Thursday, February 6, 2014


Traveling doesn't always mean leaving my country. A trip doesn't have a minimum distance, it can still be close to home, but as long as it requires a journey, it's legit. This is why I've chosen to add a post about my recent snowboarding trips.

The first one of the season was for my friend and previous travel buddy, Matt, who is currently working his way through South America with his fiancee, on their way to get married in Australia. Over ten of us hit the road at 5am, bound for Lake Louise to do a day of snowboarding and a night of partying in Banff, an early stag for Matt before they departed on their travels. In the spirit of a stag I'm not going to reveal too much about it, but the boarding was great, and much beer was drank.

My second trip was formulated in the previous post. I had saved some money when I rebooked my trip, and happened at the same time to get a check from the government, so some snowboarding was in order. Due to my odd work schedule, it was a solo trip. I left on Saturday night and crashed at a friends place in Airdrie, drinking a few too many beers, resulting in waking up a little hung over and on a less than optimal amount of sleep. A quick stop by McDonalds for coffee and poisonous breakfast fixed that, and I was on my way to Lake Louise.

It had snowed quite a bit overnight so the highways were not in the greatest condition, but with AWD and a set of winter tires I made it safe and sound, but was witness to another SUV slamming into the ditch behind me outside of Banff. Canadian highways can be quite treacherous in winter. I arrived at the hill shortly after ten, picked up my passes and hit the gondola. The day was a little overcast but still relatively mild (-5 is mild in Canadian terms), and snowing slightly off and on. Due to it being Sunday I stayed off the back bowls and the inevitable crowds that funnel into it's narrow runs, opting for the front face of the mountain, which was in amazing condition from the overnight snowfall. That night I stayed in the hostel at Lake Louise, having a nice dinner and hitting the hay early to rest my sore legs.

The next day is where the story gets interesting. The weather forecast had been calling for a snowstorm overnight, followed by winds gusting upward of 120km/h the next day. Half of the Icefields Parkway was closed, as well as the highway through Rogers Pass. What does that tell me? Awesome snow conditions. I woke up early and hit the highway, which I had all to myself the whole way to Sunshine. I arrived at the parking lot around 8:45 and went to the booth to purchase my lift pass. The nice German girl informed me that there was high wind conditions in Sunshine Village, and that some of the chairlifts would be closed, but the wind was expected to die down around noon. Seeing my apprehension, she informed me that if I bought a lift ticket I would have an hour and a half to return to the base of the gondola to extend it for a different date, should the conditions be unfavorable. I wasn't about to turn my back on the possibility of no crowds and great snow conditions. I boarded the gondola.

The wind was light at the Village, and my first run off the Strawberry chair was calm and full of great powder. I boarded and Mt. Standish chair and had a calm ride for about two thirds of it, which turned into gusting wind and blowing snow. I then made the mistake of turning left off the chair, aiming for a blue run but instead to be dumped into a black diamond bowl, where I got bogged down in the heavy deposited powder that my snowboard is no good in. After some struggling and a little cursing, I made it through and back down onto the blue run I was meant to be on. Due to the gusting wind I decided to stick to the runs along the lower half and in the trees where at all possible, and hit some great runs.

After lunch the wind had seemed to die down and the Angel Express chair was still running. I jumped on it, aiming to take the green run down the exposed face of the Great Divide. I dropped off the lift to be greeted by howling winds and whiteout conditions. I could still see the trail markers, and other people seemed to be ok with descending, so I gave it a shot. I got about fifty meters from the chairlift and was instantly bogged down by heavy deposited snow and the powerful wind, which was preventing me from gaining any speed. I was starting to lose sight of the chair lift as the conditions deteriorated, and the green run I was on ran along the boundary of the ski hill, so getting lost in a whiteout, alone, was starting to become a real possibility. I took off my boarding and began trudging uphill through the snow towards the chairlift, pausing every time I lost sight of it to avoid becoming disoriented. It was the most physically exhausting thing I've ever done in my life; three times I had to stop and sit down to avoid hyperventilating, while the wind howled around me.

I reached the chair, out of breath, and asked the lift attendant to put me back on the chair. These conditions were beyond my skill level. She had just got off the phone with whoever was in charge, and the chair was being shut down, nobody else would be allowed on. And during the course of this discussion more and more people are arriving at the top, some experienced and familiar enough to make it down, some in the same situation as myself. About half an hour later, sitting out in the cold wind, a snowmobile arrived to evacuate the lift attendant and guide us down the blue run, which ran between two black diamond runs. A possible bad situation had I ended up on one of those. Being guided made it easy to descend, but during the run the wind was actually so powerful it ended up stopping me dead and pushing me over on my ass. Thankfully everyone made it down safe and disaster was averted. I finished the day with one more run and a nap in the gondola on the way down.

My third trip was a surprise from my cousin, Chris, who had a work colleague being forced to bail on the trip due to a hurt ankle. We took off Thursday morning for Jasper and arrived at Marmot Basin around nine thirty to sunny skies and a brisk temperature. After two crowdless days of snowboarding, I am completely sold on going mid week to avoid the throngs of people that arrive from Calgary and Edmonton. Having the hill to yourself makes things so much more enjoyable and stress free, and maximizes a persons time on the hill, instead of waiting in line for the chair lifts. The sunshine and fresh snow from the night before made for a great day, as did the cold beers enjoyed on the hill. It's days like that, sitting on a mountain with a beer in hand, looking at the beautiful scenery around me, that I think out of all the places I've visited, my home country is still one of the most beautiful.

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