Girl’s trip to Fernie 2018

I have always wanted to ski Fernie. I know a few people who skied there last season and we had considered, at one point, settling there for our second winter season in Canada.Fernie is a city in the Elk Valley area of the East Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia and is accessed from Banff via Radium and Cranbrook.

I had to work in the morning so at 3:30 Layla arrived at work to collect me. We loaded up the car with bags and ski gear and filled up in Banff before heading off around 4pm.

We headed up the Trans Canada and turned off onto the 93 at Castle Junction. This is another stunning drive through the mountains to BC, this one littered with the remains of wildfires that have scorched the land over the years leaving hundreds of acres of charred forests.We passed Vermillion Crossing and into Kootenay National Park and drove alongside The Kootenay river for a while before heading West towards Radium. The last kilometres before entering Radium are very impressive. Steep, rocky cliffs line both sides of the road for a few corners before you hit the town and the flat river valley.After a toilet break we turned left onto the 95 towards Invermere. We were travelling along past the Columbia river, Lake Windermere and just past Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and ski hill we crossed the valley and travelled down the side of Columbia Lake. Stopped at a lookout and got an amazing view down the valley to the frozen lake, the surrounding peaks and the flatlands beyond the lake. We turned off onto the 95a and headed to Kimberley.Kimberley is a small town situated on rolling hills below Kimberley ski resort. It must be a pretty wee town in Summer but the day we passed through it was pretty grim and we saw more Elk and Deer wandering around town than people which was a bit odd. We carried on down the Kimberley highway with the mountains to our left beyond the flatlands and the St Mary River to our right. We stopped in Cranbrook which is the largest town in the area with around 20,000 people to collect the $50 lift ticket I had bought on Kijiji. Even though we were at Tim Hortons we decided to carry on to get dinner in Fernie as it was nearing dusk.

We turned off and headed South East onto the Crowsnest highway and passed some oddly named towns such as Bull river and Jaffray. The sun was beginning to set over the mountain ranges behind us and the sky became a beautiful rainbow of yellow, orange and red as we travelled up and into the pass. The road got a lot narrower as we climbed, there were steep cliffs to out left and the river to our right.1After a narrow and windy road through the pass to Fernie, (made worse by a lorry right up our arse) we found our way to A&W for a bite to eat before heading to The Raging Elk Hostel. On check in we were happy to find out that due to our general manager knowing the hostel owners we had been upgraded to a private family room. Sweet!23We headed to the hostel bar after settling in for a few drinks and some pool. Disappointingly, the bar was really quiet and apart from a really annoying drunk Canadian guy and a couple of know-alls we beat in pool and who thought ‘Banff is so overrated’ there wasn’t anyone there worth talking to except each other.1.jpg

Day 2

Fernie isn’t as big as Sunshine or Lake Louise but to me it felt really big. The hill consists of 5 bowls all facing towards town. Cedar, Lizard, Currie, Timber and Siberia bowls. (Polar Peak was unfortunately closed due to avalanche danger).2.jpg2.jpgAfter a breakfast of pancakes for Layla and noodles for me we caught the little ski shuttle from outside the hostel for the 5 kilometre journey to the ski hill.

We began our day on the Elk Quad followed by the Boomerang Triple chair that took us over to Cedar Bowl on the far right of the mountain. We thought it would be best to follow the sun and Cedar was full of morning sunshine. We were really lucky with the weather. The day before we arrived had been a white-out and the day we left it was raining and horrible. The one day we skied was a bluebird day.12.jpgCedar Bowl was big, powdery and sunny. We took a blue run all the way down to the bottom where we took the Haul Back T-bar over the ridge back into Lizard Bowl. 4Lizard Bowl was my favourite. At the top was a huge steep face between Grizzly Peak and Polar Peak. It towers over the bowl and is quite imposing but beautiful as well. From the top of the T-bar we skied down to the Boomerang chair then to The Great Bear Express Quad which took us to the top of Lizard Bowl. 12.jpgFrom the top we took a cat track that stretched from one side of the bowl to the other. You could drop in at any time into the deep powder. We did a couple of runs in Lizard then headed down to the base for a drink at The Griz.1.jpgHad a couple of well earn’t Coronas and sat on the deck in the sun.1Next we headed up The Timber Bowl Express Quad which takes you to the top of Timber and Siberia Bowls to the Lost Boys Cafe. Decided to have our lunch up there and it was a bit pricy but the views were worth it. I had a bacon and cheese bagel and Layla had potato and bacon soup. 13Did a couple of great runs down Currie Bowl (Layla’s favourite) and took the Timber Express back up to the cafe before heading up The White Pass Quad to the top of Timber and Currie Bowls. This was the highest we were able to get with the Polar Peak chairlift closed and the views were amazing! 124.jpgSpent a bit of time posing for photos at the various signs up the top before dropping in behind the Currie Bowl sign, tearing down a steep black then down the blue run aptly named Currie Powder. 2.jpgShared a couple of Ciders while travelling up the Timber Bowl chair then did a run down Siberia Bowl. Siberia bowl had a few black runs running down the ridge but they looked hard to get to so we took the long blue all the way down. We lost each other for ages, I was way in front of Layla for a change but she eventually found me and we headed up the top for one more run. Went and got some free stickers from the ticket office before jumping on the shuttle and heading back to the hostel for a nap and a shower. We were very tired girls!

That night we opted to have dinner at a lovely restaurant called The Loaf on the main street. It was a wet and quiet weeknight so not a lot was open and it was very quiet compared to Banff on any night of the week. The restaurant was quiet but we happily chatted together about our fantastic day skiing. I had the Fettuccine Chicken Alfredo and Layla had the special Ravioli. Mine was great and very filling, Layla found a hair in hers so sent it back but enjoyed the second lot she received.1 After dinner we headed to the Pub Bar & Grill where I think the rest of the town was. The place was absolutely packed! There was a pub quiz in progress so we at down and ordered some dessert. It was quite funny trying to guess the answers to the pub quiz questions and even offering another team some answers (that turned out to be wrong! How embarrassing!) I had some chocolate moose which was pretty nice.

