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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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.

Snowshoeing in Kootenay NP

In Early December I was lucky enough to be invited on a Snowshoeing FAM tour with Discover Banff Tours.

Discover Banff Tours is one of the most well-known tour operators in Banff and provide lots of exciting tours in and around Banff National Park. Starting in 1998, they specialise in small, personalised groups run by professional, local guides who have a passion for Banff and the National Park.

They are also involved in the Banff Ambassador Program, so almost every young traveller who comes to Banff to work, goes on their Discover Banff and its Wildlife tour when they first arrive as part of the programme.

We were collected from the town lot behind the Mount Royal Hotel at 9:30am and got into a full minibus that left for Kootenay along with a second bus full of local hotel workers. En route we were introduced to our guides, Anick and Nick, who gave us an overview of the tour, a brief history of the snowshoe, the fur trade in Canada and a brief explanation of the weather and geography of Kootenay National Park.

It was all very interesting, and I learnt a fair bit I will be able to pass onto our guests while selling this tour.

After arriving at the Paint Pots trail entrance, we clambered out of the busses and were instructed on how to put on the snowshoes that were delegated out to each of us. They are basically just a strong, wide, plastic base with 3 straps that hold your foot in and spikes on the bottom under your toes for grip on the snow. Quite odd once you put them on but after a few steps you get used to them.1Getting geared up at the trail head.

We took off in 2 groups and followed each other down the trail for about 20 metres then turned off into the forest where we meandered around and over fallen trees, up and down small mounds of snow and out to the clearing of the Vermillion River.  The sun was low but bright against the white fluffy snow surrounding us and it felt warm on our faces as we came out onto the clearing. There, we were given a bit more history about the Paint Pots and a chance to walk around freely in the deep snow.2 Learning about Kootenay National Park.

Crossing the large, wooden bridge was a bit of a challenge, climbing up and down stairs in snowshoes is no easy fete I can tell you! The Kootenay River that starts high up in the surrounding mountain passes, flows down to the US, back up into Canada and finally out to the Pacific Ocean was semi-frozen and where it had frozen, small multi-levelled waterfalls appeared making the flow even more interesting, especially as it glistened in the late morning sunlight. 3Glistening Keeoenay River in the morning sunlight.

After splitting into smaller groups, we ambled off into the Pine forest on the opposite side of the river where Anick stopped to explain the distinct types of Pine trees in the thicket we were walking through, after about 5 minutes walking at a fast pace we hit upon a large, flat clearing containing relics from the Ochre mining days. Old, rusted pipes and scoops litter the ground amongst the snowy mounds that in Summer are dark red Ochre mounds that were once destined for Calgary to be made into a pigment base for paint.4Ochre deposits under the snow.

We trudged up the trail towards the Paint Pots site and on the way up we found a small snow-covered hill to the right of the trail, our guides thought it would be a great idea to have a race from the top back to the trail and test out our running style in snowshoes. It was pretty funny, although most participants only managed a fast walk instead of a full-on run. 5Ready to hurtle themselves down the snowbank.

Once at the Paint Pots we had a look around and learnt more about the Ochre and how they collected it for. I think this site is better visited in the Summer, so you can actually see the colours of the different pools as well as the red Ochre on the ground, in the Winter, it’s all covered in snow, so you cannot appreciate how different this spot is to the rest of the park. It’s still beautiful all the same.

We wandered out of the clearing and back into the woods again, this time heading up above the pots on a trail through the tall Pine forest. We stopped briefly to observe a large tree favourited by passing Bears who had been scratching at it. There were huge claw marks all over it, the highest one being about a foot taller than me. Standing there I was glad it was Winter and the Bears in the area had already gone off to hibernate…hopefully.

