The beauty of Canada consistently amazes me. For a country of only 40 million people, there’s a lot of unused space, which means plenty of un-touched beauty. I had the opportunity to visit friends who recently relocated from Ontario to Calgary. And although I’ve spent significant time in Ontario and Quebec over the year, this was my first visit to Alberta.
Calgary is not a particularly impressive city, however, it is an excellent home base if you want a small city environment that has convenient access to some of the most beautiful natural terrain in North America. The Canadian Rockies are, quite simply, spectacular. I remember the opening sequence of the television show, Dallas, where the camera flies through the baron prairies of Texas and the skyscrapers of the city magically appear out of nowhere – Calgary reminded very much of this. It only takes about a 15 minutes of driving out of the city before you hit, well, nothing. The city is just a blip on the radar within the vast Canadian landscape and what some Calgary folks might consider the “suburbs” aren’t really suburbs at all. Calgary is Calgary and anything outside of the city limits really ceases to exist.
Our first day was spent at Sunshine Village Resort in Banff. My friends joked that the consistent flat light conditions at Sunshine were everything but full of sunshine, and this was the case on this day. The powder was deep on the upper parts of the mountain, however and the terrain was lots of fun. Lots of drop-ins off of small cliffs, etc. – just how I like it. Unfortunately, I was nursing pretty serious back problems the week prior and I was in very bad shape most of the morning. I was only riding at 50%, but still had a great time.
We set off from Calgary early on Saturday to reach Lake Louise resort. This was my first official venture into Banff National Park – man is it pretty spectacular. There was a dramatic contrast from the prior day, as this day was spectacularly sunny and beautiful. Lake Louise Resort is everything I want and everything I don’t want in a resort. It’s a large family and tourist resort with plenty of mild terrain on the front side of the mountain. If you have the desire to work some nice blue cruisers, this is a good place to hit early in the morning, but it becomes a scraped-off disaster after a few hours. I spent most of my day on the back side and far side of the mountain, however. The backside is what I love – wide open powdery bowls above the tree line – man, it was awesome. There are so many places to drop in the bowls, you can drop in the same bowl 10 times and have a totally different riding experience. The far side is filled with some interesting, out of the way terrain. One of the more entertaining areas he hit was called the “Rock Garden”. After leaving the lift, we hiked and rode on a narrow catwalk until we found a nice, unobstructed area to make our descent. We decided to climb a bit, but it was quite tiring after the 15 or so minutes of hiking – the snow was up to my waist. We started our descent through the powder and hit the Rock Garden, which was filled with “rocks” (read: boulders) that were a good 3-4 feet high, but mostly covered in snow. It was quite a challenge weaving through the boulders, trying to avoid destroying the base and edges of my board and – more importantly – trying to stop my head from becoming intimate with one of the rocks. The day ended and we stopped in Banff for some dinner. What a neat little small ski town (quite upscale and Aspen-ish).
On the third day, we were up hours before the sun came to life and headed west again, this time through all of Banff National Park, deeper into British Columbia. I just need to reiterate how beautiful the drive was – it was fantastic. The roads were windy and somewhat scary at times, but it was lots of fun. Kyle had told us that there was an old railroad bridge off the side of a mountain where a wreck had occurred many years ago. The locomotive was left hanging partially off the bridge and they never bothered to clear it or open the bridge up again. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it, but I’ve found references to it on the web (if anyone has pictures, please let me know!). The destination this day was Kicking Horse Resort in Golden, British Columbia. Golden is a small town, if you could even call it a town. If you blink your eye, you will miss it. Kicking Horse Mountain, however, is massive and, to my surprise and delight, was empty for a Sunday. I don’t think there is such a thing as a lift line here. The bottom line on Kicking Horse: the snow and terrain are spectacular. We spent much of the day working off of the Seventh Heaven Lift to the highest point. From there, our options were to drop into a wide mogul bowl (which was quite nice) or ride a catwalk to the endless embankment of trees that went from summit to the lift chair. The tree approach was awesome. The trees essentially had a slight double fall line, so you could ride the trees straight “down” into the main trail, or you ride off the “side” of the mountain, parallel to the trail below. We took numerous approaches, but my last run off that chair of the day was a full run in the trees – top of the lift to the bottom of the lift. I don’t think I ever did so many vertical feet of trees in a single run. My legs were killing me and we still had the long journey back to the base, which takes another 20 minutes or so via snowboard. At the end of the day, my visibility was shot and legs needed a vacation, but it was the perfect end to an awesome weekend.