Day 3

The following morning we had breakfast at Big Bang Bagels which was really nice, great coffee and even better bagels. I felt like I was in a trendy Shoreditch cafe in London.12.jpgThe trip home was nice but once we got past Radium the heavens opened and it rained and snowed heavily all the way home. It was nice to see the snow covered trees once more but it was hard going for Layla driving with very low visibility. 345I couldn’t have asked for a better last ski trip away during my 2 years in Canada. The weather was perfect the day we skied and we had a lot of laughs!

 

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Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park is in southern Alberta, Canada, bordering Montana’s Glacier National Park. It’s known for its chain of lakes, including the large Upper and Middle Waterton lakes, flanked by the Rocky Mountains. Waterton was Canada’s fourth national park, formed in 1895 and named after Waterton Lake.

I have always wanted to visit Waterton Lakes, mainly to see the stunning Prince of Wales hotel but also because it’s a mere 4 hours drive from Banff.

During the Summer of 2017, the same time as the Verdant Creek fire raged in BC, close to Banff, the Kenow forest fire developed from a lightning strike in Southern BC about 10km from the Park boundary. In all, 19,303 hectares of the park burned and it’s a miracle the town survived.6The town of Waterton is very small and unlike Banff, is not overly busy in the Winter, it basically shuts down apart from one resort and restaurant that caters for snowshoe and cross-country skiing enthusiasts. The Summer season starts properly in June so it was very quiet when we arrived.

The drive is pretty cruisy, its mostly long straight roads through the Southern Albertan prairies. After leaving the Park we headed towards Calgary on the Trans Canada and turned South at the Cochrane turnoff and onto the Cowboy Trail. We passed through the towns of Redwood Meadows and Bragg Creek which were heavily wooded areas, the road lined with grand entrances to the various ranches we passed along the way, real Cowboy country!After heading East for a few kilometres, we turned South again at Priddis past green fields full of cows and patches of snow still melting after the long Winter.3At Turner Valley we took a wrong turn (I should say, didn’t take the turn-off) and ended up on a wooded area on the edge of town. As we went to turn around I looked to the side and saw a large brown figure in the woods. On closer inspection I saw it was a Moose! We stopped the car and jumped out to try and get a better look. There was a wire fence between the road and the large Male Moose, but we kept our distance all the same. What a treat! Moose are few and far between and I’ve only seen 3 since I arrived in Canada nearly 2 years ago.2Most of the towns were small, flat farming towns that were littered with farming machinery businesses with ranches and farms on the outskirts. Black Diamond is very pretty with all its storefronts decked out in Western Style. Heading away from some of the towns we passed through were large housing estates full of beautiful new houses on large plots of land. Although I personally prefer living in the mountains, I can understand why you would want to buy land out here. The prairies are stunning, and the land is vast and the views over to the Rockies stretching North and South as far as the eye can see is quite an amazing sight as well. I’d certainly appreciate that view from my kitchen window!1From Black Diamond to Pincher Creek, the last major town before Waterton Lakes, the highway is a long, mainly straight, 152 kilometre stretch heading South. The land down here is barren flatlands and rolling hills, the colour changes to a light, sun scorched shade of brown that rolls away into the distance meeting the grey and white peaks of the Rockies to the West.

At Pincher creek we stopped for gas, food and took photos of a very funny message we saw out side a church. “Blah, blah, blah, Just come to Church”4We continued down Alberta highway 6 another 44 kms to Waterton National Park Gate. Past the Bison Loop (just outside the park, which was unfortunately closed) the road passed through the marchlands and swamps beside Maskinonge Lake and then Lower Waterton Lake, The Golf Course (closed), Red Rock Canyon (closed) and finally to the magnificent Upper Waterton Lake.  We passed the historic Prince of Wales hotel on the left and headed down into the townsite.5There was a lot of roadworks in town, so we had to circle around our hotel before finding a way into the car park. I went to the reception of Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort only to find the front desk closed, luckily a staff member pointed out my keys in an envelope stuck to the wall outside reception. We found our Lodge named Red Rock House just out the back of the main reception and we were pleasantly surprised we had been upgraded to a suite with a full kitchen.7We unpacked and settled in with a beer or 2 and searched the internet for a place to eat. We had arrived just after 8pm so after showering we headed into town to find somewhere to have dinner. Unfortunately, even after checking online and seeing places were open, the whole town was dark apart from one restaurant that we managed to get into 30 minutes before they closed. The Lakeside Chophouse is one of Waterton’s premier dining establishments and a bit pricier than we were looking for, but it was a wonderful experience.  Fergus and I ordered the Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich and Kurt and Zeke got the Prime Rib Mountain Burger. The Chicken Burger was HUGE! 3 big pieces of mouth-watering fried Chicken smothered in cheese, honey cayenne mayo and rocket, YUM! It was probably the best (definitely the biggest) Chicken burger I have ever eaten.8 On full tummies we wandered back to the resort and settled in for the night.

Day 2

The manager of the resort was on the reception desk when I wandered over in the morning, he was a charming man with lots of stories to tell from his time in the Navy and working at other bars and hotels. He told me a bit about the fires and the National Park and gave me a few ideas of what was open in the area.1I went to the only shop open in town that happened to also be a gas station and bought eggs, bread and milk for breakfast. Cooked the boys eggs on toast and made a pot of coffee everyone hated, luckily a trusty Starbucks was open in town, why am I not surprised?

