Tag Archives: Canada

4/2/14 – On camera at Kicking Horse


Kicking Horse

Up high at the Horse

After months of bloglessness  it’s time to start posting again, as I’m back doing something worth writing about ski-wise. (I haven’t been idle since my last post by the way: I have got married, left my job and been settling into a new house/district 300 miles from my old home.)

Right now my ski-eenite husband, PJ, and I are on a fortnight’s road-trip in Canada, with a few days’ heliskiing along the way. Heliskiing! It’s on lots of people’s wish-lists and we are lucky enough to be about to do it, as a kind of winter honeymoon.

Powder highway

On the powder highway with two sunroofs

I’ll tell you more about the heli part later. For now, more about our warm-up, following the “powder highway” of British Columbia.

Not as powdery as sometimes (we have heard there’s more mountain biking than skiing at Whistler at the moment; luckily we are further inland, where there’s good cover), but first impressions were good: we disembarked at Calgary (Air Transat from Gatwick, 399 GBP each, including ski carriage, booked a fortnight in advance) into a blizzard.

Kicking Horse ski resort, Canada

Fresh snow at Kicking Horse, BC

We picked Kicking Horse (three hours’ drive from Calgary in easy conditions) as our first stop, cruising there in a rental car (4WD, about 500 GBP for two weeks) with two sunroofs.

KH has a reputation for nice, steep terrain and quiet slopes, many ungroomed. There’s a telecabin, rather than chilly chairlifts: a bonus when Jan/Feb temperatures are typically in the minus-teens.

Vagabond Lodge

Vagabond Lodge, a lovely welcoming place to stay, close to the lift

At the small base station – a handful of lodges, apartments, shops and restaurants – we checked into Vagabond Lodge, recommended in guidebooks and through word of mouth.

It turned out to be a winner. [Here, added later in February, is my review for the Telegraph.]

Ken and Lori Chilibeck, our hosts at Vagabond, arranged for us to take a mountain tour with Don, a seasoned local. He took us to his favourite spots and we all enjoyed making the most of the great conditions – 10cm of fresh snow on a decent base.

Kicking Horse

Yet another long mogul run. The mountains opposite are the Rockies

We explored more by ourselves on day two, dropping off the ridge into Feuz bowl (pronounced “fuse” by the Canadians), where the snow was in excellent shape after a rocky entry, and taking the “goat track” into Superbowl.

By day three we’d recovered from the time change and our legs were getting used to the “foreign” snow (lighter, colder, lots of moguls).

Vagabond Lodge lunch

Lunch at Vagabond pre-climb was make-your-own sandwiches. Another day it was Thai curry

At lunch, back at the lodge, Ken asked if we’d like to join him on a hike up a peak known as T2.

It’s within the ski area boundary, but the half-hour climb means it’s even quieter than the super-quiet other slopes.

What a privilege!

Climbing T2 at Kicking Horse

A little wobbly in places… It was easier not to hold onto the rope

The scenery was spectacular, the climb challenging enough (for me, a heights-o-phobe), the ski back down fantastic.

But pictures say so much more than words, so below is a link to the film Ken made of our adventure…


Ken Chilibeck

Ken Chilibeck, once a star television reporter who covered Canada’s most important sport, hockey

Can you tell that Ken was a star sports reporter in a previous life? I hope heliskiing will be as much fun as our afternoon on T2.

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Filed under Canada, Link to film, Off-piste

10/6/11 – What does South Korea have in common with Switzerland?

Deeply uncool, so most people think, but I love to hear someone let rip with a good yodel

Next weekend (17-19 June), a dream is going to come true for me and my sister. We are heading to Interlaken for a music festival. Not a muddy festival in a field, and not rock, pop, classical or jazz. Nein! We are off to a fantastic, joyful, colourful Jodlerfest, which is so large and complicated to organise that it only takes place every three years.

Since age zero both of us have been fans of the yodel, thanks initially to a record of Swiss mountain music belonging to my mother, and later to a succession of Austrian and Swiss tapes gathered by my parents during trips around the Alps.

Most skiers I know – outside my immediate family, that is – view mountain music with disdain. This includes many of my Swiss friends (though fewer of my Austrian ones). Out of season I do my best to inflict the stuff on passengers in my car and sometimes sneak on Swiss and Austrian CDs in company at home.

In winter, I have found it increasingly hard to track down apres-ski spots with live traditional music. A favourite of ours was Kurt von Allmen, who played, sang and yodelled in the Blumental restaurant in Muerren until a few years before he died (he also skiied in more than 40 Infernos); there is a nightly band in the Schweizerhof Stuebli in Zermatt (but not always with yodelling), and I have also stumbled upon traditional bands during Austrian apres-ski. In general, though, it seems easier to find live mountain music in summer.

