Trip Report: Banff, Alberta, Canada 1/23-29/00


New member
<I>(Note from the Administrator: This message was originally posted on 2/2/00. Due to our move to new servers, the date and time attributed to this post is incorrect.)</I> <BR> <BR>With predictions of freezing rain on Saturday night/Sunday morning, my S.O. and I were quite nervous about making it out of Raleigh-Durham on Sunday morning. We left the house at 7:00 for a 9:44 flight - good thing, as our flight was canceled and we managed to get on the only flight to Chicago that morning. Uneventful trip to Calgary (except for the couple sitting behind us - hubby was reading "Penthouse Forum;" very odd to read titillating sex tales on an airplane, with one's bored-looking partner dozing in the next seat.). Caught the shuttle to Banff (with the literary couple from the plane) and saw my first-ever elk. Several, <BR>actually, milling about the road. <BR> <BR>We checked in to the hotel, the High Country Inn, and found that we had a small apartment - two bedrooms, a sitting area, and a kitchenette. Nice! And only a two minute walk to downtown. After settling in, we went to get our rental skis. We were both set up with Völkl V20s. Strolled downtown and had a delicious dinner at the Keg. <BR> <BR>We were both enrolled in Club Ski, the three-day <BR>guiding/instruction program, and had to be at Lake Louise, 40 km away, by 9:45. Caught the early shuttle and were awed by the scenery on the 45 minute ride to Louise. It was a clear, beautiful day, but the temperatures still required the use of a toque and goggles. So much for the headband-and-shades ski bunny look I'd hoped for. After a quick cup of joe, we headed to the meeting place for Club Ski. You group yourself according to ability - level 1 through 7 - and the instructors further sort you based on a maximum class size of nine and the students' nervousness or confidence. I elected level 3 and Chris chose level 5. <BR> <BR>I cannot say enough good things about the Club Ski program! It was a blast, and really helpful to boot. There were initially seven of us - all English, including the instructor Dave, except for me - and we all skied at the same level. After a warm-up run down the front which gave Dave an opportunity to start learning what areas needed work, we were instructed to "get off the toilet!" Having taken only a single, one-hour "intermediate" group lesson some years ago, I've never been taught to lean forward and center my weight. Wow! No more crossed tips! At any rate, we spent the entire day being coached and touring Lake Louise. It is simply spectacular there! The views from the Top of the World and the Larch lifts are amazing! We skied the front, and then ventured into the back bowls (the groomed, green run only). It was a lot of fun. <BR> <BR>Chris was pleased with his instruction as well. As I mentioned, Chris joined the level 5 group. His instructor, Shaun, was a bit more aggressive with his class, and spent a large part of the time off piste and on black diamond runs as part of the "introduction to moguls" portion of the class. <BR> <BR>Had dinner that night at St. James Gate Irish Pub - huge mistake. The food was dreadful and the place is smoke-filled (including cigars). Ah well. Turned in early and met up with four classmates the next morning at the shuttle to Sunshine Village. <BR> <BR>Another beautiful day! Fortunately, I brought my camera along on this day. More guiding and instruction on the all-natural snow. Dave taught us how to tackle rollers, so we were venturing into the trees and making asses of ourselves. Took the Continental Divide chair to the top and hoofed it to the edge to look into Delirium Dive. What a site! Headed over to Goat's Eye that afternoon, which I really enjoyed. Lots of wide, blue runs - my favorite! On this, the second day of Club Ski, we were joined by two students (Irish) from level 2, plus a new trainee instructor. It was quite helpful to have someone coaching us from behind, as well. Day 2 for Chris consisted of more black diamonds and off-piste skiing, and Shaun shared such useful tips as "If you stay in my tracks, you won't hit a tree." One of his classmates collided with him at the top of a double-black run and broke his pole, but other than that there were no casualties. <BR> <BR>I had my first of two humiliating lift experiences. After class, Chris and I hooked up and decided to ski the run Banff Avenue back to the Sunshine Village parking area. To get to the run, we had to take a T-bar. No problem - I mastered these last year in Switzerland (after a beer-induced embarrassment, but that's another story). Let me interject here that Chris is a big guy - about a foot taller than I. We had a little trouble getting the T-bar situated on our backsides, but were moving up the hill nicely when I somehow toppled off. Halfway up the hill. Ack!!! Chris bailed, too, and we had to head back down. Chris was on his skis, but I was so shaken that I trudged down in my boots, red-faced and cursing. We agreed that we should not ride T-bars together any more. <BR> <BR>Called home on Tuesday evening, where Mom informed me that we'd gotten 20 inches of snow in the Raleigh area. Sorry I missed seeing it, but just as glad that I wasn't cooped up in my apartment for days (with no power, I later learned). Hit the hot tub at the hotel, then headed to Giorgio's for an excellent dinner. <BR> <BR>Up the next morning to go to Mount Norquay for our final day of Club Ski. It was snowing lightly when we got to the shuttle stop and it continued to snow all day. Norquay is