We headed up to the Prince of Wales hotel for a look in the morning. The Prince of Wales is a historic railroad hotel located on a bluff overlooking Upper Waterton Lake, it was constructed between 1926 and 1927 in a Swiss-chalet style by the Great Northern Railway of the U.S. This stately hotel offers 86 guest rooms and a traditional British atmosphere complete with Afternoon Tea, the Royal Stewart Dining Room, Windsor Lounge, and the Princess Gift Shop.63The hotel had not yet opened for the season, so we were unable to go inside but the outside was spectacular. Swiss chalet motifs, including steeply pitched gabled roofs, intersecting gables, two-storey dormers, tiers of continuous balconies supported on large brackets, a lantern cupola, and the use of contrasting finish colours of green, red and yellow make it really stand out against the surrounding mountains.5The wind up on the ridge was unbelievable, why the 4 Big Horned Sheep we saw sitting up there thought it was a lovely place to have a sit down I don’t know, but the views were amazing. From the hotel you can see all the way down Upper Waterton Lake, over the township and back in the other direction toward Linnet lake and the prairies. The location couldn’t be better for a hotel.24We then decided to go up to Red Rock Canyon. The guy at the hotel had told us the access road was open but when we arrived there was a barrier across the road. It was about 14km to the actual canyon, so we decided to walk a little way up the road to see what we could find. We entered the trail that ran parallel to the road and the river and after climbing a small hill we came out onto a grassy area where we could see quite clearly over to the opposite side of the river to the golf course. 2Fergus was the first one to spot what liked like a Black Bear walking along a snowbank on the course and we all quickly rallied around to spot it as it walked along the snow. It looked quite large, so we were happy it was on the other side of the river which had steep cliffs on either side. After that Bear disappeared behind some trees we carried on up the pat a bit before spotting another 2 bears, one tan and the other a very deep brown, foraging on a grassy mound. These 2 were closer (still on the opposite side) and looked like big cubs. Seeing 3 bears in the space of 10 minutes was a bit much for us so we turned around and headed back to the car, we certainly didn’t want to meet any on our side of the river!3We carried on back out of the park to the Bison Loop to see if we could see any Bison from the start of the road. The view was cool but there was not a single Bison in sight! Boo! We went to the Bison Paddock twice to see if we could spot any but I later read all the Bison had been relocated before the fire. 6We decided to get mover provisions (booze) so headed back to Pincher Creek, a 30 minutes drive away. Bought some Palm bay and beer and Fergus bought a jar of Moonshine (When in Rome I suppose…) and we headed back to Waterton.7Went for a few drinks at Vimy’s, the bar and restaurant in the resort. We sat at the bar and had a few pints while watching sport and chatting to the friendly new barmaid from Ontario. Exchanged travel stories and enjoyed the sun on our backs through the sunroof.

In the late afternoon we went for a walk to Cameron falls which is right in town. The crystal-clear cascading mountain water rushes steadily over 1.5 billion year-old Cambrian rock, throwing off a mist that dusts your skin as you pass by. We walked up the easy paved pathway to the right of the falls to get a better view and take a few photos.1098.jpgThat night we decided to eat at Vimy’s so after an early evening nap we headed over at around 9:30pm. We were met with the waitress (not the one from earlier) telling us the kitchen closes in 20 minutes! Charming. So we just ordered poutine and a pint each. The poutine wasn’t great and had too much gravy and not enough chips or curds. When we got the bill, we had been changed for jugs and not pints, so we had to get her to redo it. Not the best service from a restaurant that is the only one open all year round!10.jpg

Day 3

After a breakfast of bacon and eggs we headed down to the lakeside for a wander. I had originally wanted to camp at the town campground right beside the lake but was a week or so too early. I’m glad that was the case as it was so windy down there, there were still big snowbanks scattered around, some as tall as me and it was pretty cold. But I bet its a fantastic place to stay in Summer when the weather is warm and the lakes calm. 1.jpg

2Walked along to some Red Chairs and got a photo before meandering with our thoughts back to the car.3The drive home was long and uneventful. It also seemed shorter as we knew where we were going.

The only stop we made was at the Longview Jerky Shop. We had bought Jerky from a garage in town on the way to Waterton and then passed the Jerky Shop a bit further up the road so said we would stop there on our way home.5 I haven’t been to many Jerky shops, I haven’t really had a lot of jerky but what I have had I’ve loved. This place had all kinds of flavours and different kinds of meats. From Chicken, Elk, Turkey, Pork and Bison jerky to flavoured Beef jerky such as mandarin/ginger, honey/garlic, teriyaki, maple beef and dill pickle. They had everything and for $6 a packed it wasn’t too bad. I picked up some Chicken and Teriyaki Beef to chew on on the way home.6Overall Waterton is a lovely place to visit but as I said above, I do regret not visiting in the previous Summer before the fires. But who’s to know what nature is going to bring?

 

 

5 important things to know when doing a season in Banff.

Housing / Work / Discounts & Freebees / Banff Ambassador / Leaving Banff

I did a heap of research after deciding on Banff as the base for my 2 year Canadian working holiday visa.

We travelled in the States and Eastern & Western Canada for a couple of months before arriving in Banff in September ready for our first Winter season.

Come June of the following year we left Banff and drove across the country to St John’s, spent a month in the UK and drove back to Banff ready for our second Winter in September 2017.

So all in all we have spent close to 20 months living in Banff in total, I must say it feels a lot longer than that.

There isn’t a town on Earth, even my own hometown of Dunedin, or London, that I feel I know as much about. This is partly due to working on a hotel front desk and having to know and advise guests, but also because I wanted to cram as much in to these last 20 months that I possibly could.

Living in Banff isn’t easy, whether you are fresh out of collage and on your first big overseas trip or, like me, you are a bit older, have travelled and lived in multiple countries and have been on good money. It’s hard for everyone.

So for people looking to make this beautiful piece of the world their home, I offer the following advice;

1. Housing

Finding a home in Banff isn’t an easy feat, or so I’ve been told.  We only looked at about 4 houses before finding one so it was very easy for us. The second time around we got right back into the same house. Easy peesy.

