I love the mountains. I’ve spent my life exploring them on bikes, snowboards, and my own two feet. This California girl has seen a lot of mountains, but I hadn’t ever been to Canada. I only scratched the surface of the Canadian Rockies on my maiden trip, but I was blown away by what I experienced. For someone who loves the mountains, it was no wonder I felt like I’d been missing out all my life.
Dramatic, stoic, imposing. Majestic, dynamic, towering. These are some real mountains, alright.
My husband Ron’s father, Ron Sr., lives in Invermere, British Columbia. We got a fantastic deal on plane tickets to go see him from January 17 – 22, and booked our trip excitedly.
Flying into Calgary at roughly midnight, we were picked up by Ron’s stepmother Cindy’s daughter Michelle – a real trooper picking us up at 1 a.m. from the airport, taking us to her house for the night. It was about -30°C (or -22°F) that first night.
Early the next morning, we set out for Invermere with Michelle, her boyfriend Sheldon, and their adorable dog Kasey, who would rest his sweet head on my lap every now and then along the beautiful drive. As the sun came up, we stopped in Canmore for a quick coffee. I was stunned by how gorgeous the landscape was revealing itself to be, and so excited for the trip!
It was about a three and a half hour’s drive from Calgary to Invermere, where Ron Sr. and Cindy have a nice condo. Cindy’s kids Angie and Garrett, along with their spouses Pipes and Katie, and their children, joined us for what would be a fun weekend of snow, adventuring, and getting a taste of Canadian life.
We settled into the beautiful condo, and set out to Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, about fifteen minutes down the road. With kids and family in tow, we had a great time frolicking among the slopes. Ron and his father skied their first run together in 25+ years, which was an awesome moment to capture. Fairmont is a great family resort, with about 1,000′ vertical descent, and just a few runs.
The icing on the cake was playing on the sledding hill at the base of the mountain with all of the kids at the end of the day; Ron even served as a sled for them all to ride atop! We had a great family dinner that night with everyone, and went to bed happy and content.
The next day, Ron and I went for a morning adventure with the kids and Ron Sr. out on Lake Windermere. I’d never walked upon a frozen lake, and it was such a cool experience. The lake boasts the longest ice-skating track in the world at 34km. We watched as some competitors hied past us along the ice before returning back to the condo.
Next, Ron and I set out to Panorama Resort. I’d already been in awe of the mountains I’d seen so far, but driving up to Panorama I was like a kid in a candy store. The steepness! So dramatic! All that snow! I could tell we were in for a treat.
We spent the day excitedly exploring as much of the mountain as we could. Although there was a lot of good snow, it hadn’t snowed much over the last week or so. There were some moguled sections that we avoided although they were soft on impact. There were some nice off-piste lines, but the trees were generally densely packed, making tree-skiing difficult in most areas.
There was some genuine champagne powder over at Taynton Bowl, though, and it was worth the effort. You have to do a short hike, about fifteen minutes, from the Summit to the bowl. It was by far our best, and longest, run of the day. Panorama boasts 4,300′ of vertical descent, and charging down from Taynton Bowl all the way to the base was definitely a journey, bringing a smile from ear to ear.
We finished off the day exploring different chairs and runs, and I had an insane run down the Downhill, just carving fast from top to bottom. This is an Olympic training run, and it doesn’t disappoint! The angle will get your heart pumping if all those turns don’t. So much fun! We had such a blast at Panorama, and headed back to Invermere for dinner at the Copper Point Resort, which was hearty and complimented by the latest football game on multiple televisions.
The next day was Monday, January 20, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As I listened to U2’s song “Pride (In the Name of Love)” on the radio, I thought about his innumerable contributions to society, his selflessness, his inspiration to others. Although I’m sure he’d rather inspire others to act in defense of others, I felt inspired that Monday to really seize this day, to make the most of our biggest adventure yet: we were heading up to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, BC.
We’d spent the previous night looking at trail maps and YouTube footage of Kicking Horse, giggling like school children at all of the black and double-black runs, but most of all, we were ridiculously excited to snowboard over 4,300′ of vertical descent! Our longest runs at our home mountain Kirkwood boasts about 2,000′ maximum vertical drop. Little did we know just how much longer these runs would feel!
We got our tickets and boarded up the Golden Eagle Express, a high-speed gondola that whips you up to the top of the mountain at 8,218′ in just a few minutes. I was so impressed by the quality of amenities at all of the resorts we’d been to so far; compared to Kirkwood, which has awesome terrain but sometimes lacks in conveniences, it was eye-opening to see so many high-speed quads, mid-mountain cafes, nicely maintained facilities, even warming Yurts on the mountain. Canadians do Winter better than we do, that’s for sure. Then again, their version of Winter is a lot more intense than ours, especially when it comes to temperature.
