Winter is now here with vengeance… it’s something like -28 here this morning so I am hibernating; watching ski movies and planning some adventures for the rest of the winter. Some guests are arriving for a ski vacation on Friday, so I really REALLY hope it warms up a tad by then, although the full winter chill is quite an experience in itself! Canada is so set up for this – the snowplows rally as soon as the first flakes are falling from the sky, and the sidewalks are maintained by shops and homeowners alike. In Calgary, it’s possible to go entire days with out stepping foot outside! Leave your heated underground parkade, drive to work, park in their heated underground parkade and head to the office. If you need to go out for lunch, no problem: the +16s are a network of raised walkways connecting most of the downtown buildings. School does not, and cannot, stop for a snow day. We’ve seen over 50cm of snow in town since I last posted, with hopefully much more to come.

Christmas in Banff - Photo Credit Kelly MacDonald, Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

In the mountain towns, snow is not seen as a nuisance but welcomed with much rejoicing. Banff and Canmore are fully decked out for the Christmas season, and postcard-worthy scenes unfold everywhere you look. I absolutely adore winter; the cosy layers, the puffy jackets, snug winter boots, the crunch of fresh snow under my feet. I actually held the phone to my feet as I was walking to town earlier this week, to illustrate to my mum how amazing it sounded! This part of the Rockies is fortunate to receive some of the lightest, driest snow. The resorts along this stretch known as the Powder Highway boast varied terrain, from beginner bowls to steep, technical descents. I went to one of my local resorts, Sunshine Village, to see how early season was shaping up.

Day 1 was a leisurely start. Some old friends had made the journey out to join me from Vancouver and Calgary, so we didn’t get to the resort until about 11am (which for day 1, I’m ok with. There’s a long season ahead!) We had a blast refamiliarising ourselves and our legs with what it meant to be sliding on snow after a few months away. It felt good! Stopping for a lunch break we headed in to Trappers (in the Old Sunshine Lodge) for a quick bite and a catch up with other familiar faces. Our goal for the day was one run from every chair lift (barring Goats Eye which rarely opens this early in the season). Strawberry – Standish – Wawa – Jackrabbit – Wolverine… all runs were in great shap with a surprisingly high quality snow for so early in the season! We headed over to the still-novel heated chairlift at Teepee town, and warmed our bums as we headed up to the higher elevations.

The Great Divide chair is probably my favourite – the views from the top reveal peaks stretching out as far as you can see! Once the park is up and running you get an excellent view of the action from the chair lift, and the runs from the top are beautifully sustained and wide open. From the top, a short hike brings you up to the top of Delirium Dive, where I Can safely say I’ve had some of the best turns of my life! If the hiking track is open, you can leave your skis at the bottom and hike up to see what all the fuss is about. (Heed my earlier warning about vertigo – these mountains are all built the same!). If you want to ski it, however, you have to enter through the controlled gate. This only opens when an avalanche transceiver is worn by the person wanting to gain admittance, and there is a ski patroller checking everyone going in has a ski partner, a shovel and a probe along with their transceiver. The terrain is steep, technically challenging in places and if you don’t know where to go you can end up in some fairly cliffy places. That being said, it is crazy amounts of fun!

By day 3, I was up to partaking in a couple of laps in the dive. My legs had remembered how to ski, and the Dive was opening after two days of storm closure. Skiing the Dive in November! Not something you can do every year. My fiance and I headed out along the galaxy ridge and he showed me the way through G4 entrance, somewhere I hadn’t ventured before. Clipping into my skis, I took a deep breath and dropped into the soft powder, wary of the shark fin rocks that could be lurking beneath. We traversed under some cliffs to make our way to the top of the chute, and he graciously let me take first turns! I’m not a quiet skier, and the sensation of smooth silky turns in knee deep powder triggers an involuntary whoop reflex, so whooping and hollering I carved my way through the soft gully, grinning with joy as the fluffy powder flew up and into my face. The snow was all-time in there, I’ve had some amazing turns but the conditions that day were as good as they’ve ever been! We regrouped with other friends in the sugar bowl and headed over to Fat Boy in quest of more fresh powder turns, which we duly shredded and made our way back to the lift for another lap.

The snow safety, ski patrol and trail crew have done a phenomenal job in opening up so much terrain – and the skiers are turning out in their droves to enjoy it! Luckily, whilst there can be some queuing at the base of the gondola, as soon as you hit the chairlifts the crowds disperse to all areas of the mountain. Once in Delirium Dive we pretty much had the place to ourselves, although by the time I went back the following day it was harder to find untracked pow. But that’s OK, the base is set, and I have faith there will be plenty more snow to come this season! Bring it on!!

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