We met up with the remainder of the group for a well-earned rest in a sloped clearing covered in deep snow. Our guides set up their small camping stoves to heat up the Maple Taffy and handed out hot chocolates to keep our hands warm as we waited in anticipation for out sweet treats. Maple Taffy is made by boiling Maple SAP to 112 degrees and then pouring it onto the cold snow where it sets. A popsicle stick is then rested on the Taffy as it sets then rolled around the stick to create a Maple lolly-pop.

This traditional dessert’s origins lie in Quebec, Eastern Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba and New England. 7Making traditional Maple Taffy.

While most of the group rested and indulged in hot drinks and Taffy, some tried the ‘crazy carpets’. Basically, pieces of thick plastic you ride down the slope on, head first! People would go to the top, lie on the crazy carpet and zoom down the hill at high speeds, either crashing into the snowbanks in a burst of powder or making it all the way to the end and stopping softly as the slope flattened out.

After packing up all the gear and putting our snowshoes back on the whole group made their way back into the forest to head back to the trail head. This was probably the most technical park of the hike, as we were climbing over fallen trees, crossing small semi frozen creeks and negotiating sticks and branches that were blocking the trail. A few people stumbled as the backs of their shoes got stuck between tree branches, this included me, and I understood why snowshoeing burns 400 calories per hour after this short jaunt through the woods.8Negotiating fallen trees, creeks and snowbanks in the woods.

We made our way easily through the clearing and over the bridge, again, with great difficulty, and meandered, in small groups, back to the vans where we parted ways with our shoes and jumped in for the 45-minute journey back to Banff.9Overall, I’d give this tour a 6 out of 10. The guides were interesting, knowledgeable and friendly and made sure everyone was coping with the pace. The walk itself was both relaxing and challenging, we had a lot of different terrain to walk on which kept things interesting and the weather was excellent.  I do however prefer this particular walk in the Summer due to the Paint Pots being a place where the colours of the ponds and the ground is the main attraction. In winter all that is covered in snow, so you cannot appreciate it.

More info:

Who: Discover Banff Tours

Where: Kootenay National Park

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Snowshoes & hiking poles, refreshments, crazy carpet ride

Difficulty: 3km, minimal elevation gain

Duration: 4 hours

Cost: $74 Adults / $42 Children

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!

Kings of Leon in Calgary

Last weekend a very excited Layla and I headed up to the city to see Kings of Leon at the Scotiabank SaddledomeI had seen them many years before at the O2 in London but was really keen to see them again as I love their latest albums Mechanical Bull and Walls. It was Layla’s first time seeing them and she was super excited as they were on her bucket list of bands to see!

We left in Fergus’s car around 4pm and picked up Selena from Germany, a rideshare, from up on Tunnel Mountain. Chatted and listened to KOL on the 1.5 hour drive through the mountains and plains and into the city to the HI Calgary City Centre Hostal where we all had stayed a few times before. HI Calgary is a great hostal in the East Village. It’s only a few blocks from the City Centre, the River and the Saddledome so makes a perfect place to stay when attending concerts or hockey. We paid $45 for a female 6 bed dorm with free wi-if and breakfast. 

After a quick drink at Cowboy’s Casino we headed off down to the stadium. Got our tickets at the box office before saying bye to Selena. She was in seating and we were in the pit, we befriended her on Facebook and promised to meet up in Banff. 