But, a lot of people are forced to stay at hostels and even hotels for months on end while trying to secure a place to live.  Arriving at the right time of year definitely helps. Late May to June is good because a lot of the Winter seasonaires leave, and equally, September to late October due to the Summer workers departing. 

Most workplaces offer staff accommodation at great rates, they have to, being in a National Park, Banff has very limited housing and new buildings rarely go up, if they do it’s because something else has been torn down. Staff accommodation is great but if you are arriving as a couple and work at different places it won’t work. Most staff accom is for a single person, in either a shared bedroom or an apartment shared with a colleague.

For couples, you’ll need to go private and there are a lot of options, just not a lot of rooms.

Don’t be fooled into going to a real estate agent looking for a place, they will probably laugh in your face. Most accommodation is either owned by a local or rented by a local and sublet to travellers.

The best places to look are on the Facebook page, Bow Valley Home Finders or Kijiji which is Canada’s Craigslist or Gumtree. Also knowing the right people helps and word of mouth goes a long way.

We got our room through a couple we noticed were replying to the same adverts on Facebook as we were. We teamed up and tried to help them find a room and vice versa, in the end we ended up living with them and made lifelong friends.

2. Work

There is tonnes of work in Banff, absolutely tonnes, if you arrive at the right time.

As each season starts, help wanted signs appear in all the store and restaurant windows and this is a great way to find work. Make sure you have a lot of hard copy resumes and get walking.

I work in recruitment and tried to get a role doing that but unfortunately the well paid, non-hospitality jobs go to locals. Early on I made the mistake of applying for professional roles I could do standing on my head but they probably knew I would expect too much money or roles that only locals would get due to visa restrictions. I understand this because I know the cost of the recruitment cycle and to hire someone who will only leave to travel after a few months is not productive for any company.

So I had to go back to my roots and get something in hospitality. I didn’t want to do serving as I had done that for years and didn’t want to constantly work nights. I didn’t think it would look good on my resume either. 12 Years of corporate recruitment work to only go back to what I’d done 15 years earlier. No.

Also suffering a broken arm only a year ago I didn’t want to be lifting heavy trays all night.

But serving is actually where the big money is in Banff. Tips are huge and depending on where you work can be a lot, lot more than your wages.  I know people who worked 3-4 nights a week, did 5 hours shifts and made twice as much as I do.

It’s different here in Canada as well. The host seats you and gives you your menu then the server takes your order, the runner brings you your meal and the server gives you the bill. Back in Australia, when I worked in restaurants, I did all of that and barely made $10 a night in tips! And that is working in a fine dining restaurant! Yes, if you want to make money in Banff, work in a restaurant.Anyhoo, I ended up working at the Front Desk of a hotel in town, I love it and I get commission for ski rental, selling tours and the occasional tips. It pays the bills, enables me to ski 3-4 times a week and also save a bit of money.

My boyfriend managed to get gardening work during the few months there wasn’t snow covering the ground and labouring work during Winter and he was on great money.

Again Kijiji is a great place to look and also the Banff Resource Centre is a great help.

I know resumes, I look at them all day but I still had to tweak mine a lot for Canada. The resource centre will help you to understand how to do this and what employers are looking for.

Additional to this, most large companies such as the Fairmont, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Caribou Properties have job fairs at the beginning of each season. Go to their websites; see what’s available and pop along. Meeting you face-to-face is a great start and a lot of people get jobs this way.

3. Discounts and Freebees

As a Banff local, you get treated rather well. Yes, it’s an expensive place to live but the town knows that and looks after the dedicated people who choose to live here.

Many retail outlets and restaurants will offer you a ‘locals discount’ and you will get to know these places in time and only shop there.

Banff Food Rescue is a godsend for people who are struggling and those who want to help the community. Alanna Pettigrew, the founder, started just before we arrived and her and her team of volunteers now give out free food to over 50 people a night. They collect food from local stores that cannot be given to the food banks and give it out to anyone who lines up at her door. It’s perfectly fine and their motto is ‘keeps good Food from becoming Food Waste’, Just amazing!

Snowtips/Backtrax, a rental place in town was voted the locals favourite and give great discounts on ski & bike rental and purchases for locals.A lot of places offer discounts if you have a seasons pass for the ski hills, this is all on the Big 3 website, take advantage.

Discover Banff Tours offer a big discount to locals on their tours, 45% I believe.

The Taxi Mike website and brochure is the locals bible. Taxi Mike provides an up to date list of all food and drink offers all week, all season. Save it to your favourites and grab a brochure, you will refer to it the whole time you are here, believe me!

Nesters is a place you will frequent a lot. It’s a supermarket in town and they offer a points card that is actually very good. Each time you visit you get points which accumulate and can then be used to buy groceries. Get one as soon as you arrive in town!

If you are lucky enough to work on the front desk of a hotel, you’ll also be offered FAM tours, I’ve been skiing, snowmobiling, ice walking, snowshoeing and horse riding, all for free!

4. Banff Ambassador

I touched on this in a previous post but it’s a MUST do when you first get to Banff!

1. Go to the library, upstairs in the conference room, you don’t need to book, just turn up. Here, you’ll sit down with a bunch of other newbies for an interesting talk from the Discover Banff Tours representatives about the town, history, housing, wildlife, jobs and other fun stuff for an hour.

2.You get a discounted Discover Banff and its Wildlife 3 hour tour to some of Banff’s hotspots, learn a heap and have lots of fun.3.You then get a discount card, valid for a year with over $500 worth of discounts. This includes Canoeing at Lake Louise (worth $105), gondola tickets, hot spring tickets an heaps of other cool stuff.

They do this so you are all set to advise on tours and attractions, whatever your job may be. It’s a fantastic introduction to Banff and you’ll met some fab people along the way.

4. Leave Banff sometimes

When you arrive, you’ll think ‘I’m never leaving this place!’, well I did anyway.

