Monthly Archives: May 2013

Backcountry Trip

One of the great things about the NonStop course is that they don’t only help you to become a much better skier but the help you to really experience life in the mountains.  They offered a wide variety of other activities for us to do, including Cat Skiing, Cross country, Winter Camping, day and weekend trips, and many more.

I was really keen to try and do a backcountry trip, so when I saw that on the list of activities, I was in!  For those of you who don’t know what a backcountry trip is let me explain.  In search of some awesome snow and a great experience you can venture into the mountains in winter outside of the ski resort boundaries.

Since you are now in the vast wilderness, there is no avalanche control like in a ski resort.  Therefor you need to carry extra equipment to rescue each other in case of an avalanche.  There is also no lifts to take you up the mountain again, so instead you have to attach ‘skins’ to the bottom of your skies, which allows you to walk up the mountain.  You also have special bindings that allow you to lift your heal.

Our guide Steve, explaining how the special bindings work

Our guide Steve, explaining how the special bindings work

We had a fun day! It began with our guide, Steve, meeting us at the rental shop at Fernie Alpine Resort. We then took the Timber Chair lift to the top and crossed over the resort boundary. We were now in the backcountry.  We stopped to play with the equipment first, by learning to put the skins on our skies and how to walk with them.

Now it was time to walk a little way so we can have our first run down. It was more challenging than I thought to zigzag up the mountain, I even had one nice fall doing it. The snow pack is obviously deep and not compacted at all, so you can disappear deep into the snow if you fall.  After about 30 minutes of walking up, we took the skins off and had a fantastic run down a nice bowl.

Everybody busy putting the skins back on the skies

Everybody busy putting the skins back on the skies

The skiing was awesome. At the bottom it was time to put the skins on again and walk back up, we got two more great runs in before it was time to head home.  Understanding the avalanche risk factors are key when you leave the resort boundaries, and Steve gave a great intro in understanding this complex subject.

It was great fun! Steve was an awesome guide, and I would love to do a backcountry trip again! Thanks Steve and thanks NonStop for arranging it!

Fernie Alpine Resort

As the ski season progressed, I found it increasingly difficult to remember what skiing was like before we landed in Fernie.  Fernie Alpine Resort is known for its legendary powder, and we had an amazing time experiencing the powder first hand.

Fernie Alpine Resort provided the perfect place for us to spend our first ski season in a ski resort.  To be honest I can’t remember how I decided on Fernie as our destination for this trip, except that an average of 52 cm of fresh snow per week sounded like a lot.  Whatever the reason was, it turned into the most amazing holiday we could have ever dreamed of. This season Fernie Alpine Resort got 1110cm of snow, and we got to ski in almost all of it.

Fernie Alpine Resort has a vertical of 1082 meters. The top elevation is at the top of the polar peak lift, which offers some of the most amazing views over the Lizard mountain range and the valleys on both sides including the city of Fernie.

Stunning view from the top of Polar Peak lift in Fernie Alpine Resort

Stunning view from the top of Polar Peak lift in Fernie Alpine Resort

Fernie Alpine Resort has some really steep and challenging terrain in 5 awesome bowls.  My best day in the resort was towards the end of our Nonstop instructor’s course one remarkable Thursday.  It snowed about 20 cm over night, but continued to come down as we drove to the ski hill.  At this stage we had learned how to ski and have fun in powder and the Griz was giving us a chance to try out our new skills.  The Griz is the local legend that points his musket at the clouds to bring the astonishing amount of fresh dry powder snow down on Fernie Alpine Resort.

On this incredible Thursday it felt like we were skiing fresh tracks all day. Every time we would get to the top of the mountain, we were unable to see even our own tracks left only 30 minutes ago, it was snowing that hard.  On this glorious day we got to ski Anaconda Glades, a very steep double black with very tight trees not once but twice.  Something I would never have done before the Nonstop course.  It was the best day ever!

At the start of the season I thought that RCR (the resort owner) should replace some of the older lifts and infrastructure. But after almost never having to queue to get onto a lift, get food or drinks, I am happy for them to leave everything as it is.  Anything to keep the crowds away!

The city of Fernie has a long history and started as a mining town, and predominately is still a mining town.  It does not offer all the tourist bells and whistles you will find in a place like Whistler, but is a very authentic BC ski town.  Our kids loved the Fernie Aquatic Centre and the multiple parks.

We had some great snow in Fernie Alpine Resort, this week was over 2 meters!

We had some great snow in Fernie Alpine Resort, this week was over 2 meters!

Local knowledge is a great asset when skiing in Fernie Alpine Resort; it will help you have some of the best skiing in your life on any given day.  So if you ever find yourself in Fernie Alpine Resort, make sure to get a guide or an instructor to help you see the best the resort has to offer.

We would love to get back to Fernie next season! All I have to do know is get a job as an instructor!

There is a book full of amazing picture taken at one of the Cat Skiing operations in Fernie, Island Lake Lodge. It was done by some local legends. It is called Bears Above the Valley.

Sunshine Village Resort

Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort, Lake Louise and Norquay are often referred to as the big 3.  All three resorts are located in the Banff National Park.  Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort is about 20 km from Banff.  There is a big parking lot once you get to the resort, but I suspect that parking can be quite a problem in peak season.