We were lucky it wasn’t super cold during our trip, about -5°C most days. Everyone kept asking if I was cold, which I found comical as I spend most of my weekends snowboarding. California may not get Winter like Canada, but we get Winter weather, down into the negatives, too. The coldest I’ve snowboarded in at Kirkwood was -7°F (-22°C), and the solution was to bundle up more. I’ve been skiing since I was 3, so I’ve got some experience when it comes to keeping warm among the cold. I did come prepared with good snow clothes, layers, jackets, gloves, boots, and a hat. I’m pretty prepared when it comes to Winter activities, and felt that way in Canada on the slopes.
When we got to the top of the mountain, it was howling windy with limited visibility. We high-tailed it down to the Stairway of Heaven chair, which accesses the famous Ozone wall. There was a ton of amazing terrain in this area, and good tree riding. This is one of the few zones where the trees are well-spaced out; most stands were densely packed, which made finding tree-spots extra special.
We bounced around the mountain trying run after run, smiles growing wider by the chair. It was sunny at the top of the mountain, and then it snowed mid-mountain. There were ferocious winds with blinding, blowing snow, followed by leeward slopes laden with fresh, champagne powder. We were just blown away by how awesome the mountain was. All of the variety it had – from bowls, to groomers, to chutes so steep you feel like the bottom might drop out from under you – was overwhelming, in the best way possible. We’d never skied such a big mountain like this, with such expanse, dramatic drops, long vertical descent, and light, fluffy snow. They call it the Champagne Capital of BC. Kicking Horse truly kicks ass! This was our favorite resort of the three we sampled this trip.
Coming down a chute into Crystal Bowl was like snowboarding blind. It was so windy and snowy, the visibility was almost nil. I could barely see Ron coming down from the top, except for some of these pictures I got. The snow was still soft underfoot, and we went for it with flow and grace.
This was our day. We attacked with passion and kept going back until the last run of the day, which we used to do a little hike and skate over to Super Bowl. Super Bowl is a wide bowl with chutes entering it, but the chutes were closed off to public for an upcoming contest (they always save the good stuff for the pros, of course). We came down the main bowl, best run of the day, stopping several times to take in the breathtaking views of the Rockies.
I can’t explain exactly how I felt, but on the drive home from Golden back to Invermere, I teared up, feeling like I’d just found a new home; like I’d been missing out on something all of my life, and now I knew what it was. It was a spiritual feeling in a sense, that I needed to explore these mountains more; that scratching the surface of the Rockies on this trip was just the beginning of a new passion for me. Again, I’ve always loved the mountains. I live and breathe the mountains as an avid mountain biker, trail runner, and snowboarder. To finally experience this level of mountains was life-changing for me. It reminded me of what a big world we live in, and how much more I want to see. It reminded me that I am always at home in the mountains, no matter where they are. It made me want to go back.
On Tuesday, it was time to head back to Calgary. We stopped off for lunch in Banff with Ron’s dad and Cindy, enjoying a quick stroll through a snow sculpture exhibit. I can see why people would enjoy coming here! It was beautiful for the little bit we saw.
We had pizza in Calgary at Pipes and Angie’s house that night with the family, which was wonderful. Ron and I checked into our hotel near the airport, enjoyed a nice hot tub, and a good night’s sleep.
The next day on Wednesday, our flight was to leave at 4 p.m. Ron wanted to go snowboarding once more to Nakiska, a resort about an hour out of Calgary. I was exhausted and wanted to sleep in, content with all the snowboarding we’d already done, and opted to sleep in and take a nice, long hot tub instead. He returned about 12:30, having said it was a fun morning, but ice-rink hard without any new snow. I’m glad he went to check it out, but I enjoyed my spa morning very much at the hotel!
We flew home that evening on Air Canada Express into San Francisco. I felt rejuvenated, inspired, and enlivened from our vacation. Seeing family was enriching, and experiencing the Rockies was, too. Though we’re not ballers, Ron and I keep talking about how awesome Kicking Horse must be after a two-foot dump, and how awesome it would be to just buy some plane tickets and head on up to BC when that happens. Revelstoke is also in the same area, and we’re excited to check that out next. And if we were true ballers? We’d go heli-skiing, duh. That’s up there on our bucket list.
Maybe we’re already ballers enough, though. To be able to take this trip was a true gift I’ll never forget. That’s balling enough for me.
Life is short and passes quickly, even when you take the time to cherish everyday, appreciate what you have, and seize the day doing what you love. I’d always wanted to go to Canada, and I’m so happy I went when I did. You never know what life will bring next. Take all those trips you want to take when you can, because there’s no guarantee of someday, only today.