37, you can’t loose. 

Lake Louise

At 40 minutes from Banff, Lake Louise is the furthest ski resort of the big 3. I was so excited about going to Lake Louise as I knew it rivalled Sunshine for area, terrain and lifts. Lake Louise has 10 lifts, 1700 skiable hectares, 3 lodges to eat in and incredible views. 

The bus from Banff was pretty much full and most people slept on the 40 minute drive up. Once at the resort we piled into Whickey Jack Lodge for coffee and muffins. Everyone was in groups and my friends (workmate Cian and flatmate Zeke) couldn’t make it so I went and sat with some girls at a table. Got chatting to Jana and Lena from Germany and Sophie from the Uk and ended up skiing with them all day. Very lovely girls and awesome skiers too! Lake Louise consists of 3 areas, Frontside, Back Bowls and Larch. We headed up the gondola on frontside first and explored the runs from there, mostly blue and green tree runs with a few blacks scattered around. Before lunch we headed over the the back bowls to Paradise chair and Larch which we really enjoyed as the snow was excellent and we found a couple of long wide blue runs we loved.

Lake Louise Trail Maps
After a quick burger and chips for lunch the girls and I headed up the top to the Top Of The World Express and Summit Platter, the first button lift I had ridden all season, hard on the legs I can tell you! Up the top visibility was poor, all day it had been cloudy and snowing, we couldn’t see anything except grey clouds over towards the lake, a pity because the views are usually fantastic. On the way down from the top I had the biggest wipe out so far this season. Too much powder and 0 visibility = faceplant! We did a few other runs on Larch and Glacier before heading back to the Lodge for a beer and some nachos. 

It was a great day despite the weather and  skiing a full day with people equally as good as I am was tiring! I’ll definitely be back to Lake Louise again, hopefully when the weather is clear and I can enjoy the stunning views.

SKIING! – This is what we came to Canada for!

Stunning first day at Sunshine Village.

The Resort

Sunshine Village ski resort opened on November 3rd, the earliest opening day for 30 years! That tells me this season is going to be a cracker one.
Sunshine consists of 3 mountains, Mt Standish, Goats Eye and Lookout Mountain. It’s a lot bigger that any ski area in NZ but smaller that the big ones in Europe. You jump on a high-speed Gondola at the base and travel 20 minutes to the Village where there are 3 lodges, Lookout Lodge where there are restaurants and shops, Old Sunshine Lodge which is a pub/restaurant and Sunshine Mountain Lodge which is a ski in/ski out hotel. Sunshine Trail Maps

There are 12 lifts including 2 magic carpets and a luxury express bubble chair with heated seats. 

We have season passes which were just under $1000. Really cheap when you use them a lot which we will. I also get half the cost back through work if I say until the end of the season!Not the nicest of photos…..

Gear

I had my trusty Head Great One skis and Scott poles sent over from the UK at a cost of £130. Even though my skis are 2010 they are in great shape and always preform wether it be ice or deep powder. After a wax and sharpen at Snowtips in Banff where I get a 25% discount, they were ready to go.  Head Great Ones

I invested in new boots this year and am so glad I did so. Ski boots are so important to both comfort and performance and getting them mounded you your feet is also a must. They are not cheap though, mine were $369.00.

I researched for ages on the internet at the best womans boots from 2015 and 2016. I wanted the right flex for my skill level and of course a comfortable boot! In the end I had a pair in mind and went to Sports Experts in Canmore and funnily enough they had a selection of last year’s boots on sale and had one pair of Atomic Hawx 90 left in my size! After a few days breaking them in they are by far the most comfortable ski boots I have ever owned!Alomic Hawx 90

Ski School

Fergus had his first skiing lesson on the Sunday after the resort opened. He was so lucky there was only 2 of them in his all day lesson. Him and a lady from the Gold Coast. I went up and down Stawberry a few times (the small lift near the bunny slope) so I could watch his progress. First day of lessons

​I have to say, Fergus has taken to skiing a lot faster than I ever did. On his first day he went down a Green run on Stawberry and the second day we went up together I took him all over the mountains. Some runs he wasn’t fond of but he’s definately faster and more confident each day we go. I’m so very proud of him.Fergus and I on the bubble chair Stunning day!

I can also feel myself improving, it’s been 2 weeks since Sunshine opened and I’ve been 5 times. The snow has been wonderful, 8-10cm of fresh powder has fallen this week and it’s just fab to ski on.

Dreams do come true…

Lake Louise, Norquay and Nakiska open soon and we will go out and explore those resorts but Sunshine will be home for the next 6-7 months. I cannot believe I can ski every 3-4 days, I have been wanting this all my life, it’s true, it’s never too late to live your dreams.Ski bunnies – my flatmate Carris & I