Got some ciders and headed down to the front of the stage. At first it wasn’t all that busy as most people were milling around in the back getting food and drinks. The support band, The Dawes, an LA based Folk Rock band were late to start so by then we had made some friends in the crowd, Ashley & Ian from Calgary, Ashley was from Calgary and had 2 children and Ian was originally from the UK.  We had also made a few bar and toilet runs before Kings of Leon appeared. Caleb told us the reason for them being late was due to their flight from Edmonton being cancelled so they had to drive down to Calgary. Fair play.They started off at a slower pace with Conversation Piece from Walls, Taper Jean Girl and The Bucket from Aha Shake Heartbreak, a song about them returning from a tour in the UK where they were huge to the US where there were still relatively unknown.  They then hit us with Eyes on You from Walls, a bouncy, upbeat tune that got the crowd moving. Next up came 2 songs off my favourite album of theirs, Only By The Night, released in 2009. Revelry and Notion. Caleb’s voice is stunning, it’s so raw and sounds exactly as it does on the recordings. Next came Fans from Because Of the Times and the huge anthem Use Somebody, a song Caleb wrote while recovering from a shoulder injury and realising he was dependant on those around him.The mood went a bit quieter after the rousing excitement of Use Somebody, the lights went down and Caleb appeared on the stage on his own for some slower songs, Milk, Talihina Sky and Walls. This band is just as talented writing slower songs as they are writing big rock anthems. Closer is one of mine and Layla’s all time favourite songs but unfortunately it wasn’t included on the nights set list. Find Me, another song from Walls I like was up next and got the stadium on it’s feet again for Crawl and Radioactive, The Immortals from Come Around Sundown and On Call, all fantastic songs I knew almost to the point I could remember all the lyrics. Around The World, a song I can relate to, was up next and by then we had met a bunch of others in the crowd from Golden and Edmonton and were all dancing and singing 3 rows back from the stage. It was unbelievable how close we were. Following Around the World they finally played a song from Mechanical Bull, an album that reminds me of travelling on the Tube when I first moved to London. Family Tree was followed by Reverend, a gritty song from Walls that was released as a promotional single for the album. Back Down South then followed Pyro, a song written about the Ruby Ridge shoot out.Next was Knocked Up, an upbeat tune about an illicit relationship ending in pregnancy, followed by No Money and finally the big ones we had all been waiting for.  Supersoaker, the lead single from Mechanical Bull is a punchy fun tune that sounds similar to the bands older stuff. It’s a great song to dance to and by then I had pealed some layers of and was loving the sweaty unruliness of the pit. My feet were stuck to the floor, cups, paper and god knows what else was being trampled on and the crowd was pumped, hands were in the air, hair was being thrown about and we were all moving as one. Next up was Sex On Fire, the bands most well know, if not overplayed song from Only By The Night. Everyone went wild and jumped up and down to the mesmerising guitar rifts and the chorus we all knew. They finished the night off with Waste A Minute from Walls, a feel good upbeat song with a message.

It was a brilliant night, when the acoustics in a venue are on par with the musisions and they sound like they do on their recordings you can’t be dissappointed. I knew 90% of the songs and the atmosphere was great. The crowd was friendly and we met a load of cool people. The setlist was really great too, old and new, fast and slow, all in a good order. 

I’ll definitely go and see them again someday, somewhere Around The World.

Lakes, lakes and Waterfalls

This weekend we took my one of my best mates and former flatmate and his boyfriend, both over from London to some of my favourite places in Banff and Yoho National Parks. 

This post doesn’t contain ellobarate descriptions of the places we went, no detailed accounts of the colours of the lakes or the shadows over the valley from the mountains etc, the pictures speak for themselves in my opinion. 

First we did the 10 minute, short hike to the lookout point overlooking stunning Peyto Lake and the surrounding Waputik Range, Caldron Peak, Peyto Peak and Mount Jimmy Simpson. Photobombed by 2 ladies! Love this photo.Stunning Peyto Lake, amazing colour.One of the best views in the Rockies!

We then headed to the most famous lake in Banff National Park, Lake Louise. Lake Louise is beautiful but it just gets far too busy and I much prefer it in Winter when you can walk across the lake to the Glacier, and it’s far quieter.Lake Louise shorelineLouise Creek

After being turned away from the Moraine Lake turnoff and the overflow parking lot due to it being full we detoured up the Trans Canada to Yoho National Park to visit Takakkaw Falls. It was my first visit to the falls and after a very windey and steep but magnificent drive we arrived at the carpark. It’s a short 10 minute hike to the falls but we decided to scramble up to get a closer look and were awarded with a great view of the 260 metre falls, the creek below and the surrounding peaks.Takakkaw FallsAdam & Gilles Stunning views

Later in the day we finally make it to my favourite lake, Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Unfortunately we were too Lake to go Kayaking and have a bite to eat at the cafe but climbed the rock pile to get some lovely views of the lake and valleys around it. Not many places compare to this.Adam & IAdam & GillesLooking down the valley towards the highway

Overall it was of my favourite days out sightseeing. I just love taking friends to see these amazing local spots and seeing new places for myself. There is still so much to see here in the Rockies. I cannot wait!

