Snowmobiling at Kicking Horse Mountain

Yep, you guessed it! Another FAM tour! This time it was a full day snowmobiling tour with Rocky Mountain Riders up at Kicking Horse Mountain in BC. I know I have been very spoilt with all these freebies but it really does make these tours so much easier to sell to our guests when they know you have done them yourself and they can hear the enthusiasm and excitement in your voice when you tell them about your experiences.

Rocky Mountain Riders is a tour and rental company based just outside of Golden, BC which is 1.5 hours drive from Banff on the Trans Canada Highway. In the Summer they rent out Cam-Am ATV’s, Side by Sides, and Master craft Wake Board and Surf Boats, while in Winter they rent Snowmobiles and run Snowmobile tours.

Fergus and I were collected from the Banff Springs Hotel at 8am and were the second to last pick-up before the minibus headed off in the darkness to Golden. We drifted in and out of sleep on the 2 hour journey before waking just as the bus climbed the 10km access road to Kicking Horse Ski Resort where the Snowmobile office is located.Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 11.03.35A map of the trail we took to Wiseman Lake

The group sighed our waivers, got kitted up and went to choose our vehicles for the day. Our lead guide Fin, a fellow Kiwi, from Wellington gave us instructions on how to drive our Snowmobiles and then ran through hand signals for stop, slow down, are you ok? etc. Within half an hour we were on our way.1Fin instructing us on hand signals2Getting ready to head off onto the trail

On the way out, we all went in one big group, I was close to the back, just in front of Fergus and at the beginning I found the Snowmobile easy to use, just accelerate on the right, break on the left and a kill switch for shutting down the engine. At the beginning the trail was quite narrow and steep but once we got out onto the trail proper we were able to accelerate on the long, if not a tad bumpy, straights. I thought I was doing quite well but after our first stop, Fergus went ahead of me, he knows how to ride a motorbike and is an excellent driver so that made sense. 3.jpgHappy as Larry with Fergus behind me

As we drove down the trail further, Fergus was getting further and further ahead to the point where I wasn’t able to see him anymore. The people behind me were just as far back and eventually I lost sight of them too, even on the straights. There were trails branching off left and right and I began to get a paranoid that I had lost everyone and gone down the wrong path somewhere. So I sped up.

Unfortunately I lost control, hit accelerate instead of brake and ran off the side of the trail and crashed with a thud into a mound of trees, dirt and snow. It all went down in slow motion and all the while I was thinking ‘how much is it going to sting me if I damage the Snowmobile?’  I was pretty shaken up and was visibly shaking, not something that happens to me often. I was sure I was going to have to give up and get taken back to the base. But by the time the group behind me, which thankfully included Rob, our driver and guide, caught up, I was feeling better. Rob made sure I was ok and proceeded to drag my Snowmobile out of the scrub and back onto the trail. After a quick inspection he assured me it was fine and said ‘people crash these things every day’ which made me feel a bit lees of a numpty.

We carried on and eventually met up with the rest of the group. When I told Fergus I had crashed he said he’d had wondered where I had disappeared to and hoped I hadn’t had a crash. From then on, he drove a bit slower and I could see him glancing behind as points to make sure I was still there. What a sweetie.

Once at the lunch stop, a bunch of us ventured out onto the frozen Wiseman Lake for some fun.  We hooned around on the lake doing donuts, racing each other and seeing how fast we could get our machines to go, it was a lot of fun!4Fergus about to take off over the lake2After a while we all headed back to the trail, parked our snowmobiles in a neat line and settled down by the fire to wait for out lunch. I started off with a selection of cold meats and cheeses before having a beef burger with cheese followed by some marshmallows. Chatted to some of the other guests who were from all over the place, Brazil, Australia (of course), Canada and Japan. I tried to warm up by the fire but it was snowing heavily and there was no covered areas so was pleased where we got on our way again as the snowmobiles had heated handlebars which was really nice.3A neat line of snowmobiles parked up for lunch4Enjoying our lunch and chatting to the other guests

I was right at the back this time as I didn’t want to slow anyone down, which was fine with me, I didn’t want to feel pressured to go too fast again.  Fergus was in the fast group ahead so I didn’t really see him at all on the return journey except catching a glimpse of his green jacket way ahead whenever we stopped.

The trail back was much the same, we drove past my crash site, then went deeper into the forest on a different trail for a while. This one was a little bit more technical which I liked, there were steeper inclines, thinner bridge crossings and a very bumpy path which meant you had to stand up to avoid bouncing around so much. It was hard on the legs.5At least I wasn’t the only one who managed to crash….6Taking selfies during one of our stops

Eventually we made it back to the base at Kicking Horse. My hands, legs and bum were sore and I could barely walk after parking my machine and heading back to the hut to return the gear I had borrowed. It was nice to put my own snow boots back on that had been sitting beside the fire all day.

