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.

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

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

Cave and Basin Historic Site and Upper Banff Springs – relaxation and history in the Rockies.

Cave and Basin Historic Site

During our first whole weekend off in a while, Fergus and I decided to play tourists, learn some history and have a soak in the hot pools on Sulphur Mountain (which we can see from our house).

Sulphur Mountain is very important in Banff’s history. During the construction of the railway through the Rockies in 1883, 3 railroad workers rediscouvered the mineral hot springs on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain (others including the First Nations people had previously discovered the springs) and decided to commercialise the area. They built a hut near the springs and laid claim to the area. Later the government reserved an area of 10 miles around the site and that was the birth of Canada’s National parks system.

Soon after the Banff Springs hotel was built and the tourists followed…..

Visiting The Cave and Basin Historic Site was really interesting, first we climbed up to the area behind the main building where there was a boardwalk leading up to the original spring where the hut was built all those years ago. Walking through the forest, past hot steaming rocks and streams full of egg smelling Sulphur deposits was fascinating and makes you realise what an important find this was for the area. ​

We got in for free since we had a 12 month parks pass (yippee) and read a bit of history about the springs before making our way into the cave itself. 

The cave isn’t huge, it’s one small cavern with a pool at its base. There is a small opening in the ceiling of the cave that lets the sunlight through. The Banff snail lives here, it’s the only place in the world this 3-5mm snail lives so the area is of course, protected. Back in the museum we watched a short movie about Canada’s national parks and looked at the displays before heading outside to the other hot pool. This one was built later in 1887 as a bathhouse.The pools were closed and opened many times before finally closing in 1992 and the Banff Upper Hot Springs was opened.

Banff Upper Hot Springs

The hot pool you are allowed to swim in is just up the hill from the Banff Gondola on the East facing slope of Sulphur Mountain looking over to Rundle and over Banff and Tunnel Mountain. Built in 1932, the mineral water at Banff Upper Hot Springs is a balmy 40 degrees and it’s so relaxing after being in the cold air. The day we went the pool wasn’t that busy which was good. The facilities are nice and I think we might get a 10 day pass to use during the ski season when our muscles will be hurting.

I’m now a Banff Ambassador! 

The Banff Ambassador Program is such a fantastic idea, it gives new ‘locals’ a chance to do some of the amazing activities in the Rocky Mountains while teaching them about the history, natural resources, wildlife and people of this wonderful part of the world. I found about it from my flatmate, Carris who had recently completed it. 

The first part consists of a fun 1.5 hour informative talk by 2 local girls about Banff and the Bow Valley, it’s history, it’s  wildlife, it’s geology and it’s tourism. The group consisted of around 30 young people from all over the world and you didn’t even have to register, just show up to the library and take part!

The second part was a 3 hour tour of Banff and the surrounding area. This is an actual tour that costs around $60 for tourists but for Banff Ambassadors it’s only $10. The day I went there was no tourists on the tour which made it more fun. It was run by an Aussie guy from Cairns and was really informative.Two Jack LakeHeading down to the Beaver DamTour Bus

The tour included: 

  • Banff Springs hotel
  • Hoodoos lookout
  • Surprise corner
  • Bow falls
  • Elk spotting at the golf course
  • Two Jack Lake
  • Lake Minnewanka
  • Vermillion lakes Beaver Dam

Most of these sights I have already seen but it was great to get a bit of information about each of these places.

On completion of the tour we all recieved a voucher booklet with over $500 worth of vouchers! From snow tubing to museums, hot springs and glacier walking. Free stuff!

I would 100% recommend this programe for anyone who comes to live Banff. 

Memories of the tropics…

This evening was the first evening shift I did alone at Brewster’s Mountain Lodge (BML) and with only around 52% occupancy and a handful of check ins it was a pretty slow night.While looking at Google Earth, as one does when they have time to spare and a computer, I stumbled upon Port Douglas. Over the years I have wandered down the streets of ‘Port’ via street view or had a look at the Sheraton Mirage Resort website just to see how its changed or to show someone the beautiful paradise I used to work in.I still feel a hint of sadness that I left such a beautiful place but then I quickly remember why I did so and that was to travel, and travel I certainly did! After leaving North Queensland I have travelled to over 20 countries, spent 10 years in England and now I am on a working holiday visa in Canada.

Its funny how these 2 resorts, one in Tropical Northern Australia and the other in the Canadian Rocky Mountains are so very similar.They are both urrounded by incredible, world renowned areas of natural beauty,

  • Banff – The mountains, lakes, glaciers and rivers
  • Port Douglas – The reef, rainforest, rivers and tablelands

They both rely on tourists to survive after being small industrial towns

  • Banff – First settled in the 1880s, after the transcontinental railway was built through the Bow Valley.
  • Port Douglas – The township was established in 1877 after the discovery of gold at Hodgkinson River.

They both have very dangerous animals living in and around them 

  • Banff – Grizzly/Black bears, Cougars, Elk, Moose
  • Port Douglas – Crockodiles, Jellyfish, Cassowary, Snakes, Spiders, 

When I arrived in Port I was 19, fresh out of collage, a little immature and raring to party! My first job was there, and so were my next 20 or so. I was hired and fired numerous times and wasn’t really that bothered about my job as there was always another around the corner, and if not, the bank of Mum and Dad was there to help out. I did housekeeping, turndown service, waitressing, bar work and worked at a tour desk.I did manage to stay at the magnificent Sheraton Mirage Resort for 3 plus years and was basically running the swim up Ocean Breeze Bar while also working in both the buffet and fine dining restaurants, the bakery, the activities centre, the Cocktail bar and helping with banquets. It was hard work but I really loved working there. I was eventually fired for calling in sick after a night out, the local snooker competition end of season drinks in fact. My F&B manager was also in a team so instantly knew where I had been. Massive fail but I was probably time to move on anyway.I loved living in the tropics, walking down beautiful 4-mile beach to work, sometimes stopping for a dip, sailing to the Low Isles on huge yachts while drinking cocktails and laughing and singing, trips to the Daintree Rainforest for raves and fishing, lazy days sunbathing on the beach and of course all the Sunday sessions with the locals at the Courty Pub.While Port has a population of 4,454 permanent residents, Banff has around 7,584 so is a lot bigger but also due to being in a National Park can’t get a lot bigger due to building legislation whereas they are constantly building new resorts and apartments in Port and in a few years I wouldn’t be surprised if it joined Craigie. (The next settlement)
What is similar about these towns is the lifestyle and the people that come here. Banff is bursting with young 19 year olds, fresh out of collage, a little immature and raring to party! Being the ripe old age of 36, when I walk down the street I see loads of younger people doing what I did all those years ago and have heard stories about people not being that responsible and getting fired from jobs for this that and the next thing. History repeats itself….

Instead of living next to the Great Barrier Reef, its Islands and the Rainforest I am now in amongst towering mountains, alpine lakes and most importantly ski fields, 3 of them in this area and more a bit further away. Heaven!I am so so so excited about finally doing a ski season, not just anywhere, but in Canada, the ultimate ski destination. I look back at my past and yes, sometimes I feel a bit sad thinking about the good times and friends I met back then but then I think of what my future holds, more good times, more new friends, adventure, excitement and fun.I may now be 36 and more mature (just a little bit) but I still have that 19 year old’s passion and drive for adventure, meeting new people and living life to the fullest.

‘Not all those who wander are lost’ J.R.R Tolkein