But it’s important to leave once and a while. You will get into a little bubble of work, home, partying and the places you frequent with your mates and it’s easy to get into a routine. That’s what you came here to get away from though.

There are so many amazing places to visit not too far away.During the ski season do a road-trip to Fernie, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama or Marmot Basin.  They are all amazing ski hills and quaint little towns with heaps to offer. You can get a discount with your Big 3 Pass or buy cheap tickets on kijiji. Have a look before you go, I never paid full price for ski tickets!

Calgary is also only 1.5 hours away and loads of big bands go there. I saw Kings of Leon, The Arkells and Frank Turner at the Saddledome. And don’t forget Hockey, you HAVE to go and see a few games, it’s so amazing!If you are a gambler, take the free shuttle to the Stoney Nakoda Casino, loose all your tips or go to the $30 Lobster & Steak buffet. Yum!

When you arrive back in Banff you are thankful, you feel like you are returning from a great mini holiday into another. Life is great. Until work starts!

Two more groups you need to join on Facebook are Banff Buy and Sell, everyone buys and sells their stuff on here! And Banff Lost and Found, Banff is the town of disappearing jackets, phones and keys. If you loose of find something, join this group!

So, that’s it. Come to Banff, have an amazing time, live your dreams and make lifelong friends.The writing below used to be written on the wall of the ladies toilets in Mels before it was painted over and I think whoever wrote it is spot on.

‘Banff Life is a good life, never forget this place’

Revelstoke 2018 – Part 2

Day 2

Suffice to say, we were all a bit tired the next morning and barely made it to breakfast which was in the lobby and consisted of cereals, toast, bagels and muffins as well as waffles and tea and coffee. It was ok, I really needed a full English though!

Once at the ski hill which is only a few kilometres out of town we parked and went to get our ski passes. Zeke, the lucky bugger was given a free one by a passer by who was heading home for some reason! The rest of us got ours for $50 each and we headed up on the Revelation Gondola. The gondola is in 2 sections so on the way up we had to all get out and then jump into a second gondola to get to the Mackenzie Outpost which is just over halfway up the mountain.  We got out and headed down a cat track to the Stoke chair which would take up to the top.  Getting out in the fresh air really made me feel better. It was a lot hotter that the mountains we normally ski and by the end of the day my bag was filled with discarded clothes including my own t-shirt and neck warmer, the first time this season I haven’t worn it. I’d say it was around 6-8 degrees up top.Tate (who had been to the hill before) wanted to head to the Ripper chair so we traversed across and headed down Vertigo, a black run down the ridge of the mountain between the front side and the North Bowl. I followed Tate down and around a steep cliff and the others headed down a tree run full of moguls. My legs were a bit sore after that and we ended up heading back to the front side and missing out on accessing the North Bowl altogether the first day.

The runs from the top were long, long, wide tree line groomers which were really nice to ski. We did Jalapeno, Pitch Black and Critical Path to name a few.

The views were just amazing and there was not a cloud in the sky so we could see all the way down the Valley, over to the town of Revelstoke as well as the Columbia River and the mountain range above it.Stopped for a drink and a bite to eat at Revelation Lodge. I was feeling really tired and ill. Skiing with a hangover is fine when you are out in the fresh air skiing, being inside in the stuffy Lodge was hard.

Did a few more runs and decided to call it a day.

Loaded up the car and headed back to our motel.

Showered and rested then headed into town to a Chinese buffet at Hong Kong Restaurant. Zeke had found the place and we were all keen as mustard, who doesn’t like a Chinese buffet?

The food was rather good, the place wasn’t too busy apart from a few old locals and there was heaps to choose from including cakes and help-yourself ice cream. Yum!

With full stomached we went back to the motel and jumped into bed.

Day 3

Headed up the mountain again after packing up the car and checking out of the Gateway Inn.

We were all feeling ready for a big day (despite not actually getting up the hill till near on midday.

The weather was bang on again and the temperature was warm. Headed right up the top again and over to The Ripper Chair. The Ripper is at the back of the mountain and has long groomers, long mogul runs and loads of tree runs.

We did a few runs down the groomers with the boys taking every opportunity to find jumps.

Met a couple of guys Kurt worked with in Banff who knew the mountain well and headed to the lodge for lunch and beers with them.After heading back up they took Tate and I down the North Bowl. We did ‘Meet The Neighbours’ which was quite steep and powdery but it was great to get away from groomers and do some more technical skiing. My legs were jelly after doing that though. Did a couple more frontside runs before leaving them and the four of us heading down the mountain and back to the car.

Stopped off at A&W for burgers and headed home. The drive through the mountains was really spectacular again and we saw a lot more of the mountains now the weather was clear.An amazing road trip with top people once again.

Revelstoke 2018 – Part 1

Our annual ski trip away was a bit smaller this year and despite inviting all 9 people in the house only Kurt, Zeke, Tate, Fergus and myself were able to go.

This year we chose Revelstoke Mountain Resort which is located on Mount Mackenzie, just outside the town of Revelstoke in British Columbia. We chose to go there not only because its an amazing mountain but also because with our Big 3 passes we get a whopping 50% off lift passes!

Revelstoke impressively, has the longest vertical drop of any ski hill in North America and at 5620ft, you really notice this when skiing all the way from the very top to the base. It`s just huge! The mountain has 3 lifts, The Revelation Gondola, The Stoke chair and The Ripper chair and has 1214 hectares of skiable terrain.Our trip started on a sunny Friday around noon and after packing the car up with gear and attaching skis and boards on the roof (and after quick stops for fuel and Tim Hortons) we were off!We drove North up the Trans Canada highway and turned West just after Lake Louise township to enter British Columbia and Yoho National Park. The road between Lake Louise and Golden is beautiful but in Winter it`s constantly closing for avalanches and its quite scary in places, especially the final 10km into Golden. It begins with a flat section with Mt Ogden on your right and Pope`s Peak to your left.  As you drive into BC and past The Great Divide Lodge and over The Kicking Horse Pass the motorway swoops down into the valley quite steeply. The amazing spiral tunnels are on your left as well as the turnoffs to Takkakaw Falls, the small town of Field, Emerald Lake and the Natural Bridge.

