First off, thanks to all the posters for the tips and suggestions in my original thread on deciding where to go (http://www.epicski.com/forum/thread/96446/father-son-ski-trip). After careful consideration, I decided to do a "powder tour" of Alberta and BC, Canada with my Dad...and spring it on him as a birthday/xmas gift in December.
We did a week (3/16/2011 - 3/23/2011), flying into Calgary, renting a enormous pick-up truck and taking Highway 1 to Golden, BC for a few days at Kicking Horse, a day trip to Revelstoke, and then to Banff for a few days of Lake Louise and Sunshine Village...we even snuck in a heli day! In short, the trip was awesome (except for an injury) and I wish we had more than 1 week to explore the mountains...well there is always next year. And yes, I know this trip report is painfully delayed...but better late than never.
Wednesday (3/16/2011) – Travel day - flew into Calgary, rented truck, and made the 3 hour+ drive west from Calgary, Alberta to Golden, British Columbia. We stayed at the Dreamcatcher hostel in town - which I would highly recommend. Highway 1 is beautiful driving.
Thursday – We skied Kicking Horse, which is a 15 minute drive up the mountain from downtown Golden. The place is awesome…and we had a blue bird day…and no crowds. Incredible steeps. Their claim to fame is 100+ “chutes”…and I’d say they nailed it. You could have easily spent a week here and skied a different line each run. This was definitely our hardest, most physically demanding day of skiing. We even did some some side-country hiking...a first for us. And wow...hiking is tiring...note to self, if you plan on hiking, make sure you get one of those nifty packs that hold your skis. It was demanding, but fun...and left us with a great story. Once KH gets their lift system built out a little more, this place will be perfect. I think it was my favorite of the trip.
Friday – Well, we thought we couldn’t top yesterday…we were wrong. Friday will now forever been known as “Heli-Day”. We got up and made our way to Purcell Heli in Golden BC. Upon arrival we were fitted for our fat skis and treated to fresh warm muffins and hot tea as we sat on couches next to a roaring fire and enjoyed our view of Golden and Kicking Horse. As the others arrived, we began the hour+ training session. We learned how to walk around the heli, how to wait for the heli, how to get in the heli, how to hold our skis when approaching the heli, how to escape a crashed heli, basically everything about a heli other than flying it. Then we went back inside for avalanche training. We played with our avi beacons, shovels, and probes and learned how to not die in the event of an avi. Finally, we grouped up and took off. Our group had 10 skiers and 2 guides (front and rear). The day was awesome…not too cold (20s), no wind, and an absolutely perfect sky. We flew from Golden (which already is the middle of nowhere) about 15 minutes into the middle of nowhere (for real this time) and were dropped off on the top of a mountain. You looked around, and in all directions, for as far as you could see, all there was were mountains, peaks, valleys, and snow. It was awesome. The skiing was really not terribly difficult. Fresh boot-top to knee-deep powder all the way down. Open bowls at the top and trees at the bottom. It was difficult to get a sense of how fast you were skiing because there was literally nothing around. No fixed objects, or other skiers, or tracks to gauge your speed. I bet we were flying. We would get to the bottom and our chopper was there waiting and we would hop in…go to some other peak in the middle of nowhere…and do it all over again. The day was 5 runs…but we had some time left over…so Dad and I opted to tack on an additional run (why not!) The day really was extremely mellow (except when the heli landed and you felt like the world was ending). We then heli-ed back to Golden and hung out in the lodge for happy-hour, Kokanee, and story telling. All-in-all, the greatest day of skiing I’ve ever had.
