Fun in Fernie

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!

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Finally, after 3.5 hours of gruelling uphill, we arrived at Skoki for an amazing lunch spread of homemade biscuits, soup, and divine cheese.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Playing in P.E.I.

Now that I am an adult with limited amounts of vacation, my travel addiction has been curbed…slightly. In reality, it has simply forced me to be more strategic. I am taking a week off for my rugby National Championships this week, so I decided to piggyback a quick long-weekend getaway on the front-end to maximize my time off.

Nick and I flew into Charlottetown late Wednesday night; our ignorance about the size of the island was highlighted the second we walked out of the airport to find not a cab in sight. Unsurprisingly, Uber also turned up no results. The cab driver that arrived after a few phone calls informed us that the entire island is home to only 150K people, with Charlottetown itself having only 35,000 residents. The first stop of Day 1 the next morning was the Wood Islands lighthouse, where we stopped for a quick tour of one of the last lighthouses open to the public. After that, we headed to Red Point Provincial Park. The sun graced us with its presence, so we took advantage and chilled out on the beach before hitting the cliffs for a little free form rock climbing.

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Our last stop of Day 1 was Basin Head Provincial Park. Unlike most PEI beaches, Basin Head is a white sand beach and it is famous for its “singing sands,” that squeak as you walk on it. It’s also a popular stop for adrenaline junkies looking for a quick rush jumping off the bridge that links the two areas of the beach. Our visit was cut short by some light rain, and we made moves towards our airbnb for the next two nights. Luckily, it was every bit as cute as it looked online–an adorable bunkie situated on the shoreline of Campbell’s Cove.

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The next morning we were up bright and early for Deep Sea Fishing with Captain Jeff–a minor celebrity in the world of tuna fishing. The outing started with a nice cruise along the north shore and past the East Point Lighthouse to check out the local porpoises! After that we were able to try our luck at fishing; I narrowly avoided being the ninth person in 15 years of his business to catch nothing on a trip. Eventually I was successful at reeling in a small fish, only to realize this meant I had to take it off the hook..with my bare hands–bitter-sweet victory.

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We made an impromptu decision to scrap one of our beach stops in favour of a local distillery (it was raining, don’t judge). The distillery is the only retailer in Canada licensed to make and sell moonshine, which we got a taste of! P.E.I. had the longest period of prohibition in Canada by far (1901-48), so making moonshine was a family affair for generations. We got a really informative little tour from the owner, who explained the process for making moonshine and other hard liquors.

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We stopped at Rick’s Fish & Chips in Saint Peter’s Bay for their Food Network famous fish & chips. I also had my own agenda on the trip: eat as many variations of seafood possible in four days. Our final stop of the day was Greenwich National Park, where we pulled out our raincoats and umbrella to braved the elements. We went on a really nice nature walk along the bay that was filled with a grid of buoys; we later learned each buoy was tied to a mussel trap. Inspired, I ordered mussels for dinner at a favourite local restaurant in Souris–21 Breakwater–and boy were they delicious!

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The next morning we departed our beautiful spot on the beach and headed west along the north coast for a day of beach-hopping with our best weather yet! After our first walk on the beach, we headed to Dalvay by the Sea–a National Historic Site of Canada. The beautiful mansion currently operates as a 5-star hotel and restaurant under a public-private partnership. The 120-year-old home is fit for a queen, making it unsurprising that the property was a stop on the Royal Family’s tour of Canada in 2011. We couldn’t help but stay for lunch at this scenic spot.

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After lunch, we made our way to Brackley beach and eventually to Cavendish Beach. Cavendish gets a bit of a bad rap from locals since it has become quite touristy over the years. Once we arrived, it was easy to see why it was so popular; despite having the most people, it was definitely the most beautiful beach we visited. We hung out on the beach for a bit before putting on our runners and hitting the trails. First we did a short walk through “duneland” that ended at the beautiful red cliffs P.E.I. is famous for. Our second walk was through the forest to a peaceful open field that surrounded a small lake not far inland from the shoreline.

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After working up quite an appetite, we headed to the famous New Glasgow Lobster Suppers–a family business since 1958. Patrons can choose 1lb, 1.5lb, or 2lb lobster servings that come accompanied with essentially all you can eat soup, salad, rolls, mussels (served in a bucket), and dessert. Needless to say, we were in paradise.

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We headed for Charlottetown for our final day on the island. It was quite rainy all day so we spent most of the day indoors (eating). We stopped in at the COWs factory location for a self-guided tour and to browse their famous t-shirt selection. We headed to lunch at the Gahan House–inside one of many historic buildings that make up downtown Charlottetown. This bar/restaurant doubled as a micro-brewery for the PEI Brewing Company. Inspired, we decided to head to their large-scale brewery for a very informative tour in the afternoon. The tour covered the history of the brewery as well as a detailed explanation of the beer-making process and, of course, a few sneaky samples. We enjoyed a delicious final meal downtown before calling it a night at our beautiful 19th Century Victorian B&B.

P.E.I(‘ll be back).

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Visiting Victoria

To prepare for a jam-packed summer of rugby, I decided to go on a ‘rugby-oriented vacation’ to the lovely Victoria, BC–our nation’s unofficial rugby capital. I reached out to my friends on the island, got a 2 week pass with one of their local club teams, and booked my ticket! I flew in Friday after work to Seattle to meet the team at their hostel; we got up early the next morn, enjoyed a killer breakfast at none other than Pike Place Market, and headed to the pitch. I had played with 4 of the girls on various different teams before in years past, but as per usual in the rugby world, it didn’t take long to feel like I had played with everyone for years. We played an awesome game against a strong Seattle side that resulted in a big W and dethroning the first place team in the league.

We headed back to the island on bus to Van, and then by ferry to Vic. Nearly the whole team headed straight for the infamous ferry buffet to get our post-game meal in, while taking in the scenery from the best seats in the house. Some of the girls invited me to play on their 7s team tomorrow for a casual exhibition tourney that almost everyone was playing in; I happily obliged considering the goal of my trip was to get as much rugby in as possible. The tournament ended up being stacked FULL of super high calibre players and teams–the Canada “B” team, Aptoella Angels–mostly current Canada 15s girls, and UVic to name a few. This is simply another Sunday in Victoria–super-casual, national level rugby.

Sunday afternoon, I headed into town with Zoe–my good friend from exchange in Australia–to see Parliament, as she is currently working there for the Minister of Agriculture. It is a truly beautiful old building that looks out over the harbour. Afterwards we checked out the BC Museum next door, which had some pretty cool exhibits on the BC history.

    
On Monday, I headed into Vancouver with a friend from McGill. We drove onto the ferry and into Kitsilano for lunch with another McGillian once we got into the city. It was my first time in the city since I was very young, and boy, was it beautiful. Our friend invited us to stay the night at his parent’s home in West Van and we couldn’t resist. I checked out Gas Town and Stanley Park before calling it a day. Before heading back to Vic the following day, I made a quick pit stop at our YVR Amazon building. I connected with a few of my colleagues at the site and checked out the many differences between our building and theirs. I got back to the island just in time for practice that evening; man, it is a nice feeling being able to run around outside in shorts in the middle of February. 

Wednesday morning, I had brunch with some old teammates that are part of the centralized 7s program in Victoria. Nadia and I headed for a walk on Dallas Road afterwards–a beautiful road in Victoria along the ocean looking into the mountains. The only downside being it CANNOT be captured on camera. We also hit up the Oak Bay marina to see seals and I checked out the Floating Village downtown before heading to a skills session with all of the long-listed Canada girls living in Victoria.

  
 My friend was gracious enough to lend me her car (and her dog) while at work on Friday so that I could do a couple nearby hikes. The first was Mt Finlayson–the harder and longer of the two–with a stunning view of the surrounding ocean and mountains. The second hike was to the old train trussel in Goldstream Provincial Park; as the name suggests, at the top of the climb train tracks jut out of the forrest on stilts 100 ft in the air. In the forest below, there was also a beautiful waterfall…let’s just say it’s easy to see how the hashtag #beautifulbc came to be. There is certainly no shortage of outdoor activities. Thursday night, we had another club practice and I ordered myself a pair of shoulder pads from an inspiring entrepreneur on the National Team who has her own rugby apparel business–Aptoella.


 I spent my last full free day in Vic exploring the downtown core a little bit more. I checked out the plethora of cute little hipster West Coast shops and cafes. I did some afternoon yoga with a girl from the team and was confronted again with my love/hate relationship with yoga. I met up with Zoe for dinner at a well-known restaurant that certainly lived up to the hype.

My last day on the island was obviously spent playing rugby; we played Seattle again and were able to snag another big W on home field–an awesome end to my rugby-oriented vacation! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sold that the West Coast is the Best Coast.