Favourite Roadtrip Memories

Looking for dinosaurs in the Badlands, AB  Kayaking in Caliper Lake Provincial ParkMining for Amethyst in Thunder Bay, ONThe amazing sunsets in Sleeping Giant NPExploring Beautiful MontrealSwimming and Sunbathing in Shediac, NBLighthouse trail on Gaspiesie PeninsulaExploring the Maritimes in Nova ScotiaDriving the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton IsExploring Grassy Point in North SydneySeeint Whales and exploring St John’s, NFTracing heritage and hiking on Fogo IslandExploring Gros Morne National Park Ancient Pictographs in Lake Superior.Passing the centre of CanadaThe beautiful Prairies of SK & Manitoba

Agawa Bay – Dryden – Moose Jaw

Left Agawa Bay and headed around the North shore of Lake Superior to Thunder Bay. Stopped briefly but decided to carry on as we were making good time. Took motorway 17, the Northern Route through Upsala, Ignase and Dryden, an area best know for its remote fishing and hunting. There wasn’t much about but the landsacape was beautiful. Mostly flat with rolling hills in places, large lakes and rivers, and lots of thick forest. The last hour to Dryden was driven in the dark and with lots of Moose warning signs and heavy rain it was a tad scary, luckily there was a lot of traffic so we stuck behind 2 other cars. 

Stopped in Dryden and it was raining heavily, had a very basic dinner at Husky, a diner attached to a garage. Parked in Walmart and had to organise the car in a thunderstorm which ensures us and some of our gear got wet. It was a shitty night.

The West of Ontario was hilly, there were lots of lakes, big and small and rocky outcrops that had been carved out to make way for the road. The first inklings of Autumn were starting to show with some of the trees bright red, yellow and orange, It must look amazing in full blown Autumn. We listened to the last part of the audiobook ‘Crack House’ by Harry Keeble, a very interesting book about an ex policeman’s time in the Harringay drug squad. I had no idea crack was such a problem in London, I am glad I don’t live anywhere near the scummy areas of North London featured in the book. It is hell. We then went on to listen to the autobiography of Kevin Bridges. Another very funny tale. I love his Scottish accent. Audiobooks really do seem to make the time go faster. 

We have travelled a long way in the last 2 days, we are ready to be home now. The fun, exciting and interesting journey has ended and we are on the prairies. They are still beautiful in their own way but they get boring very quickly.  Passed the town’s of Winnipeg, Brandon Moosomin, Indian Head and Regina, all places we had passed on our outward journey 2 months ago, much of the roadworks we had sat in on the way over were now finished and are shiny, black, flat roads, good job fellas. Decided to stay our last night in Moose Jaw ant Capones Hideaway Motel. A basic motel in the centre of town. The room wasn’t bad, the air conditioner made a slight noise and the bath was slippery but overall it was good. It was a lovely balmy night and after a well needed shower I enjoyed a couple of Palm Bays and spoke to Dad. It was Father’s Day in Australia and we chatted for a while before he had to leave to take Jena to see her Dad. Fergus and I headed to a Scottish pub called Bobby’s Place and had a couple of drinks and shared some nibbles, sausage rolls and breaded mushrooms before heading off to the Casino. I stupidly blew some money on the pokies but Fergus won $250 on the Roulette table so we came out on top. Yippee! Had an Aperol Spritz at another very empty bar then went back to the motel to bed. 

One day to go.