One of the great things about Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort is that it is located very high.  The base parking lot is at 1660m, the day lodge at 2160m and the top of Lookout Mountain 2730m.  This all translates to a super long season, starting in November and ending in late May.

Three great Ski Resorts in Banff National Park

Three great Ski Resorts in Banff National Park

The lifts are mostly express quads, one thing we found interesting is that we did not ride a single quad with footrests. Not that we minded, but it almost seemed like they took a decision not to install footrests. I wonder why? The high speed gondola from the parking lot in over 4 km long, and takes a while.

The ‘base’ area at the top of the gondola is huge, and there is everything you need. From shops, day-care, sit down restaurant, hotel and a big day lodge.  This also where we say a big Ford that was adapted to be able to drive on snow…what a ride!

Ford F150 snow mobile - What a ride!

Ford snow mobile – What a ride!

The ski area at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort is gigantic; it has a beginner area with a carpet lift, as well as an express quad servicing green and blue runs.  The rest of the resort has numerous blacks and double blacks.  Some of them completely in the alpine and other through trees.  There is also a big free ride zone, which you can access through the lift system.  You just need the normal backcountry gear.

There is also a skier cross course at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort, while we were there the Canadian team was using it to train.

Overall Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort is great resort, and the very long season must help them generate more income. Which probably allow the Scurfield family, who has owned the resort for 30 years, to invest more in infrastructure.

I could definitely spend a season at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort.  It will be awesome to get to know every detail of the vast terrain.

Panorama Mountain Village

Around the middle of March Fernie was having a dry spell with regards to fresh snow.  So we decided to do a road trip with our new Aussie friends Craig and Kayti.  Panorama Mountain Village is about two and a half hours drive from Fernie, close to Invermere.

We arrived early and were ready to have some fun.  Panorama Mountain Village boast an impressive 1220m (4000ft) vertical, with a top elevation of 2370m.  The day we visited the  conditions were challenging, as a result of the warmer than usual weather and lack of fresh snow.  The upper mountain was still in great condition, and the snow was pretty good up there.

Getting a quick drink at a mid-mountain pit stop!

Getting a quick drink at a mid-mountain pit stop at Panorama Mountain Village!

There are some great expert tree skiing in the Tayton Bowl, we even managed to ski some powder down Heli-High.  It got a little icy lower down, and a few runs in the Sun Bowl were hard as a rock.  But we still had a great time. The first two main lifts up the mountain are nice fast quad lifts, the summit quad is a little slower but have amazing views going up to the summit hut.  There are also some gentle well groomed easy green runs for beginners, as well as freestyle terrain to play in.

The village is impressive, with multiple dining options and a great day lodge at the upper village.  We were there over the weekend and there was a band playing outside the day lodge.  Food and drinks were being served outside and atmosphere was festive.  There also seemed to be ample accommodation on the mountain, with ski in ski out locations.

There is a heliskiing operation from Panorama Mountain Village, we heard and saw the helicopters a few times.  There is ample parking with a village Gondola that take you to the base of the ski area.

The band playing outside the day lodge

The band playing outside the day lodge at Panorama Mountain Village

Panorama Mountain Village is another great BC ski resort. We didn’t get a chance to explore the whole mountain and the conditions on this day was not the best, but I would love to go back and spend a few days staying on the mountain and having fun!

Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort

There was one last road trip we wanted to do before heading back to South Africa.  Two of the three ski areas in Banff National park were still open, and that was a good enough excuse for us to go and have one last ski.

Our first stop was at Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort.  The scenery as we approached Lake Louise was spectacular, you could see what looked like glaciers on a few of the peaks.  At Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort there were loads of parking and not too many cars this late in the season.  We went straight up the Grizzly Express Gondola, and into Back Bowls.  The challenging runs in the back bowls must be great fun in fresh snow.

Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen!

Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen!

The snow was still surprisingly good for this late in the season, although the snow pack was getting very thin in places.  The lift system is cleverly set out, so you don’t need to traverse to get to hardly any runs.  Although one more lift to get back up from the back bowls right to the top would be a great addition. The only lift servicing the back bowls now, is an old and slow three seat chair, which is also due for an upgrade.

Past the back bowls we also had some fun on the Larch area. It is serviced by the Larch Express Quad and have a few nice blue and some awesome double black tree runs.  The Temple Lodge at the bottom of the Larch area has a full service restaurant as well as a day lodge.

The Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort is pretty big, so you do some good mileage. There is something for everybody from nice easy beginner area to steep back bowls.  The ski school has a great reputation, and the views from most of the mountain are breath taking.

After the days skiing we drove to the lake, a few kilometres on the other side of the small town.  It is one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen.  The luxury Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is located on the bank of the lake, surround by majestic mountains with a glacier in the distance.  On our next visit to Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort we are going to stay there!

The base area of Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort on a busy day!

The base area of Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort on a busy day!

The average winter temperature in Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort is pretty low, which helps to keep the snow perfect for skiing.  So although the annual snowfall is a lot less than resorts like Fernie, the skiing is always great!

I look forward to skiing at Lake Louise Ski Area and Mountain Resort again, hopefully next season! Next stop Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort.