Our road trip to Lake Louise and Banff
Saturday 18th April – sunny but cool
Today we finally moved out of our home and had to say goodbye to our little place in Kimberley. We helped shift some furniture for the landlords and then David, Susan and Grant waved us off. With a brief stop off at Jackie's to say goodbye, we jumped in the truck to start our road trip to Lake Louise.
The view at Canal Flats
Along the way we saw some cool views. At Canal Flats I put on my brave, all-terrain hat and drove up a sandy bank to see the beautiful view over the water there. Along the road we saw plenty of hoodoos (soft rock that has been eroded into spires). We even drove out of our way to see Lake Windermere, though not as out of the way as you may think, we didn't quite get to the Lake District; this Lake Windermere can be found near Invermere and Radium in BC.
Mini Golf - why does it keep coming back?
After a long drive, we stopped at Fairmont for a game of crazy golf. Our competitive natures and lack of golfing skills resulted in a certain degree of frustration, especially when we hit the ball up a sloped course only to have it roll back to the very same spot 8 times! But it was fun and we were entertained by the owners son who kept playing us his rather un-tuneful whistle. Our final stop along the trip was Numa Falls a very pretty waterfall under a treacherously snowy bridge.
With only 20km to go Troy decided to have a bit of a fit and the truck started to shake whilst we were driving. Not a good sign, but we had to get there, so on I went. When we eventually got to Lake Louise, there was no room at the hostel, but there was room at the Inn! So we stayed at the Lake Louise Inn, home to the pub in which we had spent many a merry evening with the other Nonstoppers last year. Slightly over our budget, the room was very nice (except for the gift on the balcony) but there was nowhere to cook so we'd be spending more on dinner. We went out for pizza at a familiar restaurant, saving our leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.
Sunday 19th April – overcast -3
This morning a crow tried to steal our frozen spaghetti bolognese off our balcony, but Christian scared him away. Good job, we can't afford another dinner out just yet. First stop, the garage,where we put oil in the truck. It seemed very mechanicesque of us and we hoped it would fix the shaky problem.
For our first day riding at Lake Louise we wanted to check out their park as we had heard good things. Our Kimberley passes worked at the lifts, no questions asked, and so we got a free day's riding (making up for last night's expensive hotel). We checked out the park and hit a couple of jumps, a hip and a wall ride. The only kicker we were happy hitting was still pretty big and scary but we had fun getting the adrenaline going.
We rode on the front side of the hill, lapping the park, for most of the day. There are lots of cut out jumps on the way down, where we practised little spins and grabs. It reminded us of last year's riding and it was encouraging to see how much better we have got. At the bottom of the main runs there was a splash pool.We saw lots of people fall in and many more just sail over, but it was too cold a day to take the risk so we just watched.
During the day we saw Lisa and Paul from Kimberley and said Hi. Now that Kimberley is closed all the skiers and riders from there will spend their weekends coming up this way for the last patches of snow. Back at the hostel we had our frozen spag bol for dinner and a night in with Ali McBeal and Whitelines, much more in line with our planned spending.
Monday 20th April – Overcast and flat light
Back to Lake Louise, but our Kimberley passes didn’t work today. We were expecting to pay full price as we have heard horror stories from others about how unhelpful other resorts (esp Lake Louise) can be about helping out visiting instructors, but we were pleasantly surprised. The staff were really kind and helpful and got us half price day passes. Today the park was closed in Lake Louise and so we checked out the rest of the hill.
Christian resting on the hill
We went right over the back to warm up on the blue runs, but somehow we ended up in the Rock Gardens. As you can probably guess from the name, this was not the smoothest of runs, in fact it was a descent, spattered with snow-topped boulders. It was good fun looking for jumps off the various rocks. With lots of blind landings, we had to spot most of the jumps for each other and a few didn't go quite as planned (resulting in a nice base shot (hole) in the tail of Christian's board). But we left the far side of the Rock Garden unharmed and were ready for a new challenge. Sadly this was presented to us in the form of a very long, very slow flat, so it was with tired legs that we went up the chair to get to the "Ultimate Steeps".
This was my choice of runs. I love steep, powdery downhills and with little terrain to challenge our riding in Kimberley, I wanted to take the opportunity to hit something fast and scary. No jumping for Christian, but he was happy to do something different. To actually get to the top of this set of runs (all double diamonds) we had to take a very steep button lift. So steep in fact that they ran ropes along the floor down either side of it, because, if you fell off you would be sliding down fast and would need them to grab on to. Some part of it actually felt like I was being dragged up a wall and reminded me how much I used to hate drag lifts. The top was cold and windy and the run we chose was certainly steep, but not tough enough to stop us. We had a good run down only to find it ended on another long flat. We will have good leg muscles by the end of today.
The Ultimate Steeps
At the end of the day we jumped in the truck, which was still sounding rather ill. We checked the tire pressure in the hope that Troy would be impressed at our care and knowledge and start behaving, but sadly this theory did not work and he was now giving out funny smells. We drove to Banff via the scenic route and looked between all the trees for bears or moose but couldn't find any. We did see some very nice mountains though, and lots of trees and the Bow river. After 5 months in Canada we are getting a little too accustomed to the stunning scenery and even sometimes choose reading a magasine over looking out the window (though not often).
The beautiful scenery
Tonight we treated ourselves to a really posh dinner out. Steve, Ardouin and Rich had raved about this place called the Saltlik last year and so I'd looked it up and we were heading there. It was a bit like being back in London, going out for a really nice meal and spending money just on the 2 of us. The Saltlik is mainly a steak restaurant and so that is what we both went for. It was delicious and we were both so full up that the dessert menu got left to one side. We took a stroll through town on the way back to the hostel in order to digest a little and nosey at the shops to visit tomorrow.
Tuesday 21st April – hot and sunny +17
Being now based in Banff, we went to Sunshine Village today. It is a resort about 20 minutes drive from town and is pretty big, with a dozen or more lifts. I had heard rumours that the resort is pretty exposed and can get quite cold , harsh and windy. But it was still worth checking out and boy were we glad we did. The base is serviced by a long gondola that takes you all the way up to the resort. Once up on the hill their are hotels and eateries to keep you catered for during the day. So we started our day with some brekkie in the day lodge, whilst we checked out the trail map.
Up the Sunshine gondola
We started with a couple of warm up runs and found that unlike Kimberley, Sunshine was full of wide open spaces and in some places even seemed to be above the tree line and was very exposed. But this wasn't a problem for us today, the sun was shining and it gave us amazing views of the mountains, bigger and higher than anything in Kimberley or even Fernie. We played about, getting familiar with the runs, and I almost rode over a barely frozen resevoir (but fortunately spotted it just in time). But I could tell Christian's feet were itching to check out the park. Rumour had it that Sunshine had an awesome park, with loads of features, and hopefully something for all abilities.
On the boundary between BC and Alberta, with the park in the background
So over we went to check out the park, and once we did, that was our day filled. We spent all our time, down to the last run, lapping the park and playing on all it's features. There were loads of hits, including kickers, hips, basic rails and boxes, buoys that had been built into the snow so you could bonk them and loads more that we didn't even have time to test out. We did some more filming and tried to catch on camera at least some of the new things we were learning.
On about our 3rd lap we saw Mike Jones from Fernie who has come to Sunshine to retake a module of his level 3 exam that he sat earlier in the season. He was with some friends and they all seemed equally excited by what the park had to offer. Next we bumped into instructor Steve from Fernie who was playing in the park with some of this years Nonstoppers. We finished the day on a total high. The sun had been beaming down for hours, the snow, slushily ideal for trying new tricks and we had been catching up with old friends along the way.
Disappointed that the day had to end, we drove back into town. But as we were still full of energy we went on a walk around town. We found some good pressies, checked out the snowboard shops and bought another suitcase to cram in all our latest purchases for the way home. I found myself a snowboard magazine that was all about female snowboarders and Christian found himself some great stickers (Christian has a minor, but ever worsening addiction to stickers).
A plan for what to do with our old boards and stickers
In the evening we made dinner in the tiny kitchen at the hostel. There is barely enough room to prepare a dinner for 2, but with 3 people already eating their dinner at the table and another 2 who started cooking just after us it ended up being a slightly over-snug occasion and something we would probably avoid repeating. Before bed we watched a snowboard movie and got psyched up with all the things we could do in the park tomorrow.
Wednesday 22nd April – cold and very windy
Today's riding was a nasty shock after yesterday's fantastic conditions. We bought our passes and then headed up the long 8-man gondola for the 20-minute ride to the top. The wind was really blowing and our little gondola was getting shaken about on it's wire, to the extent that the lift kept being stopped for long periods of time in the hope that it would die down.
40 minutes later we reached the top of the lift, only to find that most of the lifts were shut, including the one up to the park. The ground was hard and icy and little terrain was accessible. We went up the nearest lift anyway just to see what it was like up there. Christian soon found out how hard the ground was as he tumbled off the first jump and so we took it very cautiously down to the bottom. Second run and we bumped into Mike again. We rode down with him and his friend and watched him trying a bit of buttering on the flats, it looked like the safest thing to do on this ice. We agreed it really wasn't that much fun out here and went in for a drink together. As Christian and I were very indifferent about continuing in these conditions, I asked if we could defer our lift pass for tomorrow. Amazingly, Guest Services said yes and so after a drink and a chat with Mike we went back down the hill early to chill out and get warm.
Inside the Banff Springs Hotel
We spent a few hours chilling in our room, reading magazines and relaxing until we started feeling hungry. We took a stroll to the Banff Springs Hotel and had a nosey at it's grand environs before going into town. With all good intentions to go to the supermarket and make dinner in the tiny hostel kitchen, we found ourselves stood outside a nice looking little restaurant called Coyotes. In we went for a delicious dinner and then home for bed.
Dinner at Coyote's on Caribou Street
Thursday 23rd April - chilly with occasional sun, -8
This morning we looked out of the window and a layer of snow was covering the ground. The sun was already shining but hopefully there was more of the white stuff up the mountain. After digging out the flat bed and loading up the truck, we headed up the hill for our last day at Sunshine.
Despite the promising weather down in town, it was still hard up the hill, but at least it wasn't windy and all the hill was open. Some warm-up runs confirmed that the ground was bullet-proof and unappealing. We found some flat space and toyed with buttering, trying to balance on the nose and tail of our boards.
Desperate to get a few of our latest moves out of our park-rat bag, we thought we'd go and check out the state of the funpark. Like everywhere else, the ground was rock hard. This doesn't really put you in the frame of mind for hucking your bones off an icy lip to try something you know will probably go wrong, resulting in you catapulting your body across the ground in a way that would make a champion stone-skimmer jealous. Regardless of this wise instinct we thought we might as well finish riding through the park, which resulted in me flying off a hip and bashing my bum on the glassy concrete.
Hobbling (or whatever the equivalent of hobbling would be whilst strapped to a snowboard) back down to the bottom, we agreed that the park was a very bad idea and something else was in order. My first thought involved a hot chocolate and a chilled donut-shaped cushion, but instead we ended up playing with some more buttering and trying half cabs (switch 180 spins off an ollie). I realise the description of this is probably just as incomprehensible to most of you as the name, but that is how I felt too at the beginning of the season. Christian has got me trying all sorts of odd things and though I'm still not totally clear what all of them are I can apparently do some of them quite well!!
After riding we started the drive back to Kimberley, with considerably less stops along the way than 5 days ago. Troy was still misbehaving and I was just crossing my fingers that the drive wasn't making matters worse. Apart from a herd of goats stopping us in our tracks whilst they looked for potential grassy snacks on the highway, and the continuous grumble from Troy that kept me on edge, the journey was uneventful. We were staying at Jackie's that night and it was lovely to see her after nearly a week away. True to style, we had a movie night and watched Untracable. If you are a wimp like me, this is a scary movie and not to be watched before bedtime especially if you will have to be alone (even if that is only for the 20 seconds it takes you to go to the bathroom). I got scared and Christian and Jackie had to convince me that I wouldn't be murdered in my sleep, before I would reluctantly go to bed.