After a long Christmas season at work, I headed West for a slice of (real) winter and a visit with one of my oldest friends–Jessica! Nick and I flew into Calgary Thursday night after work, picked up our rental car, and headed to my other longtime family friend Mark Taylor’s apartment, or “Maison de Mark” as he calls it for Airbnb guests. We were up by 8 with ambitious plans to get in a half-day at the slopes in Fernie after our 3 hour drive SouthWest from Calgary. We were able to reach our goal, landing in Fernie at Jessica and Matt’s awesome hill-side pad around 11:30AM and heading for the hill by noon!
I had originally planned on bringing skis for the trip based on my fond memories skiing through the tree trails of Fernie on previous trips; however, I was forced to opt for snowboarding after not finding any ski boots. By the second run they had “accidentally” taken us down a double black diamond and any “confidence” we had garnered on our Blue Mountain test run the weekend before was sufficiently shattered. It wasn’t long before beer o’ clock struck and we happily took a break at Lost Boys–a mountain-top bar with a killer view. We left with some liquid courage to replace the real stuff and got a couple more long leg-burning runs in before the hill closed at 4PM.
That night we went out for an awesome supper at the Brick House and were joined by Mark and his girlfriend Hilary, as well as a friend of Mark’s from Lindsay and his girlfriend. Regrettably, we did not take the opportunity to capture this reunion of our childhood friend-group on film, as we were too busy chatting and later dancing down the street at the Northern. The bar was hosting a DJ whose “thing” is to wear ski goggles while mixing…very Fernie.
The next day we had an earlier start on the hill after a recovery meal at Big Bang Bagels downtown. The conditions were even better on Saturday with really nice groomed powder for the better part of the day. The scariest part of snowboarding at this massive hill for me was taking some of the cat tracks–very narrow trails that run across the mountain to connect lifts and runs, but usually border on cliffs or worse, black diamonds! Inevitable, we accidentally ended up on a couple more black diamonds throughout the days–with Jessica losing both skis on one, but it’s all a part of the experience right?
After a solid day at the slopes, Nick and I headed for Lake Louise where we had 1 night booked prior to our early cross-country ski departure. We stayed at a rustic mountain lodge in Banff National Park and enjoyed an awesome dinner and breakfast the next morning despite the fact that we almost had to sleep in the car because I booked the room for Sunday instead of Saturday (oops).
The next morning we were up bright and early to set off on our adventure to Skoki Lodge! By 830, we had checked in and picked up our rental back-country skis and skins (fur pelts for the bottom of your skis to give you better traction for the uphill battle we were about to endure). With an hour to kill, we headed to Lake Louise for a quick look around. On our way up to the Lake, we were extremely puzzled by a number of people walking down the road with shovels. We were able to catch the beginning of a cross-country ski race, get a coffee, and check out the ongoing ice sculpture competition! What we realized on our way out of the park was those people carrying shovels were building part of the x-country ski trail across the road at 3 different points of the race…oh, and they were re-building it every time a car inevitably drove over it!
We eventually made our way to the parking lot for Skoki Lodge, where a driver shuttled us to the trailhead in order to save us from the 4km uphill. On the shuttle, we met most of our fellow guests; 1 guy from Alberta was snowshoeing in with downhill skis on his back, and 2 girls in med school who seemed to be off to a rough start, as one had two different sized skis after accidentally grabbing one of her husband’s.
A night at Skoki was my Christmas present to Nick and came recommended to me by Jessica as one of the “must-do” trips on every ski-bums list. It is a luxurious (but rustic) lodge in the middle of Banff National Park that is only accessible by 11km cross-country ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile (for lodge staff). The lodge has no electricity or running water and has outhouses for bathrooms. Prince William and Kate visited Skoki in 2011; however they arrived by helicopter–full bathroom in tow.
Quite honestly, the 11km cross-country ski-in did not scare us one bit…far less than it should have; we completely under-estimated the 1600ft rise in elevation from Trailhead to peak elevation. It was very physically challenging but a super BEAUTIFUL ski into the lodge, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous!
The skins–which neither of us had heard of before–proved to be vital going uphill as much as they were going downhill. Uphill they allow you to remain going straight, rather than “pizzaing” or side-stepping, and downhill they slow you down enough to get some semblance of control. I still managed to completely take Nick out on 2 different downhill portions of our journey in.
Finally, after 3.5 hours of gruelling uphill, we arrived at Skoki for an amazing lunch spread of homemade biscuits, soup, and divine cheese.
Doing sports outside your domain is certainly humbling–there was a couple in their 60s that skied in for lunch and back out in the same day! For the rest of the afternoon, we relaxed by the fire, played rummy cup, and went for a walk around the area. The lodge consists of one main cabin–with around 5 rooms upstairs, and several smaller guest cabins around the property.
By 6PM, all 7 guests had arrived and gathered in the common area by the fire where we got to know each other a bit before our communal dinner. One of the things I had read the most about was how amazing the food at Skoki was, so I could not wait for dinner! At 7PM, Katie (the owner) brought out the delicious spread of lamb, vegetable, and fettucine; each dish, as well as the dessert was to-die-for! After dinner, we relaxed by the fire a bit more before heading to our very comfy bed.
The next morning we indulged in a delicious breakfast consisting of two rounds! The first was fresh fruit, homemade oatmeal and granola, and yogurt. While the second was eggs, chicken sausages, and orange pancakes–so yummy! We didn’t waste much time before getting back on the trail, knowing we had a full day ahead. The first third of the trail was pretty tough and mostly uphill until the peak elevation point, but after that we were laughing (and falling a lot) going mostly downhill. On the bigger downhills we mostly opted to slide down with our bums on the back of the skis, as it seemed safer than toppling over from an upright position.
Once we began to cross paths with other skiers going into Skoki, we felt it was our duty to put the skins back on for the safety of all other skiers. The second half of the trail is quite a bit narrower and windier and skins were the only thing that could slow the wrecking balls that we turned into. When we got to the trailhead we began to realize that 4km stretch we had been shuttled up going in, we would have to ski-out to the parking lot. The trail is officially part of Lake Louise ski resort and is a marked blue trail (FOR DOWNHILL SKIERS). Needless to say, it was a fun ride to the car. As a reward for all of our hard work, we treated ourselves to a swim at the Banff Hot Springs before our long car ride back to Fernie! Once we arrived, we headed out to Nevados for a lovely dinner of Spanish tapas with Jess & Matt.
We got a pretty full last-day in on the hill Tuesday. Jess and Matt decided to head up to Polar Peak at the end of the day–Fernie’s highest chair where the only way down is a double black diamond or a skinny cat track along the top of a cliff. We happily parted ways and met them back at the house.
Jess and I headed into town to browse a bunch of the super-cute local shops before she taught spin in the evening. With plans to go to a wizard-themed party, Nick and I headed to the nearby bargain shops, as he was dead-set on dressing up. We were all quite convinced he would be the only one dressed up and we could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, when you have a bunch of 20-somethings living in a small town like Fernie doing almost nothing but skiing, people have time to get quite creative for things like wizard parties. There were around 200 people at the party, with about 60% in costume; the host of the party even set up a fortune telling/tarrot card reading/palm reading booth under her stairs. A successful last night in Fernie to say the least!
We set out the next morning for Calgary to leave room for unforeseen delays and ended up with a couple of hours to check out the downtown. We headed to 17th street as per my friend Meredith’s recommendation and enjoyed a nice lunch and a bit of window-shopping. Later on we met up with Mere–a high school friend–for a quick drink before heading to the airport!
And now I am ready for a vacation from my action-packed vacation!