a cool little ski hill! It's small, but the base lodge is new and really nice. The runs at Norquay are shorter and steeper than at Louise or Sunshine, but it was fun! It appeared that the only people there were Club Ski participants, so it was virtually empty. We sneaked and did a couple of practice runs on the slalom course, in preparation for our 12:30 race time. I was a little nervous about the race, as I'm still not too comfortable with a lot of speed, but I had a great time! (I was henceforth referred to as "that girl with the huge smile" by Chris's classmates.) That afternoon, we went over to Imp, which has a few bumps off to the left side. Dave led us through the bumps and took us over a small jump. Yippee!! I made it without wiping out! All but one of us agreed that we wanted one more go, so we left Jo sitting on a rock and headed back up. On the ride up, Yendell proclaimed that he'd made the jump successfully once and wasn't going to push his luck. Of course, he did try it again. Unfortunately, his skis stopped when he hit the ground and he fell forward, cutting his forehead and hurting his shoulder. The trainee instructor went to fetch ski patrol while we waited with Yendell. We later learned that Yendell had dislocated his <BR>shoulder. Ouch! <BR> <BR>That night was the Club Ski banquet, which is an optional buffet dinner where race results are given out (I was next to last in my group - slow and steady does NOT win the slalom race), as are awards for the best group picture (Chris's group won the honor). It was an expensive venture, but a lot of fun. Stayed until late, drinking jugs of Kokanee Gold and being generally obnoxious. <BR> <BR>So now Chris and I had Thursday and Friday to ski together. We decided to head back to Sunshine and arranged to meet one of Chris's classmates so they could tackle some of the tougher stuff (unfortunately, Mark hopped the wrong shuttle and skied Louise instead). Had a great day skiing, and another embarrassing lift incident. I was wearing a backpack and kept forgetting about it. I was a little unbalanced when I dropped into the seat of the Wheeler lift and my left foot went off the edge of the platform. Off goes the ski, Lucy turns to Chris and says, "Oh s**t! What do I do?", then leaps from the chair into the snow a couple of feet below. Of course, the lift operator stopped the lift and I hobbled back to retrieve my ski and share the ride with a veterinarian from Iowa. What a klutz! <BR> <BR>Went for a soak in the upper hot springs (lovely!!!), and then dinner with Mark at Magpie and Stump's, a funky Mexican restaurant off Banff Avenue. It was really good! <BR> <BR>On Friday, our last day of skiing, we went back to Louise (mostly to take photos, as we'd heard that the skiing was pretty icy there). Indeed, the front was pretty awful - super icy groomed runs and a lot of people. We headed to the back bowls, where there was great snow and very few people. After three days of instruction, my confidence was up a bit and I was bombing around in the powder with Chris. Fun fun fun! We had a great time. Skied over to Larch and did the Larch Poma run, which was ungroomed. Now, I'm not too keen on bumps, as I'm still trying to ski down the cruisers with some degree of finesse, but I was up for a bit of a challenge. It was great! I didn't do it with much style and I must confess that the bumps <BR>were pretty small, but what fun! <BR> <BR>We decided to demo some skis (you can demo skis at Louise for an hour, with a credit card). I'm interested in the Volant Vertex, and inquired if they had any in a 160ish length (I was skiing 163s). Nope, the shortest they had was 173. I figured I'd give 'em a shot. Chris tried the Volant Powerkarve. We skied the same route we'd just done - back bowl to Larch, then back down the icy front to return the skis. The Vertex was great fun on the back side - I was blasting around like nobody's business, tackling rollers and venturing off the trail wherever it looked safe. We skipped the ungroomed run, as I didn't think I could manage such long skis (for moi) in any kind of bumps. However, once we hit the front for the trip back to base, I was miserable! The skis were just way too much for me to handle, especially in such poor conditions. It's amazing what a difference just 10cm can make. Made it down with no major catastrophes, but I was a little shaky after that. I decided it was about time for some adult refreshment, and Chris hit some of the black runs by himself. <BR> <BR>Had dinner on Friday night at Barbary Coast (a meat-eater's paradise) with four of my English classmates. Again, an excellent meal, although I'm sure it was enhanced by the great company. We parted, sharing e-mail addresses and hugs, and spent the rest of the night packing. As we expected, thanks to the dire warnings from my parents down South, we found that our flight to Raleigh for Saturday night was canceled due to <BR>freezing rain. We opted to go ahead to Chicago, where we spent the night, and finally made it home Sunday night. <BR> <BR>Overall, and in between, Chris and I had a terrific time! The skiing was superb. We agreed that Louise has the most incredible scenery, Sunshine has the best snow, and Norquay has some really, really fun runs! We met so many nice people, and the Canadians are all so friendly. We booked our entire vacation on the Web through Ski Banff/Lake Louise <BR>(<A HREF=""></A>) and I was really impressed. Everything went off without a hitch (the crappy travel weather excepted). We will definitely be booking another Banff ski week next year!