We stopped at Natural Bridge last year on our way to Panorama during the Winter. The boys all walked around the frozen river and into the cave but Fergus and I didn’t as we thought it looked a bit dodgy and I wasn`t keen to slip into ice-cold water. This year however, the river had frozen much more so Zeke, Tate and I clambered down the snowy slope and walked over the middle of the river to the cave. Inside a couple of guys were taking photos of the incredible frozen waterfall and the odd shaped rocks the current had carved out. It was just amazing to see, especially as we had last been there at the end of Summer and the water really gushes through there fast. Its hard to imaging that it gets cold enough for it to completely freeze.We carried on down the Kicking Horse River Valley, the trainline moving parallel to the road almost all the way and headed North West to the Kicking Horse Canyon. This part of the road is scary and is the part that closes for avalanches during the Winter. The Kicking Horse Canyon project says `The engineering and construction challenges in the Kicking Horse Canyon are immense. The area is subject to many rockslides, debris torrents and avalanches’ That says it all really. On the left is a `huge drop down to the river below and on the right, more frightening to me is cliffs and rocky outcrops rising metres and metres above you. These are covered in snow and loose rocks that fall all throughout the year. They are held back by huge areas of concrete barriers and metal fences. All quite foreboding as we drove down the windy road. Once out of the canyon we saw the industrial town of Golden sprawled out below and the cloud covered Kicking Horse Mountain rising above the town. From Golden we headed North towards Donald then turned West towards Glacier National Park. This part of the drive, Rodgers Pass through the Selkirk Mountains in particular, was absolutely breathtaking. The road follows the river South then turns West and flows in between Mt MacDonald and The Camels before heading South again past the Rogers Pass National Historical site. (this as well as the other short hikes were wanting to do along the road were all closed for the Winter) This stretch of road was at the base of some huge mountains that towered up into the clouds, there were multiple snow sheds along the road to prevent vehicles getting caught up in avalanches which clearly had been roaring down the mountains before we drove through as most of the snow sheds were covered in tonnes of snow, one had at least 3-4 metres of snow on the top of it. Insane! To keep the highway and railway open during the winter, the Royal Canadian Artillery uses 105 mm howitzers (cannons) to knock down the avalanches under controlled circumstances so traffic is not caught unexpectedly. It was pretty cool singing along to CCR and other old music while travelling through this beautiful area.Drove around the side of Mount Revelstoke National Park and into the town of Revelstoke. I checked us in at out accommodation, The Gateway Inn and we unpacked the car. The room consisted of 3 double beds, all along one wall facing the TV, a large bathroom, fridge, coffee making facilities and a nice big window with a mountain view. It wasn’t luxury but it was comfortable.After we relaxed for a bit and had a couple of beers in the room w headed into town for dinner. It was about 20 minutes into town on foot and I couldn’t believe the height of the snowbanks we passed. Outside every house and business were piles of snow almost taller that me. Even the build up on the lawns was nearly shoulder height in places. Revelstoke makes Banff look like it only has a dusting. I don’t know how the town copes with all the snow, it was definitely an eye-opener!Town was very quiet for a Friday night, but we soon found out where everyone was! I had been told about a place called The Village Idiot by some guys who had stayed at my hotel a few weeks ago and they said we had to go there. When we opened the front door, the place was packed! And I mean packed, the tables all full, bar seating full and more people waiting.

We popped over to a nearby Irish bar, The Last Drop for a few beers and some pool before heading back about an hour later.

Had to wait at the bar for a table but as soon as we ordered our drinks a booth in the back became free.

The Village Idiot is your typical rowdy ski bar. The walls and furniture are decorated with old skis and snowboards, there is sports memorabilia on the ceiling and walls (we aptly sat in amongst Calgary Flames stuff), big windows, brightly coloured walls and wooden tables and chairs and a happy buzz about the place.The menu is also very good with lots of quirky named yummy dishes. We started with a plate of Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls to share which were lovely and made us all more excited to see what our mains would be like. I ordered the HOW TO LOSE A CHICK IN TEN BITES GARLIC PESTO CHICKEN CLUB. This masterpiece starts with a grilled chicken breast sandwiched between two pieces of garlic ciabatta toast, with its dear friends bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and, of course, cheddar cheese. Finished with a hefty smear of our pesto garlic aioli. Wipe your chin, you’re drooling at a fancy meal! It was nice and filling after all the beer we had already consumed.

The boys all got the BRILLIANT BURGER – The chef’s love affair with burgers is complete. This homemade patty is topped with a generous chunk of back bacon, smoked corn, cheddar cheese, garlic aioli and our very own special sauce. They all raved about it, especially Tate who claimed it was one of the best burgers he has ever eaten! I’d recommend The Village Idiot to anyone, what a fun place!

Next, we moved on to The River City Pub, which had a band playing according to our waitress at The Village Idiot. It was a big, English style pub and reminded me of a Wetherspoons but with music. Double Gin & Tonics were on special, so we had a few rounds and chatted before moving to another table once the band set up and the dancefloor was cleared.  Tate started the dancing off for the night and eventually Fergus and I joined in. I was rubbish as always but the band were quite good, a mix of country and rock, very Canadian.When the band was close to finishing we headed back to the Inn in a cab. Things got a little out of hand at that stage, tiredness, drunkenness and 4 lads which resulted in a bit of a scuffle. By about 3am we were all tucked up safely in bed. Overall it was a pretty fun night of good food, pool, beers, dancing and laughs.

Hiking Old Quarry Loop

Last Monday was a wonderful day, bright blue sky and lots of powdery snow following almost 2 whole days of solid snowfall. Too nice to sit indoors.

Layla and I decided to hike the Spray River Loop before I had to go to work at 3pm so after a Latte at home we headed off to the Banff Springs Golf Course where the Spray River East Trail starts.Spray LoopDue to a good 30cm of snow cover we were unable to locate the Spray River East Trailhead which I can see from the maps is just beyond the bridge behind the hotel, so we continued walking up the Golf Course road for about 200m and found the Mount Rundle Trailhead, this eventually joins the Spray River East Trail after a short walk around the fairway and up a steep incline around the side of Mount Rundle.1Once on the trail we saw the indentations of where the cross-country ski tracks are (the trail was groomed the day before but a further 10cm had fallen since then so the tracks were covered) so we stuck to the middle of the trail so as not to disturb them. Layla led the way in her trusty snow boots, I followed in my hiking boots.

 The trail is mostly long, flat straights through the forest but you and venture off at points to see the view across the river. The view doesn’t disappoint either! From where we were we could see the semi frozen Spray River heading North towards the Bow River below us, The Rimrock Hotel nested halfway up Sulphur mountain and the Banff Gondola rising above it to the summit facility and above that the bright blue cloudless sky. It is one of the best views I’ve seen in Banff and one of the least seen by the masses I assume.2During our hike we only saw a handful of cross country skiers, no other walkers or anyone fat biking and luckily no animals. When on these trails and its all quiet and peaceful you do wonder who or what may be looking at you. A woman and her dogs were chased down this very trail at the end of last Winter by Bear 148. (who has unfortunately since been shot by a hunter in BC) There are also Wolves and probably Cougars in this area as well, but we didn’t see or hear anything but the river meandering through the valley and the whoosh of the snow falling from the trees.3At about 12:30pm we came across a man cross country skiing and asked how far the bridge was and his reply was ‘about 4-5 km’ so we decided to turn around and take the Old Quarry Trail as we didn’t have time to do the whole Spray river Loop in just a couple of hours. So, we turned around and headed off on another trail down the ridge towards the river. This trail was steep and narrow, but we had magnificent views of the valley with the Banff Springs hotel and Mount Norquay in the distance. We passed a woman snowshoeing as we came down and wondered if we should have hired them as well. Headed over the bridge and up a steep incline to the Spray River West Trail.4As it turns out, the area beyond where we had cut onto the trail is for skiing only, so we wouldn’t have been able to hike the whole loop anyway.  The trail on the West side of the river winded through the trees and was flatter that the East. We passed 2 children and their Father skiing and chuckled as the little girl fell into the soft powder and then stared at us as we passed.5The trail ended at a car park just beyond the hotel and after walking back to my house we enjoyed another coffee and Maple Cookies. Yum!

Grotto Canyon FAM Tour

Layla and I were lucky enough to get to do another FAM tour with Discover Banff Tours in mid December. This time it was Grotto Canyon.

Grotto Canyon is located just outside Canmore in Exshaw, an area made up of a number of plants and a small hamlet. 1The group was made up of around 25 of us and 2 guides, one of which also took us on the snowshoe tour of the Paint Pots.

We put on our snow cleats and walked through a stunted pine forest before coming to a viewpoint at the edge of the forest overlooking The Bow Valley. 23On entering the canyon the path changed from packed snow to ice and in places the ice wasn’t very thick. People’s feet were disappearing through the ice all over the place but thankfully the creek we were walking on was only 10cm or so deep.

Once deeper inside the canyon and more sheltered from the sun the creek became hard with layers of ice and footing was much stabler.  The canyon walls slowly became higher as we progressed and soon the walls rose high above us and trees clung onto the sides, the snow hanging off their branches.56At one point we were shown ancient pictographs on the canyon walls which were likely created by Hopi visitors from the Arizona region. The ochre used to paint the designs was most likely collected from the Paint Pots.811We stopped for lunch in a lovely area containing frozen waterfalls people were climbing. We ate Maple cookies, had hot Chocolates and watched the folks climbing, the squirrels foraging for food and took lots of photos. What a lovely spot for a break.10791213After our break we headed back through the canyon just as the sun came out and lit up the ice and the snow covered sides. It was just beautiful.1314

More info:

Who: DiscoverBanff Tours

Where: Grotto Canyon, Banff National Park

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Ice cleats & hiking poles, refreshments

Difficulty: 4.2km, 100m elevation gain

Duration: 4 hours

Price: $74 Adult / $42 Child

 

 

 

It’s looking like a great season so far!

It’s been a brilliant start to the ski season, rumour has it ‘it’s the best since sometime in the 50’s’ but I have also been told they say that every year.

I’ve skied 15 days so far and am well on my way to beating last year’s total of 50 days on the hill.

Sunshine Village has had a heap of powder days already this season and although it’s challenging for me to ski in powder, I have been getting a lot of practice in and am starting to enjoy floating through the champagne snow which is a foot deep in places. At least if I do fall over, it’s not painful, its just hard work to dig yourself out. I can see why snowboarders love it! Powder day at Sunshine

The weather hasn’t been great in terms of sunshine. Up until this week there has been a lot of ‘white-outs’, snowy days and visibility has been very poor. But, this week the sun came out and is staying out for the next few days. Skiing on a ‘bluebird’ day is just amazing! The snow glistens, the views are amazing, and you can see exactly where you are going. There really is nothing like it.Powder day at Sunshine=happy girls!

Lake Louise hosted the FIS World cup early in the season and the crews who got it all ready did a fantastic job. The hours of snowmaking and putting in fences took an army and the event was a tremendous success, even on the day where a fallen tree caused the power to go out in the resort, so the athletes had to be taken up to the starting gates by other means, snowplough, helicopter and snowmobile I believe.Layla, Selina and I at the World Cup

Skiing in the early part of November was different, the snow in places was quite space and my skis took a bit of a beating due to rocks that were not quite covered. I actually don’t mind this too much as it makes you a more technical skier and able to manage difficult terrain to find the best snow. One day we even came across a sign advising us to ‘take off your skis/board and walk around this corner’, sod that! I went straight over the rocks, no problem!

Now the resort has had a fair bit more snow the conditions are fantastic, I like to spend most of my time over the back bowls and on Larch where the runs are long and less busy that on the frontside.

Even though Norquay is a lot smaller I have been up twice this season and really enjoyed it. The views over Banff from Cascade chair are just stunning. Its so exhilarating seeing the mighty Mount Rundle in the distance as you climb the hill and whizz back down.

Mount Rundle seen from Mt Norquay

Spirit chair opened this week, and it was great to be able to explore the runs around there. Their runs are quite a bit steeper compared to other ski hills so more of a challenge. I look forward to exploring Norquay more and their French fries are the best in Banff so its always a nice reward after a few hard runs.Selina and I at Norquay

Watch this space for more exciting tales of powder, bluebird days and mountain fun!

50 Things to do in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest Park and was established in 1885. It consists of 6.641 square kilometres of craggy mountain peaks, glacial lakes, Icefields, glaciers and small alpine villages visited by over 3 million visitors annually.

With this much park to explore, there are so many reasons to visit this paradise in the Rocky Mountains.

50 Things to do in Banff National Park

1. Skiing the Big 3, Sunshine Village,

Lake Louise and Mount Norquay

2. Hiking an hour to the summit of Tunnel Mountain for amazing views of Banff and the Bow Valley

3. Indulging in Fondue at the eclectic Grizzly House restaurant

4. Exploring the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel grounds and having a stein at The Waldhaus Pub

5. Taking the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain and walking to the old weather station

6. Having a soak in the 40-degree waters and enjoying the views at the Banff Upper Hot Springs

7. Strolling around Cascade Gardens looking at flowers, waterfalls and the Parks Canada building

8. Exploring the Cave and Basin historical sight and learning about the history of the National Park

9. Eating chicken wings on wing night at Mel’s bar. ($2 for 6 wings and cheap beer)

10. Taking a quick walk up to Surprise Corner for the wonderful views of the Banff Springs Hotel

11. Seeing an adventure film at the annual Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival in the Fall

12. Visiting the Parks museum, Buffalo Nation Luxton museum and Whyte museum in Banff town

13. Watching the waters of the Bow River cascade over Bow falls

14. Walking along Bow River Trail from Buffalo St to the Canoe docks trying to spot Elk

15. Eating traditional Poutine at Eddie Burger

16. Going down to Vermillion Lakes to catch the sunrise over Mount Rundle and the lakes

17. Chowing down on a Mac & Cheese pizza at High Rollers and getting in some pool and bowling

18. Ice skating on the free outdoor rink at the Banff Community High School

19. Driving out to Lake Minnewanka to see the Northern Lights dancing behind the mountains

20. Walking around the old mining town of Bankhead and admiring the views of Cascade Mountain

21. Picnicking at Cascade Ponds or Two Jack Lake and taking the kayak or paddleboard out

22. Driving around the Fairmont Golf Course loop trying to spot Elk and Black Bears

23. Heading to Earls for happy hour (3-6 & 6-close) and ordering their amazing $7 dry ribs

24. Hiking the Fenlands trail and watching the birds and animals

25. Getting your photo taken with the new BANFF sign on Lynx Street

26. Driving up to the Norquay Lookout on the ski hill access road for a magnificent view of Banff

27. Learning to Curl and catching a local ice hokey game at the Fenlands Recreation Centre

28. Hiking Johnston Canyon to see the amazing waterfalls and cascading Johnston Creek

29. Driving the Bow Valley Parkway all the way to Lake Louise and spotting wildlife

30. Hiking Sunshine Meadows up at Sunshine Village ski area and seeing the larch trees in Fall

31. Visiting the famous Lake Louise and hiring a Canoe and paddling across the lake to the glacier

32. Hiking up to the Lake Agnes teahouse and continuing to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

33. Cycling or Cross-Country skiing to the incredible Moraine Lake and the Valley of the 10 Peaks

34. Taking the short hike to the Peyto Lake lookout

35. Stopping at Castle Mountain Lookout for stunning views of this incredibly shaped mountain

36. Having an Ale brewed in Banff and watching a game of ice hockey at the Banff Ave Brewing Co

37. Taking a horse drawn sleigh ride in Banff town or along the shoreline at Lake Louise

38. X-country ski or hike the 11km to Skoki Lodge in the backcounty beyond Lake Louise Ski Resort

39. Rocket down the hill on a snowtube at Mount Norquay or Lake Louise ski areas

40. Rent a bike and cycle along the bow river to Sundance Canyon

41. Enjoy a stroll on horseback to the remote Sundance Lodge

42. Try a Beavertail at one of Banff’s two store locations

43. Enjoy a jug of beer and Thursday Night Bingo at the Banff Legion

44. Visit one on the many Galleries in town with art and craft from local artists

45. Try a relaxing float trip down the Bow river in Summer

46. Climb the hair rising Via Ferrata up above Mount Norquay’s ski runs

47. Climb the switch back trail up Sulphur Mountain and get the Gondola back down

48. Ride the mechanical Bull and do some line dancing at Wild Bill’s Saloon

49. Enjoy Banff’s Parade of Lights at Christmas and visit the Christmas markets at Warner Stables

50. See the New Years Eve fireworks while partying on Banff Avenue.

Winter has arrived…..

This Winter has arrived quite suddenly. Banff pretty much went from Fall sunshine to snowy Winter skies in a week. 

The temperature has plummeted down to -15 and the town has a carpet of white that should last the next 6 months. 

The first ski hill has opened and the other two are due to open next week.

It’s beautiful. 

Bow River starting to freeze over, soon people will be walking over it.

Mount Rundle

Cascade Mountain towering over the town.