As it had been snowing all day and the expectation was a further 15-20cm, Rob, our driver advised us that he was going to get the van quickly checked in Golden before heading out over the pass. It was also getting dark so it would be a long, cold trip back to Banff but Rob bought us all Tim Hortons on the way through Golden, that was so nice of him!

After quite a snowy and perilous journey back to Alberta, we stopped briefly in Lake Louise and then carried on to Banff where Fergus and I were dropped at the Banff Springs.

I’d give this tour a 8 out of 10. I really enjoyed it but crashing and the fact I wasn’t a very confident driver made it a bit difficult for me. The lunch was great but I would have preferred to go to a shelter to get out of the snow for a bit. The scenery was beautiful and the guides were all wonderful and made you feel comfortable and at ease. I’d definitely recommend anyone to try snowmobiling! Thanks Rocky Mountain Riders!

More info:

Who: Rocky Mountain Riders

Where: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden, BC

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Helmets, boots, outerwear & snowmobile

Difficulty: Suitable for all skill levels

Duration: Full day (8.00 pick up from Banff)

Price: $255 per adult / $80 per child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ski Hills are OPEN!

May 22nd, 6 months, since the last Banff based ski hill closed for the 2016/17 season. That doesn’t sound very long to someone who comes for a ski holiday once a year, but to those of us who live and work in Banff over the Winter and ski 3-4 times a week, when the season is over it feels like an eternity to wait for the next Winter.

It’s always a fun but expensive time leading up to the ski season. Firstly, you need to purchase your season’s pass and can either choose to go for just 1 mountain at around $1000 or go for The Big 3 pass which is a staggering $1600. Suffice to say it’s a quiet time of year in town for the bars and restaurants as everyone is broke for a few weeks after purchasing their passes.

Any newcomers doing the season ahead also need to get all the gear which can be very expensive, but we are lucky enough to have the Banff, Canmore and Calgary ski swaps where you can buy second hand gear for a lot less. Once you are all kitted up and have your pass, doing a whole season can be relatively cheap per day as compared to coming for a week’s holiday.

This year Mount Norquay opened on Saturday the 4th of November, the first ski hill in Canada to open its gates to the public. I went up for a few runs on the Sunday, but they only had one of their shorter lifts open, so we didn’t stay for long. Lake Louise opened on the 7th and Sunshine Village on the 8th.

FullSizeRender (010)The sun coming through the clouds above Strawberry Express

On the 8th on November I was awake at 5:30am, like a child at Christmas, I was so excited for Sunshine’s opening day and lay awake until my alarm went off at 7:30.

Normally I get the free ski shuttle from the Fairmont Hotel but on that morning, I got a lift with my flatmate and his friends. I think everyone from Banff who had the day off or was starting work later was heading up to Sunshine Village.

After a 20-minute gondola ride I was back in the surrounds of Standish, Lookout and Goat’s Eye Mountains. It felt like I’d never left and many of the people I spoke to on the various chairlifts I rode that morning said the same.

FullSizeRender (00F)Looking out over Sunshine Village and Wawa chair.

I started my day doing a few runs on Strawberry Express which is Sunshine’s beginner chair. It has a few greens and gentle blues to get your ski legs back after a long time away from the slopes. From the top of the chairlift you get an amazing view over towards Sunshine Meadows and the peaks surrounding Mount Assiniboine as well as Lookout Mountain where Angel, Teepee Town LX and the Divide chairs rise up into the clouds.

Moving on to Wawa, a more intermediate chair with long, wide blue runs and a few technical blacks I felt like I truly got my technique back as I powered down the hill executing short sharp turns over the beautifully groomed runs. I did about 7 runs off Wawa in the bright sunshine before heading down the mountain to the lower chairs.

Jackrabbit and Wolverine chairs are on the lower part of Goat’s Eye Mountain and have a variety of runs off them. I did a few of my favourite short black runs off Jackrabbit before cruising down the blues and blacks off Wolverine.

The crunching sounds of the snow being pushed aside by my skis, the whoosh of the chilly air on my face and the almost bluebird day was just what I was hoping for and Sunshine always delivers.

FullSizeRender (00D)Jackrabbit chair and one of my favorite Black Runs.

By midday I was really starting to feel the burn so returned to the Gondola mid station and headed home.

Sunshine Village, like Coronet Peak in my native New Zealand has a special place in my heart. I have skied 14 different resorts in Canada, New Zealand, France, Switzerland and Bulgaria but Sunshine has the best snow of them all.

I know the mountain so well and spent so much time there last season. It’s a mountain with something for everyone and the staff are always so happy and friendly. My boyfriend learnt to ski there and one of my best friends even got married there.

I wonder what exciting things will happen at Banff Sunshine Village this ski season.