Saturday – Since we were feeling high and mighty after our first two glorious days, we decided to take the risky 2 hour drive west to Revelstoke. I say risky because we had to travel through Roger’s Pass which is notorious for being frequently shut down due to avalanches. Revelstoke was also awesome. We had a grey-sky, snowy day, but the terrain was awesome. It couldn’t have been more different than Kicking Horse. While KH is primarily above the tree line, steep lines, and bowl skiing…Revy is mostly tree skiing. Awesome, awesome tree skiing. It’s like the entire mountain is one giant gladed area. Once again, it’s a place were you could ski the same gladed area 20 times and not ski the same line twice. The Powder Monday Glades below the North Bowl were the best. The snow we had was tremendous. On the drive there, the snow along the side of the road was piled up higher than the top of the truck…so we knew we were in for tons of snow. After we had our fill, we hopped in the truck, drove back east to Golden for a quick pit-stop, shower, check-out, and continued on to Banff, Alberta were we had rented a family suite in the Rundlestone Lodge. In Banff, we met up with my sister, her husband, and her brother-in-law for the rest of the trip, which was great.
Sunday – Banff is a resort town with 3 ski areas (the “Big 3”) with-in 45 minutes…Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, and Norquay. We decided to go to Lake Louise (the biggest) day 1 in Banff. The difference between the interior BC mountains (KH and Revy) and Banff is significant. While KH/Revy were extremely rugged and seemingly a free-for-all (very little signage, hiking encouraged, etc), the Banff resorts were much more like the ski resorts I am used to. All 3 had excellent terrain variety (green, blue, black…slopes, trees, bowls) and a comfy, vacation feel to them. Golden and Revy didn’t scream “vacation” – they were more ski, sleep, repeat type towns. Of the “Big 3”, Lake Louise was my favorite. The front side was pretty dull (for me at least, compared to what I was coming from), but the back-side bowls were awesome. LL reminded me a lot of Vail – you could spend an entire day on the back side and not even realize the front exists. Unfortunately, this is the day Dad’s knee/leg met its demise. We were coming down “Rock Garden” (yes…nice name…we should have stayed away) which was a mogul blue run. Dad fell and twisted about 5 feet above where I stopped. He looked funny…I asked his he was ok…he said he tweaked his knee…I asked if he was going to be ok…he said…yea I think so. So we continued on for another couple runs (including a double black tree run) and then stopped for lunch and to check Dad’s knee. Well, as expected, at lunch Dad’s knee swelled, stiffened and he could barely walk. He chugged down a green to the first aid building, grabbed a Kokanee, and the kids skied the afternoon. We met at the bottom after the day was over and drove back to Banff. After looking at Dad’s knee, it seemed like his skiing was over for the week. But, he had 4 excellent days of skiing.
Monday – Monday we went to Sunshine Village, about 15 minutes from Banff. Sunshine was a nice hill, but the visibility was horrible until about 11. After the clouds cleared, I found some nice spots to ski….especially off this old, Mad River Glen-esque double chair. Unfortunately, with my partner in crime hobbled, I was forced to either ski alone or talk the others into putting their life on the line (they are not great skiers). Sunshine probably didn’t get a fair shake due to the weather, but at least to me, didn’t compare favorably with KH, Revy, or LL.
Tuesday – Tuesday we went to Norquay which is a fairly small hill about 5 minutes from Banff. I was skeptical of this pimple of a mountain and wanted to go back to LL, but I was outvoted. In hindsight, I’m glad we went. I spent 75% of the day on one lift (the hill only had 5), but it was very good skiing. It was a small hill, with a mellow vibe, but it was a nice change of pace.
Wednesday – Travel day back to the USA.
All-in-all…Dad’s injury sucked, but it was a great trip. The first couple days of skiing were some of the best I’ve ever had and I will definitely never forget (or top) them…especially the heli day. The lesson learned: if you are considering doing a trip, DO IT. You never know what the future holds. It turns out my Dad broke his leg, had surgery (plates, screws, the whole deal) and may miss skiing in 2012. Hopefully he will back, good as new, but...I'm so glad we did this trip when we did...things can change...quickly.
The only thing holding me back from returning again soon are the many other great destinations I have not been to yet. But, one day, I will be back (hopefully Kicking Horse has added lifts). Until then, its Jackson Hole for 2012.
[I'll try to dig up some pictures and post them, if I can figure out how.]