Many of the Gurgl club (top) are ski instructors. I bought this CD after watching a concert in Obergurgl town hall

I’ve been researching who will be among the 10,000-plus yodellers, flag-wavers and Alphorn blowers taking part next weekend. Most, of course, are from Switzerland (including the French-speaking part). But to my surprise, the list includes participants from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. A closer look reveals that there will also be a JodlerKlub from South Korea and a Jodlerchoerli (little choir) from Tokyo. I will certainly seek them all out and I’m fascinated to find out whether they’ll be wearing dirndls and lederhosen.

When surfing various yodel sites I found a superb blog that features lots of recordings of worthwhile yodels (even I admit there is such a thing as a dud). This is the address for the info page http://mademoisellemontana.wordpress.com/about/ The writer hasn’t posted for a couple of years but check out the archive – especially the posts containing links to recordings.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make recordings of my own next weekend. Maybe, just maybe, some readers will then begin to share my enthusiasm – or am I being too optimistic?

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Filed under Austria, Canada, Music, Switzerland

23/5/11 – Bomb squad: Kevin Giffin in Fall-Line magazine

Part of Kevin Giffin's patch

In the current (summer, number 97) issue of Fall-Line Skiing and Snowboarding (www.fall-line.co.uk), one of the coverlines reads: “FERNIE PATROL – He’s got a bag full of bombs and he’s gonna use ’em”.

It always makes writers happy when editors make their material sound fun and readable. That’s how I felt about this coverline. You can read the three-page article it refers to, in pdf form, here:

My piece in Fall-Line about Kevin Giffin

The piece is about Kevin Giffin, the chief patroller at Fernie, western Canada, who I interviewed for Fall-Line when I was there in February/March.

At first, I was surprised that someone whose routine involves dynamiting, avalaunching, blasting, heli-bombing and more dynamiting (plus a daily contingent of ‘wrecks’) could be so laid-back.

But on reflection a calm temperament is probably a bonus in this job, and Kevin also came across as super-organised, outstanding at motivating his team, utterly reliable and – crucially, I think – keenly aware that there’s always something new and useful to learn. When a mountain guide, a patroller or even an instructor thinks they know it all, and doesn’t allow for the unexpected, I get jumpy.

In the article Kevin also reveals…

…that most injuries happen on green runs – the ones with the best signage and grooming

…that increasing the number of girls on his team of patrollers has created a ‘better dynamic’

…that he carries a 50m spool of dental floss in his rucksack

Follow the link to the pdf above to find out why – and to read more about one of Canada’s premier powder hotspots (also see February posts).

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Filed under Canada, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste

19/2/11 – Fernie: steep, ungroomed and snowy

A minimum of a fortnight's ban from Fernie is the penalty for crossing this rope

When I completed the Ski Club of GB leaders’ course in December (see previous posts) and was offered Fernie, British Columbia, as my first three-week leading slot, I suspected I’d landed on my feet. “Wow!” sighed fellow leaders. “Lucky you!” I’ve been here 10 days now: lucky me indeed – and lucky everyone who has visited this mountain lately. As Europe yearns for a few flakes, and visitors to the Alps return home with tanned faces and skis full of holes, in Fernie I’ve barely seen blue sky, and the last four days we’ve skied nothing but powder.

I’m here to ski with Ski Club members and find them the best runs and conditions, so I’ve had to get to know the place thoroughly. In Where to Ski and Snowboard 2011, editors Dave Watts and Chris Gill report that signage is limited, though they say it has improved lately. They also note that there is masses of steep ungroomed tree skiing. On both counts they’re spot on.

There are no markers as such on either groomed or ungroomed runs; signs indicate the top of most runs, some perched in trees. I spent my first two days here skiing with Andy Soar, the leader from whom I’m taking over. A regular here, he devised a clever route taking in the ridges between Fernie’s five bowls to show me some of the 112 in-bounds runs. As leaders we’re allowed to take members anywhere in-bounds and open, whether groomed, marked, tracked or not, but nowhere out of bounds.

It has taken me a few days to feel at home on the steep tree runs – although because the snow is lighter and easier than it typically is in Europe the gradient matters less. And I’ve bought a helmet: the snow-laden trees aren’t as soft as they look. Fernie’s lift system, at least, is simple – there are six chairlifts, one t-bar and one beginner button. And because none of them are too flashy or fast, more people are probably going up at any one moment than coming down – meaning plenty of room on the slopes.

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Filed under Canada, Off-piste